ENOUGH TALK. Scientists from all over the world tell us that global warming could lead to chronic flooding. Deadly heat waves. Water shortages. Now, you may not be concerned that Rio de Janeiro or Venice could end up underwater. But what about catastrophic winter flooding and summer water shortages here in the East Bay? Loss of forests and increased risk of wildfires in the Sierra? Got your attention? Thought so.
Let’s work together on this, East Bay, and help save the planet every way we can. Take an example from some of the eco-warriors among us, from schoolkids to, yes, our very own governor. We got their stories, and then we dug up 50 tips to help you figure out how to go green right here at home.
» Take PG&E’s free online Home Energy Analyzer Survey.
Answer 14 questions about your home and appliances, and learn easy ways to lower your monthly bill. PG&E offers rebates on energy-efficient appliances and sponsors the ClimateSmart program, which allows you to pay an average of $4.31 more a month, depending on your energy usage, to fund new environmental projects that offset the carbon dioxide you generate. Visit www.pge.com for information.
» Buy Energy Star appliances.
According to PG&E, appliances sporting the blue Energy Star label use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. Visit www.energystar.gov for information.
» Know your rebates.
East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) gave out $955,200 in rebates last year alone. The company also offers free on-site water surveys—a surveyor will check for leaks and determine the efficiency of your showerheads, faucets, and toilets. One dripping hot-water faucet can waste 2–3 gallons of water a day. Free showerheads and faucet aerators are provided if your fixtures aren’t up to par. EBMUD’s new low-flow showerheads use less than 2.5 gallons per minute, saving an average household about 3,500 gallons of water per person a year. Visit www.ebmud.com for information.
» Build it green.
Thinking of remodeling your home? First port of call should be Berkeley nonprofit Build It Green, a superb resource for green architects, contractors, and homeowners. Visit www.builditgreen.org for information.
» Eat local produce.
On average, food travels 1,500 miles to get to your plate. Eating local seasonal produce cuts carbon emissions, packaging, and trash. This month, instead of eating an apple, savor locally grown, just-picked apricots, peaches, and cherries. Contra Costa has 20 farmers markets; visit www.cccfm.org to find your nearest market and to download a chart showing what’s in season. Visit www.pcfma.com for Alameda County markets.
» Take an eco-picnic.
Forget plastic and polystyrene picnicware. Opt for paper cups and plates or, better still, buy biodegradable tableware made from potato and cornstarch by Excellent Packaging & Supply, a Richmond wholesale company. Available online at www.greenearthofficesupply.com .
» Ski green.
Tahoe’s Heavenly ski resort has purchased 16 million kilowatt hours of wind energy, installed low-flow fixtures to conserve water, diverted 482 tons of waste from landfills, and raised funds for Lake Tahoe national forests. Other resorts that are going green include Alpine Meadows, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Homewood Mountain Resort. Visit www.skiareacitizens.com for information.
» Get some recycled reading glasses.
Made by San Raphael’s ICU Eyewear, these colorful glasses are not preworn but are made of recycled plastic. They are available at San Ramon and Walnut Creek Whole Foods stores.
» Recycle old VCRs, cameras, laptops, and phones.
San Ramon’s recycling center welcomes all kinds of electronics, from keyboards to stereos, whether they’re working or not. All profits go toward fighting breast cancer. The center is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visit www.recycleforbreastcancer.org for information.
» Junk the beast in the garage.
If it was built before 1993, the refrigerator in your garage uses twice as much energy as an Energy Star model. Replacing it will save you $63 a year. PG&E will give you a $35 cash rebate when you hand it over. Visit www.pge.com for information.
» Kill bugs with … bugs.
Got aphids? Get ladybugs. Or, better still, praying mantises. They work much more responsibly than pesticides, gobbling up a host of unwanted critters, including aphids. Eggs hatch into May and June and are available in boxes at nurseries such as Navlet’s in Pleasant Hill.
» Buy organic clothes and sheets.
According to the Organic Trade Association, 25 percent of the world’s insecticides are sprayed on cotton fields. Organic clothing is available at Whole Foods in San Ramon and Walnut Creek, while organic sheets and towels can be found at Pottery Barn and Bed Bath & Beyond.
» Use cloth shopping bags.
Sustainable Moraga, a citizen environmental group, sells re-usable cloth grocery bags for $2 at the town’s Safeway and Ace Hardware. Also look for them at stores such as Lunardi’s, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s.
» Get composting.
Put all organic food waste (except meat and dairy) in a household compost bin. In three to four months, you’ll have nutritional compost for your garden. Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority sells the Smith & Hawken Biostack bin for half price ($45). It also offers free composting workshops. Visit www.wastediversion.org .
» Give your lawnmowera break.
Replace some or all of your lawn with bunchgrass, a native grower that needs mowing no more than twice a year and requires much less water than a conventional lawn.
» Pass it on.
Don’t know what to do with your old sofa, fax machine, or piano? Give it away: www.freecycle.org connects you with people in your own town who can use what you don’t want.
» Use eco-paints.
Latex paint is more environmentally friendly than oil-based paint. But do you know about eco-paints, such as Kelly Moore’s recycled ecoat, made out of old latex paints? Benjamin Moore’s Eco Spec is low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that cause smog and ozone depletion. And zero-VOC paint is available at Berkeley’s Eco Home Improvement, www.ecohomeimprovement.com . No paint should be disposed of by pouring it down your drain. Recycle unwanted paint at the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facilities in Martinez or Livermore. Visit www.centralsan.org or www.stopwaste.org for information.
» Know your green businesses.
Contra Costa and Alameda counties have almost 600 certified green businesses. For a full listing, visit www.greenbiz.abag.ca.gov/ .
» Visit the Urban Green.
This store on Berkeley’s Solano Avenue is filled with eco-items such as laptop cases made from recycled chopsticks, handbags fashioned from books, and candle holders made of recycled bike chains and oil drums. You can even buy a backpack with enough solar panels to charge a cell phone, iPod, or digital camera. Visit www.theurbangreen.com for information.
» Buy a WaterSmartirrigation controller.
Automatic systems such as Toro, Weathermatic, Rainmaster, and Hunter turn on and off in response to local temperature and humidity and save 10 to 30 percent of water usage (an average of $260 a year). For consumers watering with more than 750 gallons a day, EBMUD offers rebates of $300 or more on controllers bought at Ewing Irrigation in Dublin and Concord. Visit www.ebmud.com for other qualifying local suppliers.
» Use fewer fertilizers.
If you can’t forgo that lush lawn, at least think twice about the way you apply the fertilizer. According to Bird Morningstar, owner of Concord’s the Happy Gardener, a lot of fertilizer applied using a whirlybird lands in the street and runs into our drain systems and creeks. “After you’ve applied fertilizer, go out and sweep it off the sidewalk and back on your lawn,” says Morningstar. “Then water it only to the point where you see it’s not going to run off.” Visit www.happygardener.com for information. Organic fertilizers are more eco-friendly than chemicalfertilizers, but avoid those made of biosolids (municipal sludge that can contain heavy metals).
» Take on Teko socks.
Teko recycles polyester into Ecopoly socks and makes socks from Ingeo, a sustainable corn fiber that requires significantly less fossil fuel for production than traditional synthetic fibers. Available at REI and Marmot Mountain Works in Berkeley.
» Install an energy-efficient pool filter.
Multispeed pumps give you the option of running the pump at very low speeds to conserve energy. If you use one of these pumps to filter slowly—but for a longer time each day—you can save up to 50 percent of your pool’s electric costs. Aquatech Pools’ Aqua Logic and Hayward Pool Products’ Pool Boss are among the better options. PG&E will give you a rebate of up to $100 on qualifying models. Visit www.pge.com for more information. Also, cover your pool when it’s not in use.
» Buy recycled razors and toothbrushes.
These items, made by Recycline from plastic such as yogurt cups, are available at San Ramon and Walnut Creek Whole Foods.
» Go on a green getaway.
Recycle yourself at the first hotel in California that is completely environmentally sustainable. Soon to be LEED certified, the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa uses solar power, conserves water, has chemical-free landscaping, and has been built with sustainable wood. Visit www.gaiahotelnapavalley.com for information.
» Walk, bike, or BART.
Depending on your destination, take BART or other public transit. For short trips, walk or bike and at the same time get in your exercise. You can also minimize car trips by combining grocery runs with other errands.
» Buy chlorine-free diapers.
Some East Bay mothers are turning to cloth diapers to reduce waste in landfills. If you’re not up to cloth diapers, consider using chlorine-free disposable diapers. Most diapers are made from materials bleached white by chlorine gas. Dioxin, a toxic chemical by-product of the bleaching process, is considered by the EPA to be a likely human carcinogen. Using chlorine-free diapers will help reduce dioxin pollution. Try TenderCare diapers, available at Walnut Creek and San Ramon Whole Foods, Livermore’s Van’s Health Foods, and Lafayette’s Diablo Foods. Seventh Generation also makes chlorine-free diapers.
» Recycle your motor oil.
Never pour used motor oil on the ground or into a drain, or put it in your garbage—even if it’s in a sealed container. It can end up in our water supply and cause great damage. According to www.earth911.org , one gallon of motor oil can create an oil slick up to eight acres in size, contaminate 1 million gallons of freshwater, or make four acres of soil unusable for planting for decades to come. Recycle your oil by taking it to the household hazardous waste collection facility in Martinez. Visit www.centralsan.org for information. Alameda County residents can drop off household hazardous waste at facilities in Livermore and Oakland. Visit www.stopwaste.org for information.
» Plant a tree.
Save up to 8 percent on the cost of running your air conditioner by shading the south and west sides of your home with deciduous trees.
» Buy a hybrid car.
Hybrid sales went up 23.6 percent in 2006. According to findings published in January by IntelliChoice, the Toyota Prius saves owners $13,408 over five years or 70,000 miles, compared with a nonhybrid sedan of similar size. A federal tax credit of $3,150 applies to hybrids from manufacturers that have sold fewer than 70,000 cars. Toyota has already hit that number, and the tax credit for the Prius has shrunk to $787 (available until September 2007).
» Change your furnace air filter monthly.
Your heater will use more energy if the filter is full of dust.
» Tweak your thermostat 1 degree.
If your thermostat is set between 70 and 85 degrees in summer, raising it by 1 degree will save 3 to 5 percent of the energy consumed by your air conditioner. Lowering your thermostat 1 degree in winter reduces the energy needed to run your furnace by 2 to 3 percent; save 5 to 10 percent by setting the thermostat at 68 degrees or lower during the day and 55 degrees at night.
» Buy eco-friendly shoes.
Timberland shoe boxes now have a nutrition label telling consumers about the environmental impact of each pair of shoes. Try on some Timberlands at Concord and Pleasanton Journeys and Shiekh Shoes.
» Fill it up.
Run washing machines and dishwashers only with a full load. (You’ll save more water using an Energy Star dishwasher than you will washing a full load of dishes by hand). Instead of using the clothes dryer, hang clothes on a line or rack to dry.
» Unplugged your cell phone?
Unplug the charger, too. If the charger is still attached to the wall, it gobbles up electricity even when your cell phone isn’t charging. That goes for laptop, iPod, and camera chargers, too.
» Offset your carbon.
Companies selling carbon dioxide offsets invite you to calculate your carbon emissions—from a car or plane trip, for example—and pay a fee that helps finance eco-friendly projects like planting trees or renewable energy. Established companies include www.terrapass.com , www.nativeenergy.com , and www.carbonfund.org.
» Shrink your junk mail.
Call the toll-free number on your unwanted catalogs and ask to be removed from the mailing list.
» Check for air leaks.
PG&E says that up to 30 percent of heated or cooled air can be lost through leaky ducts; have a contractor check your central heating and cooling system.
» Shut it out.
Save 8 to 15 percent of heating and cooling costs by closing window coverings during winter evenings and summer days.
» Use your ceiling fan.
Ceiling fans provide relief from the heat by circulating air and lessening the cooling required in your home. In colder months, ceiling fans set in reverse and on low push warm air down, decreasing the workload for your furnace. For most fans, the reverse setting turns the fan clockwise, with the leading edge of the blades pointing downward.
» Close the damper.
Leaving the fireplace damper open is the same as not closing a window.
» Don’t set your refrigerator too low.
Fresh foods don’t need to be refrigerated at lower than 37 degrees, but don’t go higher than 42 degrees. Frozen foods should be stored between 0 and 5 degrees. Ice buildup in the freezer reduces the efficiency of both the refrigerator and freezer. Defrost your freezer before the ice is 1/4-inch thick.
» Eat less meat.
According to Greenpeace, animal farming is the number one cause of species extinction in the United States. More than 260 million acres of this country’s forests have been cleared to grow grain for livestock. The Center for a New American Dream claims that by replacing just one beef meal a week, you can conserve more than 70 pounds of grain and 40,000 gallons of water a year.
» Replace your old water heater.
If your heater was built before 1994, buy a new gas water heater with an Energy Factor of 0.62 or higher or an electric water heater of 0.93 or higher. These new models use less energy to heat and store water because of the insulation built into the tanks. PG&E offers a $30 rebate on qualifying heaters.
» Check your water heater thermostat.
Set the thermostat to 140 degrees or “normal.” Better still, if your dishwasher has its own heating element, you can set the thermostat to 120 degrees or “low.”
» Buy LED holiday lights.
Replacing 300 incandescent bulbs with LED lights could save you up to $76 per 225 hours of operation. They might be more expensive to buy, but they’re shatterproof and have a life span of more than 50,000 hours. Available in season at Costco, Longs Drugs, and Target.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger converted his Hummer to biofuel and showed up the feds by requiring that California’s greenhouse gases be cut 25 percent by the year 2020, Californians responded. In fact, some say the governor’s going mean and green on emissions got him back into the governor’s mansion in 2006.
Then, in January, Schwarzenegger unleashed his brawny wrath on carbon being belched into the air, specifically by cars. His low carbon–fuel standard will reduce the carbon content of the fuel you put in your gas tank by 10 percent, also by 2020. He’s certainly not your grandpa’s environmentalist, or your grandpa’s conservative. Whether by careful calculation or maverick don’t-give-a-damn-about-the-GOP conviction, Schwarzenegger’s green crusade is turning liberal-equals-environmentalist conventional wisdom on its ear, and he’s become something of aconsultant to conservatives everywhere.As he said on a recent television program, “You can still have an engine that’s fast and furious and still reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 to 40 percent.” He happened to be talking about a pimped-out ’65 Chevy Impala with an 800-horsepower engine overhauled to run on biodiesel, but we get the impression he has the same opinion about this nation-state we call home.
Green in the Schools
Some of our most devoted eco-activists are students. Natasha Gupta, a sophomore at Danville’s Monte Vista High, laments the amount of needless garbage we generate. She says. “I’ve made a point to reuse bags and refill water bottles. They are small measures but they can make a difference and are very cost-effective.”
Gupta is one of about 2,000 fledgling East Bay environmentalists to join EarthTeam, a green network for teens and teachers at 74 East Bay middle and high schools founded by Sheilah Fish of Moraga. These students are getting involved in habitat restoration projects, cleaning up creeks and shorelines, and removing non-native plants. Some write for EarthTeam’s online environmental newsletter; others report for Green Screen, a monthly cable TV program crewed by teens.To fight global warming, EarthTeam’s Cool Schools program has recruited seven East Bay high schools to measure their carbon emissions with an online student-designed carbon calculator. By logging a school’s yearly electricity, water, and heat consumption, students can determine the amount of carbon dioxide their school is churning into the atmosphere. “The idea is to become carbon neutral,” says Campolindo senior Kelsey Lucas. “So, depending on the size of our carbon footprint, we can raise money to buy an area of rain forest, for example, to take out the carbon we’re putting in.”Danville’s Athenian school is also taking heroic steps to go green. Using a gigantic $10,000 compost churner named the Earth Tub, the school transforms its food and landscape waste into compost that nourishes a 3,060-square-foot organic vegetable garden. Athenian replaced every lightbulb with energy-efficient fluorescents and now uses biodegradable tableware made of potatoes and cornstarch. This summer, it will install 1,291 solar panels—a $1.7 million collaborative project with a utility company that will provide half of the school’s power.
“Solar power is not cheap,” says Bob Oxenburgh, director of finance and facilities. “But by purchasing power from an investment company that will finance the solar panels, our school has no immediate expenses but will still save about $750,000 in 20 years. And, more important, we will attack the carbon footprint of the school.”Project Green, a student group at Saint Mary’s College, is pushing for local and organic produce to be used in the campus’s food service and has organized a recycling competition among the dorms. The group is also working to redirect the college’s food waste (which currently costs $45,000 a year to be lugged to the landfill) to a giant bio-digester in Oakland. “The students have done all the research,” says Steve Woolpert, dean of liberal arts at Saint Mary’s. “They’re not getting any academic credit for this. They just wanted to do something to help.”
Picture this: buying a brand-new luxury home with $25,000 worth of built-in solar panels, as integrated as a window or a doorknob, that harvest up to 50 percent of the house’s power from the sun. Four new solar communities (comprising 350 homes) built by Lennar in Danville and San Ramon are doing just that. Why? Because they sell. “Our Bay Area customers tell us very clearly that solar is of real value to them,” says Les Lifter, Lennar’s vice president of marketing. “Plus, we are a Northern California company based in San Ramon, and we’re as interested in doing the right thing for the environment as our home buyers are.”
David and Sandra White, the first homeowners to move into Lennar’s Milano community, have already received their first energy bill. “We are using 40 percent less net power in this home than we were in our old home, even though it’s 1,700 square feet bigger,” says David. “That’s huge dollar and power savings. It benefits us, and it benefits California.”These developments may be eco-friendly, but Moraga’s Suzanne Jones and Rob Elia have taken building green to a whole new level. Nestled in the hills, their elegant home holds a secret: Eight years ago, it was an energy vampire with inefficient insulation, single-pane windows, and electric heating. Its current sleek decor belies the drastic eco-surgery that transformed the home into what it is today: an energy-conserving, dollar-saving powerhouse. “We wanted to take a house with a lot of potential and make it green and energy efficient,” says Jones.Mission accomplished. Packed to the hilt with environmentally friendly insulation (made from CFC-free foam, recycled newspaper, cellulose, and cotton) and double-pane windows, the 2,400-square-foot house holds on to its hot and cold air. “In the evening, when the temperature drops, we open the windows before we go to bed, the hot air flushes out, and the thermal mass in the house cools down,” says Jones. “In the morning, we close all the windows and, because the house is really well insulated, the hot air doesn’t get in.”The house can remain 15 to 20 degrees cooler than outdoor temperatures even on the hottest days. “In winter, the sun is low in the sky, so a lot of heat comes into our home,” says Jones. “On a sunny day in January, when it’s 40 degrees outside, our house can be up in the 80s.”Should the sun fail to bring enough warmth on its own, backup electrical heat—powered by a solar panel system (costing between $20,000 and $25,000) that supplies about 75 percent of all the home’s required power—can be used. The cost savings are dramatic. According to Jones, the remodel, which cost about $200 per square foot, has resulted in savings of around $2,000 a year on the energy bill.This house isn’t just about shrinking bills. Acting as general contractor, Jones made sure that hardly any new wood was required. Rotten siding was replaced with milled Douglas fir salvaged from the Oakland Army Base, the maple floor was reclaimed from a 1920s postal building, and the countertops, pillars, and kitchen nook were made from local fallen oaks. Furthermore, all reusable wood torn down was saved and used again. “When wood wasn’t reusable, we hauled it to the green waste dump,” says Jones. “We used the old pipes for mounting birdhouses and even used a magnet to pick up all the nails for recycling. We tried to push it as far as we could.”
Her commitment to green remodeling might seem extreme, but Suzanne Jones is in good company. Nelda Matheny’s makeover for her Pleasanton home includes a solar pool heater, a recycled glass fireplace, and a countertop made from plant fiber and resin. Antioch’s Julie Haas-Wajdowicz opted for new hardwood flooring made from Asian shipping crates. And Deva Rajan built some of his Canyon home with wood from railroad trestles and bridges.If you want to get in on this trend, Canyon Construction is opening an office in the historic Moraga Barn in July. Canyon Construction built its first recycled-content home, complete with sod roof, in Pleasanton in 1969 and has since completed numerous environmentally responsible remodels across Contra Costa. The Moraga office will showcase everything from occupancy sensor lighting to geothermal radiant heating and cooling. “We will produce about 75 percent of our electricity through solar panels, harvest rainwater to take care of all our landscaping, and be 40 percent more energy efficient than a normal building,” says Canyon Construction Green Building Specialist Jeremy Fisher.The Moraga Barn is applying for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. This nationally recognized rating system awards credits based on the sustainability of construction—if the building is energy efficient, for instance, or if it uses fewer natural resources or creates less waste. The more credits awarded, the higher the rank of LEED certificate (certified, silver, gold, or platinum).
The Moraga Barn is hoping for LEED Platinum certification; Dublin now requires all new civic buildings costing more than $3 million to be LEED Silver certified; Livermore passed an ordinance three years ago requiring new commercial construction to meet LEED standards; Walnut Creek’s city council is seeking LEED certification for its planned downtown library; and the city of Orinda will apply for LEED certification for its new city hall, which was built with creative green solutions like using recycled jeans and recycled paper products for insulation.How Green Is Your Garden?A great way to save water is to stock your garden with native plants. Manicured lawns and fussy roses are thirsty, high-maintenance creatures, whereas natives are hardy and drought resistant. “I tried to have an English country garden, and I never paid such a water bill in my life,” says Clayton’s June Chambers, whose beautiful 65 percent–native garden is featured in this month’s self-guided Bringing Back the Natives tour.
Furthermore, native plants don’t need the chemicals that disease- and pest-susceptible exotics require. “That’s the beauty of them. They do everything on their own,” says Michael Escobar, whose Walnut Creek garden is also featured on the tour. “You don’t spray anything. I have some bugs, but I have birds and lizards that come to eat them. Everybody’s living together like they’re supposed to.”Walnut Creek’s Judy Adler, cofounder of LifeGarden, a nonprofit whose projects have included restoration work in the Iron Horse Corridor, agrees. “We’re so fixated on neatness and instant color that we’ve actually designed our gardens to be high maintenance,” she says. “For me, the only pest in a garden is the human being managing it.”
The Green Business Program, coordinated by the Association of Bay Area Governments, has certified 285 businesses in Contra Costa and 269 in Alameda County. What does it take to be a green business? Requirements vary. “Just recycling doesn’t make you green,” says Robin Bedell-Waite of the Contra Costa Green Business Program. “For auto repair shops, for example, being green might mean using water to clean instead of solvents or recovering oil on the floor to be recycled.”
Many local firms are rushing to get on board. “I’ve had businesses contacting me nonstop about wanting to be certified,” says Bedell-Waite. “I’ve been amazed at the huge increase in the last year.”Among those making conservation efforts are Livermore’s Goza Gear, which uses organic cotton T-shirts and environmentally friendly silk-screen ink, and Concord’s REI, which recycles and uses Energy Star appliances and eco-friendly light bulbs.San Ramon’s Marriott is another. The hotel cut water use by replacing its 370 toilets, each of which used 3 gallons per flush, with 1.2-gallon models. With EBMUD‘s $150 rebate on each efficient toilet, the hotel is saving more than water. “Our costs on the new toilets are even less than the rebate,” says Roy Wendel, Marriott’s director of facilities. “So they will end up being free.”
Hannah Craddick is a Walnut Creek–based freelance writer.