Apr. 22nd, 2017

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 Happy Earth Day! Happy Science March or river cleanup or whatever project you are doing today!

A couple of years ago, I started an annual Earth Day post on things we were doing to make our household greener. In looking back, I may have skipped a year or two there, but now seems like a very good time to revive the tradition. Some of these things may be useful to you and yours if you're looking to get greener. I also do it for me since it's a way to remind myself of what we've done so far and what I'd like us to tackle next.

It is worth noting that we've spent years on this, making a few changes every year. My goal has been to add something new every year, which we are on track for. I will also note that most things on my list have had a direct cost savings in the longer term, particularly the ones with start up costs. But there are also things we can't do because of finances or the state of our yard and so forth, such as growing our own veggies (our trees shade much of the yard) and there are things that stay in the planning stages for years at a time while I figure out budgeting and so forth. We also own our own home in a very urban environment in a city which supports a lot of green programs and I've done quite a bit of research and planning on all of this to approach greening wholistically.

What we've done so far:
  • Switched light bulbs to compact fluorescents and LEDs as they burn out.
  • Had extra insulation blown into some of the walls.
  • Replaced the interior windows throughout the house.
  • Committed to buying the bulk of our groceries at the local coops and farmer's markets.
  • As each appliance died in our 100 year old house, we upgraded to a more energy efficient version. In the course of 20 years, that's the washer and dryer, the stove, the AC, the fridge and the water heater. We're eyeing the ancient octopus furnace for the future.
  • Installed a solar-powered fan in the attic which keeps the house at a more even temperature so we use less AC in the summer.
  • Replaced old electric and plumbing setups with more efficient ones. Last year's much needed new bathroom sink and shower cut our water and gas bills, for example.
  • Organized our reusable bags, put a set in each car and committed to using them for nearly all shopping.
  • Recycling and composting. Minneapolis has really ramped up their recycling program and added a new citywide composting program. We already did some at home composting and are continuing to do that while participating in the city-wide programs. In addition, we look for reuse and donation opportunities for everything we want to get rid of that's usable: clothes go to clothing swaps as well as donation bins, books go to libraries and benefit auctions, jewelry to benefit auctions, reusable computing equipment to organizations that refurb and donate it, etc. At this point, we compost and recycle much more than we throw out.
  • Replaced our collapsing front retaining wall with medium-sized rocks and bee-friendly organic plants (see below). We hired a local woman-owned green landscaping firm for this and they did a terrific job.
  • Committed to not using pesticides or herbicides on our yard.
  • Switched to green de-icer and grit in the winter to melt ice.
  • Committed to not driving anywhere a few days out of the month, carpooling more and taking public transportation when we can. We also have meat-free days once a week or so. Biking is not a option for us physically and scheduling-wise, we still need two cars for the moment, but I hope to go down to one car and car sharing in the future and we walk a fair amount.
  • Carbon offsetting, particularly for plane flights and longer road trips. We started including this in our trip budgets - when we went to New Zealand last year, for example, New Zealand Air and one of the B&Bs we stayed at offered some options for local organizations doing tree planting and environmental restoration so we kicked in some money toward those. When we take road trips, I donate a few bucks to the Nature Conservancy or Minnesota Tree Trust to offset the gas that our relatively-efficient roadtrip car burns off.
  • Installed a rain barrel for the nonwinter months (yes, we have one). Also multiple bird feeders and a bird bath.
What we've done new for this year, so far:
  • Switched our electric bill to 100% wind power (check out utility programs and solar garden shares in your area if you're not in MN or Colorado).
  •  Had our yard dedicated as a "Pollinator Friendly Patch" by the City of Minneapolis - we'll be planting more bee and butterfly-friendly plants this year.
Next up:
  • Replacing our ancient toilet with a water-efficient one and replacing it.
  • Starting work on refurbishing our attic to make it into an office space and make it more energy efficient.
  • Replacing our driveway to improve rain run off and drainage.
And that's it for now. Feel free to share the things that you're trying!

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