Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's hot, what's not in 2009: Saving Green


No one likes to see their hard-earned dollars going down the drain. Consider the $$$ you stand to lose by NOT making these planet-saving choices in the year ahead:

Caring consumerism “He who has the most toys wins”
Renew and repair Accumulate and dispose
Barter, trade, donate Individual use, currency-based economy
Do-it-yourself Outsourcing
Lower energy bills Energy waste
Green gifting More stuff we don't want or need
Eating in, local, and low on the food chain Eating out, exotic, and meaty
Free exercise Gym and studio memberships
Vacationing close to home, going outside Jet-setting, nature deficit disorder
Green investing Banking as usual

Be a caring consumer.

  • Set aside one day a week when you make no purchases. (You'll be surprised how unconsciously you reach for your wallet.) Try sticking to this program even after your credit cards are paid up – it takes just a few weeks (three to six months) to establish a habit!
  • Buy used. Used stuff is already here – no new energy, materials, processes, packaging, or transportation needed. January 22 is now Canada's annual Buy Something Used Day, inspired by The Reyouzd Festival in Bruce County, Ontario, which celebrates eco-retailers and the art of reusing. Buying old (aka 'recycled, vintage, pre-owned, antique') is new again, and again, and…
  • Buy bulk. It's cheaper and uses less packaging. Just keep reusing the plastic bag and write the code and product name on the twist tie. If plastic is not your bag, see if the store will weigh other (recycled) containers and subtract that from the total at the till.
  • Spend your money on things you really care about – that energy-saving renovation, healthier organic eats, native plants for your garden – made or grown by people who treat employees fairly and mind their eco-footprints. (It's fun to find substitutes – sleep in an old T-shirt instead of buying new pajamas, for example.)
  • Avoid shopping for fun, impulse buying, or frivolous purchases. (David Bach, who coined “the latte factor”, points out that not spending just $5 day saves $150 per month, which adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in a person's lifetime.)

Renew and repair. Remember those pants that popped a button? That shirt with the stain? Fix 'em up and you've got a whole new wardrobe you probably forgot about. Check out Lindsay's planet-friendly suggestions for getting rid of stains or embroider over the really stubborn ones. (Maybe it's time we got over our obsession with whiter than white?) If you're weary of your possessions, call some friends and organize a clothes swap. Your old is their new. (“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Oscar Wilde)


Ecology and economy stem from the same root – the Greek oikos, which means 'house, dwelling place, or habitation'. Ecology adds the suffix logia, which means 'study of' and economy ends with nomos, which means 'managing'. Do you think Ottawa is doing a good job of managing where we live?

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to the job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car, and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.” — Ellen Goodman, the Boston Globe, August 1993.

About time for a new “normal,” don't you think? Share your planet-friendly wallet-fattening tips in The Green Room.

Barter, trade, donate. Canadians are swapping and sharing stuff and skills all over the place.

  • Check out the online bartering community at SwapSity or join a freecycling network. (Lindsay found a home for a Crock Pot she didn't use just by circulating an office email; she put out the word for a food dehydrator and snagged one from some family friends.)
  • Find a way to make your stuff work for someone else. (Gail once organized a toy sale and raised $1,200 for her son's elementary school; families donated their cast-offs and others snapped them up for bargain prices.)
  • Lower the cost of home repair projects by organizing a tool pool with friends, neighbours, and colleagues: find out who's willing to share what and put together a sign-up sheet; rent big items from a hardware store as a group (just make sure everyone gets a turn over the rental period).
Two-ingredient cosmetics

Do-it-yourself. You can save wads of dough by making your own green cleaning products and cosmetics. (Check out www.QueenOfGreen for ideas, recipes, and how-to videos.) Making your own laundry soap from a few simple ingredients, for example, costs only $1 a litre; toothpaste can be made from scratch for only $1 for about 125 ml. Check out how many cosmetics can be made using only two ingredients! (PDF, 865 kb)

Lower your energy bill.

  • Big savings: Just opening curtains to let in daytime sunshine then closing them at dusk to trap that heat inside can save you up to $200 a year. Close doors to rooms you don't want heated (like closets and cupboards) and keep doors between rooms you're using open to circulate heated air.
  • Bigger: Plugging leaks and insulating reduces heating and cooling costs by five to 30 per cent. (Insulating kits pay for themselves in about a year.) Learn how by watching Randi renovate.
  • Biggest: Replacing your furnace with a 90 per cent efficient one will cost about $2,000, but in 10 years you'll have saved double that amount.

Give green gifts. There are lots of ways to give presents without buying more stuff. Get creative. One birthday boy we know set out to spend his 50th year reading one book a month, each in a different genre. His friends “gifted” their suggestions and he's doing his best to find used or library copies. Another celebrator invites party guests to bring hand-drawn coupons or certificates (e.g., for free pet-sitting or snow-shovelling, etc.), homemade edible goodies, or good quality stuff they don't want. After an auction “party game”, funds are gifted to the honouree.

Eat in, local, and lower on the food chain. Canadians spent about 11 per cent of their income on food.

  • Dining out gobbles up budgets. Start a food club at work or with friends and neighbours – it's easier (and more fun) when there are lots of hands doing the work. (DSF has a winter weekly soup club that morphs into a salad group in the spring.) Pick dietary restrictions (our specs are vegan and gluten-free) or themes. It's a great way to share recipes and build community.
  • Join an organic food co-op with friends or co-workers. It saves $$$, packaging, and trips to the store.
  • You already know that it's better for the planet to eat less meat. It's cheaper (and healthier!), too. Here's what's in season all winter in Canada: apples, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard, chestnuts, garlic, hazelnuts, honey, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, pears, potatoes, radishes, spinach, squash, sunchokes, turnips, walnuts. Check out these handy seasonal availability charts for produce in BC and Ontario.
  • For other foodstuffs, go for frozen or dried options from local companies rather than fresh stuff that's travelled from the other side of the planet.

Exercise. Fit people spend less money on health care, make fewer trips to hospitals and clinics, and keep hazardous substances out of the waste stream. (Employers – healthy workers are more productive – saves $$$!) Running outside requires only the cost of a good pair of shoes. (Running Room has free practice sessions. Check out Lululemon for their free yoga and dance classes – find your city, then sign up for event notifications.) Rent an exercise video from the library or check the Internet for free downloads. Organize an in-home “class” with friends – each week someone picks a different video to try.

Vacation at home, go outside. You don't have to go to a theme park to have a memorable family holiday, or fly off to some exotic locale for a romantic rendezvous with your partner. When was the last time you visited your local museum or planetarium? Or took a stroll down memory lane with some photo albums? Or played a board game? Go outside – it's free! Contact with the outdoors reduces stress, promotes physical and emotional well-being, and reminds us all that the home world is worth protecting. Check out these no-cost fun winter family-friendly ideas sent in by Nature Challenge Community members Sylvie de Sousa and Katharine Byers.

Doing Business in a New Climate Want to make your workplace more efficient and eco-friendly?

Check out Doing Business in a New Climate, the David Suzuki Foundation's guide to measuring, reducing, and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. It'll help you save money, enhance your reputation in the marketplace, and boost employee health, morale, and your bottom line. And it's free!

Invest green. You're saving and socking it away. Make sure the institution you're banking on is making investments that protect nature. The Rainforest Action Network's Climate Friendly Banking campaign calculates the carbon footprint of some of Canada's major financial institutions. If you don't like how they're using your money, the website makes it easy for you to ask your bank for change.