Making a few small changes to the way you run your home and business can reduce your impact on the environment and boost your bank account.
Teacher and mother of three, Michelle Pollard, recently participated in the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) research project, ‘Human habitat challenge’, to see if she and her family could make some changes to their everyday routine that would lessen their impact on the environment. “The idea was to really examine and understand how we treated our environment and adapt our lifestyle for future sustainability,” explains Michelle. “We participated in the project for two weeks and in the first seven days we had to look at how we went about our everyday tasks and record it in a notebook they gave us. We were given a video camera to take footage of each other living and working in our house, recording how we treated our habitat.
“WWF provided us with a Bokashi indoor compost bin, the Green Pages and Tim Flannery’s book, The Weather Makers (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), which my 12-year-old son Jade read and was really influenced by. They also gave us some energy-efficient light bulbs and a four-minute shower timer. I lowered the temperature on our gas water heater to limit our showering time, so we didn’t need to use the timer.”
In the second week of the challenge Michelle and her family were asked to make some real changes. “We had to give our house a two-hour power nap every day,” says Michelle. “We turned off the electricity and I was amazed how peaceful the house became; I hadn’t been aware of the constant humming of the appliances until we started the power naps.” Food in your fridge and freezer can survive short power naps of one or two hours, but if you’re worried about security systems or computers, start by turning off appliances that are left on standby or by having short power naps during the day while you’re in the house.
As part of the challenge, Michelle was asked to assess how much un-recyclable packaging she was bringing home, then to halve it the following week, and finally, to not bring home any un-recyclable packaging. “With a disposable-nappy-wearing toddler in the house this was always going to be a struggle. I was amazed to find most supermarket brands of baby formula are sold in un-recyclable tins, but I easily found alternatives in the Green Pages and at our local health food store,” says Michelle. Washable nappies have been improved with press-stud and Velcro fasteners and are now easier to wash; there are also plenty of biodegradable nappy wipes and flushable nappy liners on the market.
Go to www.ecoshop.com.au or www.natureschild.com.au for links to environmentally friendly baby products. There are also a number of increasingly affordable organic baby foods available. Most well-known brands offer organic and preservative-free baby food in jars at competitive prices and you can now find frozen organic baby food in supermarkets. Go to www.motherly.com to find a stockist in your area.
Michelle and her partner, Alan, were also asked to either walk, cycle or use public transport to get to work. “The downside is less time with your family, but the cost benefits were obvious. It’s harder for me because I have the children to drop off before I go to work, but Alan cycles to work every day,” says Michelle. The research from the ‘Human habitat challenge’ has been used to create the website www.futuremakers.com.au, where you can find and share ideas on making your lifestyle more sustainable.
Careful shopping will save you money. Try to refuse packaged produce and, if you are a local shopper, ask your shopkeepers to minimise the amount of packaging they use. If you need to use bags for vegetables or fruit, brown paper is a recyclable alternative to plastic and can be found near the mushrooms in your supermarket. Invest in an indoor compost bin, such as the Bokashi bin, to help reduce the amount of rubbish your council has to remove. Using a garden compost, and for example a worm farm, not only reduces the waste you create but also provides free fertiliser for your garden. Like Michelle, assess how much waste you are currently creating and try to reduce it in incremental amounts each week. Always remember: if it doesn’t have a recycling symbol on the packaging, it is future landfill.
Produce in your supermarket may have been transported from interstate or even overseas – the distances your food travels to reach you are your ‘food miles’. By shopping locally it helps limit your food miles and therefore reduce the amount of emissions created to deliver your food from where it was grown or produced to where you buy it. Farmers’ markets are an opportunity to buy from local producers and many also sell organic and pesticide-free produce. The cost of some items may be more expensive than in supermarkets, but being able to buy exact quantities should help keep the costs down. Check the Yellow Pages or Green Pages to find a vegetable delivery service in your area; they often deliver to your door and sell in-season, locally grown fruit and vegetables for around $40 a box, which is often enough to feed a family of four for a week.
One of the easiest ways to save money is to revert to more traditional cleaning methods that don’t use chemicals and are cheaper than branded products. Vinegar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda were favourite cleaning products for past generations and their effectiveness hasn’t diminished. Go to www.northsydney.nsw.gov.au/footprints for cleaning without chemicals tips and other useful links, and www.thegreendirectory.com.au for manufacturers of environmentally friendly cleaning products. Chemical-free washing powder is also widely available. Planet Ark’s Aware laundry powder is comparably priced to other brands in supermarkets. Artificial fragrances used in chemical detergents can be replicated naturally by using lavender bags and drawer liners infused with citrus oils. If you have eczema sufferers in your family, you should find their symptoms improve after switching to green washing powders.
Save on utilities
One of the most significant money-saving changes you can make is to monitor the way you use electricity, gas and water. Most energy providers now offer supplies from renewable sources − there may be a slight increase in the rates charged, but if you’re careful with your energy consumption you should see savings on your quarterly accounts. The biggest culprits for wasting energy are old appliances, heating, cooling and plain old forgetfulness. Turning lights off as you move from one room to another and using a shower timer will help reduce your bills, but there are lots of other ‘hidden’ problems in most households. Lighting is a particularly easy one as there are now efficient and aesthetically pleasing lighting options available.
Cutting back on your clothes dryer usage will have a huge impact on your bills. Even small inner-city spaces have room for an outside clothes line or foldaway drying rack. If you live in a block of units where the strata committee forbids hanging clothes to dry on your balcony, consider approaching fellow residents to see if this could be changed; alternatively use a drying rack in your sunniest room. Look for portable, lightweight models that can be used indoors; see www.mrspeggshandyline.com.au for more information. Wooden ladder-style drying racks, popular for over a century, used to be hung in the kitchen or living room near an open fire. Still a great energy-saving idea, they’re easy to keep out of sight if attached to a basic pulley system and hung near the ceiling, to where the heat rises. Your local hardware store or timber yard can offer advice on where to buy or how to construct your own. When it is time to replace your whitegoods, look for the energy-efficient star ratings to save electricity and money.
Manufacturers of small appliances offer energy-efficient alternatives, like VS Sassoon’s Eco Dry hair dryer- offering 1/2 the energy to the comparable 2000W dryer. These small appliances have a cumulative ‘cost’ – often used daily by multiple members in the home. Look for energy-saving logos or rated goods when shopping.
With Australia’s current drought the worst on record, we need to be particularly vigilant about our water use. Simply turning off the tap while you brush your teeth and fixing leaks in taps and toilet cisterns will see a good reduction in your water consumption. If you are renovating, there are water-saving toilets, washbasins and showerheads available. Installing a rainwater tank means your garden can be watered for free, without worrying about breaking water restrictions. There are also grants available to reduce the cost of buying a rainwater tank; check with your water authority to see if you are eligible. There are numerous designs on the market for rainwater tanks to fit even the smallest of outdoor spaces and, if you do install one, consider plumbing your washing machine into it and only washing with cold water for even further savings. Energy Australia offers explanations and advice on reducing your consumption at www.energy.com.au.
Make a difference
Retired architect and member of Greenpeace-backed seniors environmental group, Grey Power, Angela Lindstad has been concerned about human impact on the environment long before it became newsworthy. “In 1995 I installed a solar water heater. I only use the electric booster once a week in winter and never in summer.” In April last year Angela installed an $11,000 photovoltaic solar energy system in her home. Under the Australian Government’s Photovoltaic Rebate Programme (PVRP), which commenced in January 2000, cash rebates are available to householders who install grid-connected or stand-alone photovoltaic systems. Angela received a rebate of $2,800 and, while she says it will take a while for the system to pay for itself, she is happy to be making a contribution to energy conservation. “I received a small inheritance and rather than go on a cruise, I installed the new energy system,” explains Angela.
“My aim was to have no bills, and while I still get some small ones, I’m almost there. I’m a thrifty person − I have to be as a single woman on a pension − but a family could benefit just as much. The obvious problem for young people today is their lack of time and being green-minded does require a bit of time and effort, but the results will be worth it for future generations.”
At her home in Epping, NSW, Angela has a self-sustaining permaculture garden and two water tanks, uses energy-efficient light bulbs and never has appliances on standby. She’s also made adjustments to her laundry to make sure the grey water from her washing machine doesn’t get wasted. “I’ve also rigged up a system outside my kitchen window to reuse sink water. It’s pretty basic really; it gets pumped into a bucket. One of the problems I have found is that plumbers and tradespeople are not interested in installing many of the new greener products, but hopefully as more of us start to use them, tradespeople will become more knowledgeable about the systems.” If you are renovating or thinking of installing a solar system, The Royal Australian Institute of Architects has a list of its members with solar expertise; visit www.raia.com.au. To find a building designer, visit the Building Designers Association of Australia website, www.bdaa.com.au.
Choosing the car you drive has a massive impact, not only on the environment, but also on your wallet. Volatile petrol prices mean that running one or even two cars is now a serious investment. Check out www.greenvehicleguide.gov.aufor ratings of most cars sold in Australia. There is no magic here; do you need to drive every time you do? Do you need to own the car you do? There are roomy, less gas-guzzling alternatives to four-wheel drives, and good hybrid cars are available. Even if you genuinely feel you need a large car, petrol consumption varies dramatically among makes. Cutting the car out altogether and going by foot, bicycle or public transport when you can will have a huge impact on your environmental footprint.
Simple eco-friendly tips, big savings
- Replacing your light bulbs and halogens with energy-efficient light bulbs will see you save around $100 a year for a large home or small office.
- Turning off your appliances, rather than leaving them on standby, should see a noticeable reduction in your energy bill of nearly $100 a year.
- By air-drying your clothes you may be able to save a massive $500 per year if you currently use your dryer every day.
- Shop for what you need and never throw food out. If you buy your food from supermarkets in quantities more than you need, swap to a greengrocer that sells locally grown produce and save hundreds of dollars on your annual food bill by buying exact quantities.
- Become a recycling fanatic – don’t just fill your council bins every week without thinking about alternative options.
- Instead of discarding old furniture and other household goods, which will eventually become landfill, have a garage sale or try an internet auction site. In the future, invest in better-quality products that will last longer and don’t need to be replaced as often.
- Before you upgrade your mobile phone, consider whether it’s really essential. Stopping yourself from buying unnecessary purchases is not only good for your wallet, but good for the planet, too.
- Think about your paper useage − make sure you use recycled paper and save trees and money by printing on both sides.
A calculated risk
Your ecological footprint is the amount of nature’s resources you consume in a year. A footprint calculator takes into account a number of lifestyle factors such as the car you drive, where you shop and whether you eat meat. Have you wondered how your lifestyle impacts the planet we’re living on? To understand the size of your footprint, go to www.acfonline.org.au. Your carbon footprint is measured by how often you use your car, turn on a light or take a flight, because each time you do, you produce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.
Your food, if not grown and bought locally is transported and therefore creates carbon emissions.
The information in this article is of a general nature only and does not consider your personal objectives, financial situation or particular needs