We’ve heard it all before. ”Every day is Earth Day” and phrases of that ilk are trotted out every year to remind us there is always more we can do to lessen our ecological footprint. But looking around, I see examples of how local residents are walking the walk. By incorporating eco-friendly habits into their households and lifestyles, residents are finding ways to be the change they wish to see.
Nicole Goldman, owner of “g”Green Design Center in Mashpee Commons, said that people walking through her door are not always aware of the simple steps they can take to become more green.
With her “one-hour speed greening” service, she walks customers through their homes, recommending a switch to plant-based cleaning products, setting up an easy recycling and composting system, and other low-impact ways of greening the household.
Step 1: Reduce Your Consumption
Now in business for four years, Ms. Goldman said she has seen a growing demand for eco-friendly products and services, and the market— and the tax code— are responding.
“People are not sure where to begin. They get overwhelmed and think they have to do everything at once. We help give them a jumpstart,” Ms. Goldman said.
She added that even though some of the products in her store are more expensive than what one might find at Home Depot, the quality and durability makes them a more ecologically responsible choice— and will end up saving customers money.
“Being green is about thinking smartly about the materials you put in your house, what you ingest, and what resources you consume,” she said.
Step 2: Energy Efficiency
Homeowners interested in reducing their energy bills should take advantage of a home energy audit before replacing windows or insulation, she said. She recommended a comprehensive home energy audit provided by Cape Light Compact for a small fee.
“People are a lot more educated and aware about their energy use. They see the costs of fuel going up. It’s not just about saving money, but it’s certainly a forceful incentive,” Ms. Goldman said.
According to Cape & Islands Self Reliance, federal tax credits for household renewable energy have been extended for another year, meaning homeowners and businesses can qualify for rebates of up to 30 percent of the cost of installing wind turbines or solar photovoltaic systems, solar thermal systems for heating and domestic hot water. These systems generate renewable energy on-site and sell any unused electricity back to the grid.
“The paybacks are much quicker now. Not only does the government pay back the cost of the system, you then go on to enjoy free use,” Ms. Goldman said.
Step 3: Compost is Black Gold
If installing solar panels or a wind turbine is not an option, there are still a number of ways to establish eco-friendly habits in the home.
Anne-Marie Runfola, a composting expert and member of the Falmouth Farmers Market board of directors, said that the average household can reduce 30 to 70 percent of its trash by composting food scraps and recycling.
“We don’t have the space for landfills, so we’re trucking and training trash farther. That’s bad for air quality, carbon emissions, and the economy,” she said.
Composting has the added benefit of being an excellent fertilizer for a garden or potted plants. By mixing a carbon source such as leaves with nitrogen-heavy compost, nutrients are “fixed” at the source, helping control nitrogen runoff and erosion, she said.
Using compost instead of fertilizer made from petrochemicals on one’s garden has much less of an impact on the environment— and on the pocketbook, Ms. Runfola said. “By throwing food out, we’re paying for garbage to be taken away, and we’re paying again for fertilizer to go in,” she said.
Step 4: Eat your vegetables
While carbon dioxide has grabbed most of the attention as a greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide and methane are even longer-lasting and effective agents of climate change.
For that reason, the European Nitrogen Assessment reported at conference held this month in Scotland that the best thing people can do to reduce their nitrogen footprint is eat less meat, said Eric A. Davidson, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center.
Livestock are not particularly efficient at converting protein in the food they eat. A cow converts 10 percent of the protein it eats into meat products that humans consume. Pork and chicken are a little better, and fish is probably the best. So eating meat is wasteful in terms of the protein needed in the human diet.
-Eric Davidson, WHRC
That protein inefficiency has upstream effects, Dr. Davidson said. The greenhouse gases created by confined animal feeding operations and the fertilizers required to grow crops to feed them amounted to 6.3 percent of total US emissions in 2009, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Fertilizer and manure runoff to the Mississippi River has created a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico due to an overabundance of nitrogen, killing fish and other marine life.
Dedicated carnivores need not give up meat entirely, said Dr. Davidson. As demonstrated at the nitrogen assessment conference, simply reducing the amount of meat consumed each day or at each meal makes a difference, while satisfying hunger.
“It’s probably not a big enough difference for mitigating our local problem of nitrogen in our sewage. But for the Mississippi River or global climate change, one thing everyone can do is reduce the portion size and frequency of eating meat,” Dr. Davidson said.
What’s your nitrogen footprint? Calculate it here!
Step 5: Drive less, ride more
With gas prices topping $3.83 per gallon in Falmouth yesterday, people are motivated to find alternatives to driving, said Thomas S. Cahir, executive director of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority.
Since last July, the bus company has seen 16 percent more riders on its fixed route service over the previous year. Ridership on the SeaLine from Woods Hole to Hyannis was up by nearly 16.5 percent, while the WHOOSH trolley from Woods Hole to the Falmouth Mall was up by 15 percent.
“We’ve always felt the geography and seasonal aspects of the Cape really scream out for a vibrant and robust transport system. But it’s hard to get people out of their cars,” said Mr. Cahir, pointing to the CCRTA’s new hourly schedule and billing system on its B-bus service as reasons for increased ridership.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, cars and trucks are responsible for 33 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, but a person who commutes 20 miles a day by bus instead of driving can reduce their carbon footprint by 10 percent.
Mr. Cahir said the CCRTA’s bus fleet uses 20 percent biodiesel, increasing the environmental benefits. The CCRTA plans to expand with a route in Bourne and Sandwich by October and a statewide public transportation pass that can be used from Logan Airport to the Steamship Authority and island bus systems by next year.
Step 6: Bike to work
But the most ecologically responsible way to get around is bicycling, said Edward S. Gross, chairman of the Falmouth Bikeways Committee.
“Biking is a non-polluting activity and contributes to our own health. It’s also a community service, reducing congestion on the road,” he said.
Since the Shining Sea Bikeway was extended in 2009, use of the nearly 11-mile path has increased by 50 percent, averaging 1,440 users on a weekend springtime day, he said.
Falmouth can certainly do more to become a bicycling-friendly community, he added, by painting bike lanes and “sharrows” on the roadways and routes to schools. It is something of a catch-22, however, because the town will probably not take these steps unless there is a demand— and until people think it is safe to ride a bike on the road, there won’t be as much demand.
In its annual bid to promote bicycle commuting, the League of American Cyclists has declared May as National Bike Month, with May 16 to 20 as National Bike to Work Week.
In Falmouth, bicycling advocates will be observing Bike to Work Day on May 18, with free coffee, pastries, and information at two booths along the Shining Sea Bikeway.
Six steps… and beyond
So, to recap, there are six things you can do today, this week, or this month to green up your life: don’t buy something that you can’t reuse or recycle; turn off unnecessary appliances and sign up for a free energy audit; throw away food scraps in a bin and attend a composting workshop for the next steps; trade in some of your meat for fresh vegetables; take the bus, carpool, or bike to work or on your errands.
Anything else? Let us know how you celebrate Earth Day!