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By Emily Deanne
Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.
Conserve Heating and Cooling<p><a href="https://www.energystar.gov/sites/default/files/tools/DataTrends_Dormitory_20150129.pdf" target="_blank">Air-conditioning</a> packs the biggest punch for dorm power usage, and if your room has individual temperature control, you can set it a few degrees higher to help cut back on how much energy the cooling system uses. Never leave a window open when an air conditioner (or heater) is running, and on hot, sunny days, keeping the blinds or curtains closed will block many of the sun's warming rays. In the winter, this will help keep the cold out, too. Year round, report broken windows, cracks in doorways, or any damaged thermostat controls to the university maintenance department. </p>
Light Efficiently<p><br>Switch off your overhead light, desk lamp, and any other lights every time you leave the dorm. To take your environmentalism a step further, if the bulbs provided aren't LEDs, <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-shop-energy-efficient-light-bulbs" target="_blank">consider swapping some in</a>. LEDs are 85 percent more efficient than old-fashioned incandescents and last much, much longer. If you decide to decorate with that dorm room staple, a string of holiday lights, make sure those are LEDs too. (Find tips on how to shop for energy-efficient bulbs <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-shop-energy-efficient-light-bulbs" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p>
Unplug Everything<p>The average dorm room consumes 30.2 percent of its electrical energy while you and your roomies aren't there, according to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378778814010299" target="_blank">one study</a>. That's because appliances <a href="https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/energy-vampires-are-attacking-your-home-here-s-how-stop-them" target="_blank">continue to draw power from electrical outlets even when turned off or idle</a>. A power strip or surge protector helps avoid this: You can plug all your appliances and devices into it, then easily stop them from drawing power with one switch.</p>
Don’t Make Your Screens Work Too Hard<p>If you have a television, look for an energy-saving feature called Automatic Brightness Control. It automatically adjusts the picture brightness level to the amount of light in the room. Game consoles can be huge energy drainers if used to stream videos or if constantly left on. Instead, stream with apps already on your TV or with a streaming device (like Roku or Apple TV), which require <a href="https://www.energystar.gov/products/configuring_todays_game_consoles_use_less_energy_0" target="_blank">one-fifteenth the energy</a>. Keep the auto-power-down feature enabled so your game console doesn't consume power when you aren't using it.</p><p>Desk computers and laptops are college necessities, and as with your gaming console, you can typically program your computer to go into a low-power standby mode when you're taking a break. Look for an energy-saving or eco-mode.</p><p>Shopping for a new computer? <a href="https://www.energystar.gov/products/office_equipment/computers" target="_blank">Check out this website</a> to find one that is certified by Energy Star to be energy efficient. (Any printer or mini-fridge you buy should be similarly certified.)</p>
Reduce Water Use<p>If you have a dishwasher in your room or suite, run it only with a full load; the same goes for doing laundry. Wash clothes in cold water and consider using a drying rack instead of an electric clothes dryer, which <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/easy-ways-save-energy-home" target="_blank">often uses as much energy as a new refrigerator, dishwasher, and clothes washer combined</a>.</p><p>If you live in an apartment-style dorm, more bonus points to you if you add a faucet aerator to your sinks. Aerators can reduce water flow <a href="https://www.epa.gov/watersense/bathroom-faucets" target="_blank">to 1.5 gallons per minute or less</a> from the standard flow of 2.2 gallons per minute. They are inexpensive and easy to screw onto the nozzle of your faucet, and they <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/energy-efficient-home-makeover" target="_blank">save energy by reducing your hot water use.</a></p>
Save the Food<p><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/resources/wasted-how-america-losing-40-percent-its-food-farm-fork-landfill" target="_blank">An NRDC study</a> found that about 40 percent of food is wasted in the U.S., which leads to a lot of emissions from food rotting in landfills. (One such gas is methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/natural-gas-industry-has-methane-problem" target="_blank">80 times as effective at trapping heat as carbon dioxide)</a>. Do your part to help keep food scraps out of the landfill. Don't pile a tray with more food than you can possibly eat at the dining hall and keep a set of reusable containers on hand, in case you find yourself with extra slices from your late-night pizza delivery. With leftovers you can't store, it's best to toss them into a compost bin if there's one on-site or nearby; some cities host farmers markets where you can drop off composted food for free. You could even start a composting club or, if your roommate agrees, make your <a href="https://nrdc.tumblr.com/post/118984184239/how-to-build-a-worm-bin" target="_blank">own composting worm bin</a>.</p>
Create a Movement<p>With communal spaces and shared amenities, it can be hard to regulate every part of your energy use. Talking with your resident advisor (RA) about ways to increase dorm energy efficiency is a great way to make meaningful change. You could also join—or even start—an environmental club or energy efficiency council on your campus. When you join together with other student activists standing up against climate change, your impact on greening college life will go well beyond those dorm room walls.</p>
The tiny house movement is an environmentalist dream's come true — less space means you need less stuff and you consume less energy. The problem is you have to live in a cramped space and dedicate yourself to the Marie Kondo credo of only having a few objects in you home that spark joy.
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Meal kit delivery services are an easy target for eco-conscious people concerned with waste: the ingredients are meticulously packaged in plastic and insulation, put into cardboard boxes and shipped to the customer's front door each week. But how does all that waste and energy use stack up against the environmental impact of buying the same meal at the grocery store?
By Maria Saxton
Interest is surging in tiny homes — livable dwelling units that typically measure under 400 square feet. Much of this interest is driven by media coverage that claims that living in tiny homes is good for the planet.
The Unsustainable U.S. Housing Model<p>In recent decades, the building trend has been to "go big." Newly constructed homes in the U.S. generally have a larger average square footage <a href="https://www.slideshare.net/ORDEQ/deq-building-lca-forwebsite-16minfinal1" target="_blank">than in any other country in the world</a>.</p><p>In 1973 the average newly constructed U.S. home measured 1,660 square feet. By 2017 that average had increased to <a href="https://www.census.gov/construction/chars/pdf/squarefeet.pdf" target="_blank">2,631 square feet</a> — a 63 percent increase. This growth has harmed the environment in many ways, including loss of green space, increased air pollution and energy consumption, and ecosystem fragmentation, which can <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/habitat-fragmentation" target="_blank">reduce biodiversity</a>.</p><p>The concept of minimalist living has existed for centuries, but the modern tiny house movement became a trend only in the early 2000s, when <a href="https://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/" target="_blank">one of the first tiny home building companies</a> was founded. Tiny homes are an innovative housing approach that can reduce building material waste and excessive consumption. There is no universal definition for a tiny home, but they generally are small, efficient spaces that value quality over quantity.</p><p>People choose to downsize to tiny homes for many reasons. They may include living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, simplifying their lives and possessions, becoming more mobile or achieving financial freedom, since tiny homes <a href="https://www.rd.com/advice/saving-money/costs-owning-tiny-home/" target="_blank">typically cost significantly less</a> than the average American home.</p>
Understanding Footprint Changes After Downsizing<p>This study examined tiny home downsizers' environmental impacts by measuring their individual ecological footprints. This metric calculates human demand on nature by providing a measurement of land needed to sustain current consumption behaviors.</p><p>To do this, I calculated their <a href="https://www.footprintnetwork.org/faq/" target="_blank">spatial footprints</a> in terms of global hectares, considering housing, transportation, food, goods and services. For reference, one global hectare is equivalent to about 2.5 acres, or about the size of a single soccer field.</p><p>I found that among 80 tiny home downsizers located across the U.S., the average ecological footprint was 3.87 global hectares, or about 9.5 acres. This means that it would require 9.5 acres to support that person's lifestyle for one year. Before moving into tiny homes, these respondents' average footprint was 7.01 global hectares (17.3 acres). For comparison, the average American's footprint is <a href="http://data.footprintnetwork.org/#/" target="_blank">8.4 global hectares</a>, or 20.8 acres.</p><p>My most interesting finding was that housing was not the only component of participants' ecological footprints that changed. On average, every major component of downsizers' lifestyles, including food, transportation and consumption of goods and services, was positively influenced.</p><p>As a whole, I found that after downsizing people were more likely to eat less energy-intensive food products and adopt more environmentally conscious eating habits, such as eating more locally and growing more of their own food. Participants traveled less by car, motorcycle, bus, train and airplane, and drove more fuel-efficient cars than they did before downsizing.</p><p>They also purchased substantially fewer items, recycled more plastic and paper, and generated less trash. In sum, I found that downsizing was an important step toward reducing ecological footprints and encouraging pro-environmental behaviors.</p><p>To take these findings a step farther, I was able to use footprint data to calculate how many resources could potentially be saved if a small portion of Americans downsized. I found that about 366 million acres of biologically productive land could be saved if just 10 percent of Americans downsized to a tiny home.</p>
Maria Saxton / CC BY-ND
Fine-tuning footprint analyses<p>My research identified more than 100 behaviors that changed after downsizing to a tiny home. Approximately 86 percent had a positive impact, while the rest were negative.</p><p>Some choices, such as harvesting rainwater, adopting a capsule wardrobe approach and carpooling, reduced individual environmental impacts. Others could potentially expand people's footprints — for example, traveling more and eating out more often.</p><p>A handful of negative behaviors were not representative of all participants in the study, but still are important to discuss. For instance, some participants drove longer distances after moving to rural areas where their tiny homes could be parked. Others ate out more often because they had smaller kitchens, or recycled less because they lacked space to store recyclables and had less access to curbside recycling services.</p><p>It is important to identify these behaviors in order to understand potential negative implications of tiny home living and enable designers to address them. It is also important to note that some behaviors I recorded could have been influenced by factors other than downsizing to a tiny home. For instance, some people might have reduced their car travel because they had recently retired.</p><p>Nonetheless, all participants in this study reduced their footprints by downsizing to tiny homes, even if they did not downsize for environmental reasons. This indicates that downsizing leads people to adopt behaviors that are better for the environment. These findings provide important insights for the sustainable housing industry and implications for future research on tiny homes.</p><p>For instance, someone may be able to present this study to a planning commission office in their town to show how and why tiny homes are a sustainable housing approach. These results have the potential to also support tiny home builders and designers, people who want to create tiny home communities and others trying to change zoning ordinances in their towns to support tiny homes. I hope this work will spur additional research that produces more affordable and sustainable housing choices for more Americans.</p>
By Marlene Cimons
Gibran Vita makes every effort to get rid of the dispensable. He lives in a small home and wears extra layers indoors to cut his heating bills. He eats and drinks in moderation. He spends his leisure time in "contemplation," volunteering or working on art projects. "I like to think more like a gatherer, that is, 'what do I have?' instead of 'what do I want?'" he said.
By Reynard Loki
Humans have been moving food around the world for thousands of years. Toward the end of the second century BC, merchants traveled along the Silk Road, transporting noodles from Xi'an, grapes from Dayuan and nutmeg from the Moluccas Islands to eager buyers along its 4,000-mile network. While it's possible to trace the evolution of food through that matrix of ancient caravan routes that linked China to the West, it's hard to measure its environmental impact. It's likely that, as with any road, wildlife corridors were disrupted. But greenhouse gas emissions were fairly low, consisting of the methane from the belches and farts of the horses, yaks and Bactrian camels, and the fires that humans burned along the way.
By Meredith Rosenberg
In early October, the United Nations released a climate change report forewarning of global catastrophes (severe flooding, wildfires, droughts) that could begin by 2040 unless drastic changes are made to reduce greenhouse gases. It might seem like a daunting task, but here are five lifestyle changes you can make right now to start reducing your carbon footprint. If you really want to help the planet, follow the next-level suggestions to make the biggest impact.
By Lotfi Belkhir
Rarely do we point the finger at computer technologies.
By Amy McDermott
Food is expensive. Not just for pocketbooks, but for the planet. Worldwide, more than 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. That's methane belched from cows and nitrous oxide escaping from soils, as well as fossil fuels burned by tractors, fishing boats and rumbling transport vehicles. Some foods cost more than others.
Seafood has a smaller carbon footprint than other animal proteins, on average, because fishing doesn't require farmland or care of livestock. But even among seafoods, fish and shellfish can have varying impacts.
By Anna Scott
Want to save the planet? Are you, like me, a young professional struggling to reduce your carbon footprint? Then join me in taking the train to your next professional conference.
Most of my low-carbon lifestyle is admittedly enforced on me by my student budget. I have no kids, bicycle to work and share a house with roommates. What dominates my carbon footprint is the flights I take—I'll be hitting frequent flyer status this year thanks to traveling for conferences, talks and workshops (not to mention those flights to see my family during the holidays—even being unmarried doesn't get me out of visiting in-laws overseas). This is a bittersweet moment for a climate scientist—my professional success gives me an opportunity to impact the world with my science, but is hurting the planet and leaving future generations with a mess that will outlive me.
By Kari Hamerschlag and Christopher D. Cook
What do meat-centric, cheesy-rich school lunches and climate change have in common? Both pose risks for our kids' health and our planet's future. In short, too much meat and dairy in our diets contributes to both chronic health problems and climate change.
Research shows that we cannot avoid the worst impacts of climate change unless we dramatically scale back our consumption of animal foods. That's because producing meat and cheese generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and guzzles huge amounts of water.
What if we could improve our kids' school lunches and reduce our impact on the climate at the same time?
One of California's largest school districts is doing just that, showing how we can reduce our impact on climate change and save money by serving less—and better—meat and dairy products. By trimming back the meat and cheese in kids' lunches and serving more plant-based nutritious meals, the Oakland Unified School District significantly reduced its carbon and water footprint, according to a new study by Friends of the Earth.
Over the past two years, Oakland's K-12 school food service cut their meals' carbon footprint by 14 percent and reduced its water use by 6 percent. Meanwhile, the district saved $42,000 by cutting costs per meal by one percent, enabling it to purchase better quality and more sustainable meat from organic, grass-fed retired dairy cows.
Consider one popular lunch food: a beef hot dog. Friends of the Earth's analysis found that one hot dog generates seven times the carbon footprint of a tofu-veggie rice stir-fry and more than three times that of a veggie bean tostada.
If every California K-12 school food service matched Oakland's carbon footprint reductions, they would reduce their footprint by 80 million kg of CO2 emissions—equivalent to Californians driving almost 200 million fewer miles per year.
We know kids can be picky eaters. So it's even more impressive that Oakland's effort actually increased student satisfaction with local, regional, fresh and tasty meals. Equally important, these plant-based meals met or exceeded the U.S. Department of Agriculture meal pattern requirements.
With such remarkable progress from just one school district over two years, imagine if all food-serving outlets served more plant-based foods and more sustainable, less resource-intensive animal foods. This would greatly benefit our climate future, help everyone eat healthier and reduce the risk of costly, diet related diseases associated with meat-centric diets. Currently, Americans eat 50 percent more meat than is recommended by U.S. Dietary Guidelines, while only 20 percent of us get the suggested amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Friends of the Earth
Fortunately, Oakland isn't alone. Across California and the nation, hundreds of school districts have adopted Meatless Mondays, generating important climate and water benefits by reducing demand for resource-intensive meat products.
Beyond schools, food service institutions in hospitals, prisons and elsewhere are saving money and improving health with plant-focused menus. A pilot program in four hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area (Health Care Without Harm's Balanced Menus: Less Meat Better Meat) saved the equivalent of $400,000 a year during its trial period. The Maricopa County Jail saved an estimated $817,000 in one year by switching from meat to plant-based foods.
Despite the growing trend towards serving more plant-based meals, the strategy of shifting institutional food purchasing to aid climate mitigation has rarely been tapped or quantified. We hope this report inspires more public institutions to track their animal foods purchases and serve less and better meat and more plant-based foods as a cost-effective way to achieve environmental and public health goals. We also hope policymakers will begin to consider meat reduction as a key climate mitigation strategy.
The vital role of meat reduction in mitigating climate change is well-documented in numerous peer-reviewed articles and two recent studies by the World Resources Institute and Chatham House. A 2014 climate mitigation report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that "the potential to reduce GHG emissions through reduction in consumption of meat ... (is) substantially higher than that of (any other agricultural) technical mitigation measures." The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Report reiterated the environmental benefits of less meat consumption.
According to a 2016 Menus of Change report from the Culinary Institute and Harvard's School of Public Health, a diet emphasizing plant foods "is the single most important contribution the foodservice industry can make toward environmental sustainability."
Reducing demand for resource-intensive animal foods is a relatively simple, cost neutral or even cost-saving strategy. Because animal foods production is a major part of greenhouse gas emissions, other climate mitigation measures will ultimately be ineffective if we don't dramatically reduce meat and dairy consumption. That's because the increased emissions from rising meat consumption trends would quickly wipe out the climate benefits from other mitigation strategies.
Yet another added benefit from Oakland Unified School District's approach: trimming demand for grain-fed animal products and promoting more sustainable pasture-raised meat from dairy cows also helps build healthier soils to sequester carbon, another key ingredient in fighting climate change.
At a time when people are hungry for positive solutions, the Oakland school lunch story provides an inspiring model for a growing movement across California and the nation. The evidence shows we can improve our kids' health, save money and help the environment, all while increasing student satisfaction and meeting federal school meal requirements. This is a rare triple win that all parents can embrace.
Kari Hamerschlag is deputy director for food and technology at Friends of the Earth and Christopher D. Cook is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.