Living Green

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Green Careers
Eco-friendly home conversion
How Much Your Green Habits Really Save
Helpful tips for going green.
Sierrra Club Green Home

The 5 Worst Foods for Environmentalists to Eat

You are not going to like the list, but it is time to start making a change for the environment.

1. Bluefin Tuna

We'll let Pulitzer Prize–winning food critic Jonathan Gold get on his soapbox for this one: "People need to stop eating bluefin tuna. Period. It'll be difficult because bluefin is uncommonly delicious and tends to be served at high-end sushi bars, where the fashion is to say 'omakase' and submit to the chef's will. But the numbers of these magnificent fish are dropping fast. If we don't stop eating them now, we'll stop in a few years anyway because there won't be any more." Carl Safina, who founded the Blue Ocean Institute, adds, "Because they're long-lived, bluefin populations don't stand up well to heavy fishing pressure—that's why they're so depleted. It's just too sad to eat them. Plus, big fish are high in mercury." To rein in your share of the overfishing disaster currently unfolding—bluefin stock is down by more than 96 percent from unfished levels—order a vegetarian roll instead.

2. Conventional Coffee

The problem with conventional coffee, according to Stephen Madigosky, an environmental science professor at Widener University, "stems from manipulating this shade-loving plant into one that's grown in full sunlight and requires substantial use of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers. " He adds that biologically rich forests are cleared in favor of coffee crops, which devastates tropical species, especially migratory birds. Order organic java to cut out the pesticides, and choose shade-grown to protect rainforest biodiversity. Marc Lash, sustainability ambassador for FrontStreet Facility Solutions, points out that how you take your coffee makes a difference: "At Starbucks, a black cup of coffee has a carbon footprint of about 30 grams, whereas a venti caramel latte has one of about 420 grams."

3. Burgers

"Cheap burgers are environmental assassins," says Logan Strenchock, Central European University's sustainability officer. Feeding cows to turn them into FACTORY-FARMED BEEF often requires replacing tropical forests with fields of genetically modified corn and soy, which are laced with pesticides that pollute local waters. "It takes 10 to 14 pounds of grain-based feed for a cow to gain 1 pound of flesh," Strenchock says. "Once harvested, that flesh needs to be kept cold, consuming massive amounts of energy." If you must eat a dead cow, eat a grass-fed one, but even then, consider these words from Mary O'Brien, who directs the Utah Forests Program for the Grand Canyon Trust: "In the western U.S., cattle have the single most pervasive impact on public lands, depleting native biodiversity, increasing invasive exotics, diverting water, fouling streams, and baring the soil."

4. Genetically Modified Corn

"Genetically modified corn violates so many sustainability boundaries—destroying habitats, depleting soils, breaking nutrient cycles, polluting air and water, contaminating native maize varieties, and on and on," says Douglas Fox, a professor of sustainable agriculture at Unity College. Terry Walters, author of Clean Food(Sterling Epicure, 2012), says that such monocrops "put our bee population at risk and are creating superpests." She adds that corn's unhealthy offspring, high-fructose corn syrup, "takes a huge toll on the land, requires more pesticides and fertilizers over time as soil is depleted, and requires extensive processing." Lee Greene, who runs heirloom-food company Scrumptious Pantry, adds that relying on genetically modified crops "will continue to dramatically reduce biodiversity and drive historic fruits and vegetables to extinction."

5. Palm Oil

"Palm Oil is one of the largest causes of rainforest destruction," says Laurel Sutherlin, a Rainforest Action Network spokesperson. According to RAN, U.S. palm oil use has ballooned by 500 percent over the past 10 years—it's now in about half of all packaged foods. Christy Wilhelmi, author of Gardening for Geeks (Adams Media, 2013), points out that this oil can be produced only in tropical areas—so huge swaths of ancient rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia have been bulldozed to plant new palms. "Eight million acres have been cleared and burned already," Wilhelmi says, "and as a result, the orangutan is on its way to extinction." In Indonesia, deforestation-related carbon emissions—most of which are from expanding palm plantations—surpass the amount of pollution caused by all U.S. cars, trucks, planes, and ships. To avoid palm oil, read the ingredients on packaged goods, especially cookies, crackers, and instant-noodle soups.

Which Green Career is Right for You?

Whether you're a recent grad or a seasoned professional considering a career change, 

Now is the perfect time to look for your dream job. The Sierra Club can help you. 

Take our short quiz to learn which eco-friendly gig might be the best fit for your personality.

Go to Green Career and find your green match. 

Richard Jones, University of Miami’s sustainable building expert, converts his home into an eco-friendly structure.

article from U of Miami's Green Zone

It’s a Saturday, and in the four-bedroom, three-bath Jones home in South Miami, father Richard is in the kitchen, slicing carrots on a countertop table made of 100-percent-recycled office paper. In the laundry room, his wife is prepping a load of laundry for their energy-efficient washing machine, soaking the garments in water warmed by a solar hot-water heater. And in the Florida room, his daughter is reading a book under light powered by reflective solar tubes.

Although this one-story may look similar to other houses in the neighborhood, it’s definitely “greener” on the Jones side of the fence. An expansion and renovation initiated three years ago with the goal of becoming more environmentally conscious has converted the abode into a picture-perfect example of sustainable architecture at its best.

“It’s pretty much everything from soup to nuts,” says Jones, the University of Miami’s associate vice president for facilities design and construction, describing the extensive remodeling project that earned their home a Platinum rating—the highest obtainable—under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system. “We looked at almost every aspect of our home, from the air-conditioning system and insulation to the landscaping and finishes.”

Among the improvements:

  • a reflective white roof that reduces heat gain and helps keep the house cooler
  • solar tubes installed in closets and other areas of the house, making it unnecessary to turn on lights during the day
  • LED lighting throughout the home
  • high-efficiency Energy Star appliances
  • a whole-house air purification system
  • one-gallon flush toilets (older toilets can use up to 3.5 gallons per flush)
  • drought-resistant landscaping
  • rain barrels placed around the exterior of the home to capture rainwater, which is used for irrigation
  • recycled materials used in the home’s expansion

When all the work was completed in 2009, the entire project added another 1,100 square feet to the home, nearly doubling its size, and the “green” upgrades earned the family a tax break from Uncle Sam. “We got federal tax credits for solar panels, solar hot water, and other energy-efficient improvements such as insulation, air conditioning, roof, and windows,” Jones explains. “Some of those programs are sun-setting, but solar, wind, and geothermal are good through 2016.”

Richard and his wife moved into the residence 11 years ago, when it was a 1,200-square-foot home, built in the tradition of mid-century architecture. As their family grew the Joneses knew they had to expand. But using standard building materials harmful to the environment was never an option. Richard wanted to go green. So the couple did their homework, reading everything they could find about green building practices and attending a major homebuilders show in Orlando, where they gleaned several ideas for sustainable products.

Richard’s role of spearheading UM’s green building initiatives also helped. He incorporated into his home’s redesign some of the basic sustainability strategies now in use in UM’s “green” structures such as the LEED-certified Clinical Research Building on the Miller School of Medicine campus.

“The general concept is pretty much the same,” says Jones, a graduate of UM’s School of Architecture. “The first thing we did, and probably the most important, was to cut down on our energy consumption, which meant doing a good job of sealing and insulating our home. Then we looked at different systems.”

The result has been a 64 percent decrease in the family’s energy consumption, even though the house has nearly doubled in size. Jones estimates that the family now saves about $3,000 to $4,000 a year in energy costs over a house of similar size. 

Jones’s eco-friendly home is also helping to lower his family’s carbon footprint on the environment. In the United States, buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of total water consumption, 68 percent of total electricity consumption, and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But even though building greener is a growing trend in the commercial sector, the practice is not as prevalent among private homeowners. The high cost of building in such a fashion is one reason. “We’re not paying for the cost of what we’re getting in green materials so much as we’re paying for the process,” says Jacqueline James, a UM assistant professor of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering, whose area of expertise is in sustainable construction. “When anything is new, it takes longer to manufacture, longer to figure out, longer for the contractors and builders to get into it. It’s not something they’re used to doing every day. Right now building green is more expensive because it’s newer, and we’re still in the phase of trying to understand it. But as we get a little more used to the materials and processes, it’ll get cheaper and materials will be readily available.”

While many of the sustainable materials Jones used in his remodeled house cost more than conventional products, those extra costs will be absorbed by the lower electric and water bills, which will help him reach the break-even point soon.

Copyright: e-Veritas, University of Miami

How Much Your Green Habits Really Save

by Mary Mazzoni. (Mary is a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Penn. She is an Editorial Intern for

Just how much plastic are you saving by toting that stainless steel water bottle around all the time? Did switching to paperless billing really save a tree, or just save you some hassle? Let’s break it down by numbers. Check out this list of little green habits to try. By the end you’ll be convinced that every little bit does count!

Turning off the faucet. 

About 75 percent of the water used in the average home is used in the bathroom, according to the California Energy Commission. Leaving the water running while we brush our teeth or wash our faces only increases that number. It can be a tough habit to break, but here’s how much you’re really using. The numbers: The average bathroom faucet flows at a rate of two gallons per minute. Turning off the tap while brushing your teeth in the morning and at night can save a whopping 8 gallons of water per day, according to the EPA. That’s 240 gallons of water every month!That is 27,412 Gallons of Water a Year

Unsubscribing from junk mail. 

Junk mail is seriously annoying, but how much paper is really being wasted by the endless flow of circulars, promotional fliers and copies of the same bill? The answer is – a whole lot. You can cut back on the junk mail on your doorstep by switching to paperless billing. The numbers: The amount of junk mail Americans receive every day could heat 250,000 homes, according to the National Park Service. And the EPA says we each use approximately one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper each year – that’s bigger than the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.

Switching to Compact Flurescent lights (CFLs),

Not to knock Thomas Edison, but those incandescent light bulbs just have to go. Making the switch to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs is a super-simple way to green up your home, but how much energy do they really save? The numbers: CFLs use only 32 watts of electricity – that’s one-third the wattage of their incandescent counterparts. Making the simple switch in your home will cut out 300 pounds of carbon emissions every year, according to

Fixing that leak. 

A leaky faucet or a running toilet may not seem like a big deal, but repairing your leaks right away actually saves loads of water. If you can’t figure out how to fix a leaky faucet without a plumber, put a bowl under the leak to catch the dripping water, and use it in the kitchen or to water your house plants. For a running toilet, simply turn the water valve off until you can get it repaired. The numbers: A leaky faucet can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water every year, and a running toilet wastes about 200 gallons a day, according to the EPA.

Skipping polystyrene foam. 

Polystyrene cups and plates are commonplace at many family gatherings and neighborhood barbeques, and foam to-go boxes at restaurants are almost impossible to avoid. But these products are difficult to recycle, especially once they’ve been contaminated with food residue. The numbers: Each year, Americans throw away 25 million polystyrene foam cups. That’s enough to circle the earth 436 times, according to the Oberlin College Resource Conservation Team.

Taking shorter showers.

It’s easy to zone out for a few extra minutes during a morning shower, but you can save way more water than you think by cutting a few minutes off your tub time. The numbers: Depending on your showerhead, you use 10-25 gallons of water every five minutes you spend in the shower, according to the EPA. So, you could be saving up to 5 gallons for every minute you shave off your shower time!

Using the microwave.

Don’t worry. We’re not suggesting you nuke grandma’s blue ribbon casserole. But when it comes to reheating or defrosting small amounts of food, it can be tricky to tell if opting for the microwave actually saves energy over using a stove or oven. The numbers: According to EPA estimates, if you’re reheating or thawing a small amount of food, you’ll use 50 percent less energy by putting it in the microwave over a conventional stove or oven.

Choosing reusable food storage.

It’s easy to throw some plastic wrap on some leftovers and stick them in the fridge. Storing them in a reusable container you’ll have to wash later may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, especially when that piece of plastic wrap looks so small and insignificant, but the numbers add up. The numbers: According to the National Park Service, America produces more than 250,000 square miles of plastic wrap every year – enough to shrink wrap the state of Texas.

Ditching disposable plastic water bottles.

Plastic water bottles are super convenient, and it can be tough to completely eliminate them from your daily routine. But cutting back on how many you use and remembering to recycle your plastics every time can make a sizeable dent in U.S. plastic consumption. Use a stainless steel water bottle to cut back on your need for plastics, and keep a designated place in your car or desk for plastic bottles you’re finished with but have no place to recycle. Take them home at the end of the day, and throw them in your curbside bin. The numbers: Americans use 25 billion plastic bottles every year, according to the Oberlin College Resource Conservation Team. If every American household eliminated or recycled just one out of every 10 plastic bottles they used, it would keep 200 million pounds of plastic out of landfills each year.

Giving the dryer a break.

Most of us don’t think too much about using the dryer. It’s quick and easy, and depending on where you call home, you can’t very well use a clothesline in the winter without getting your garments in a pretty stiff situation. Even if you use an energy efficient dryer, giving it a rest from time to time will seriously cut back on your energy use. The numbers: If you air dry your clothes for only six months out of the year, you can cut down 700 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, according to

Here are some helpful tips for going green.

Find your cookware in the second-hand store or flea market.

They need to be cleaned and shined up but they work wonderfully, they save you money, you are recycling, and they don't have the harmful chemicals and materials that can end up in your food - as can happen with the cheap, new cookware. 

Buying clothes - think green.

Some companies make clothing out of lower impact materials such as organic cotton and recycled plastics. Patagonia's Common Thread Recycling Program transforms worn-out garments into new ones. Also, hit the outdoor flea markets and find the bargains in second hand outfits. You can go funky and stay green. 

Celebrate Sustainably. 

If you’re attending a party or headed to a beach or park to celebrate, gather your friends to carpool there. If you’re the host, use paperless invites, recycle materials into decorations, and challenge your guests to recycle while in your home.

Think Green - think about packaging.

Packaging plays a big role in our impact on the planet, from the emissions related to producing the packaging, to the transport of them to the dump as they become garbage. You already know to stop buying water in plastic bottles, but you have a lot of other choices in packaging every day. Styrofoam vs paper, buying in bulk, avoiding cellophane wrap. Look for reusable or recyclable packaging....and, think about doing without a product if the waste produced is high. 

Turn out the lights when not using a room.

Even low-energy use bulbs can't do as much as just going dark. And, what about lowering the wattage everywhere. Do you really need 100 watts to read?

When using the dishwasher: don't pre-rinse dishes, just scrape excess food off.

Limit your use of air-fresheners

They are bad for the earth and studies have shown they are bad for you as well. Instead, use 100% beeswax candles with 100% cotton wicks- they purify and clean the air.

Sierra Club Green Home

SC Green Home

Sierra Club Green Home is a tool for sourcing environmentally friendly, green-checked businesses, and picking up green tips and techniques. Greener homes are in the spotlight these days, but what about the other places where many of us spend huge chunks of our time--our offices? Some simple changes of habit can save energy and resources at work, and these small steps can be multiplied by persuading the powers-that-be at your workplace to adopt environmentally friendly (and often cost-effective) policies.

  • Ramp up your recycling. Make it your habit and pass it along.
  • Purchase supplies made with recycled material.
  • Stop using those styrofoam cups. Bring your own mug.

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