Thursday, January 10, 2008

Taking Stock: 2007

Green Factoids returns after a 2 month hiatus during which work pressures left little time for other activities. I will brave the risk of falling into the well-worn cliches of the season in order to look at what I have personally accomplished in the past year in my goal to develop a more sustainable lifestyle.


I have managed to cut my family’s monthly and daily electricity use roughly in half. After 6 months of tracking our use, I can confidently say that our low kWh readings are not a fluke. I have made the following changes which have helped bring this about (in order of impact):
1. switching every light-bulb I can to CFLs, especially in the most heavily used rooms
2. becoming much more careful about not leaving lights on
3. using our 350 watt halogen fixtures as little as possible
4. replacing our ancient air-conditioner with an EnergyStar model
5. cutting way back on our air-conditioning
6. adjusting the controls so that my computer sleeps after 2 minutes
7. putting my printer, modem, computer and hard drive on a power strip and turning them off most nights

I switched our electricity supplier to one that relies on wind and low-impact hydro-electric.

I switched from traveling by car to traveling by subway on roughly half my commutes.

I started worm composting in my apartment.

I made “sustainability” an express issue on the syllabus of the courses I teach, emphasizing strategies for reducing paper. In addition to distributing all assignments by email, I encouraged my students to hand in their essays printed on the clean side of scrap paper—of whatever color. I set the example by printing my exams and other materials on scrap paper. I also asked that they eliminate title pages and other opportunities for white space and waste. I would estimate that about a third of my students took advantage of my request, saving about 300 sheets of virgin paper. I also printed out the final essay (submitted by email) on scrap paper, saving about another 300 sheets. Not exactly an enormous reduction of impact, but I believe that the gesture raised my students’ awareness of sustainability in a low-key way that did not involve preaching or departing from the “official” curriculum—18th-century literature. I believe that those students who participated have likely changed their paper habits permanently—as have I. I am going to continue to do this for all of my classes, and also suggest it to my colleagues.

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