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Going Green: 10 Simple Tips to Help Save the Earth -- and Save Some Money at the Same Time

Saving the Earth is a concept that everyone can support. Find simple, inexpensive ideas for going green in your daily life. Save money, save the planet.

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

One of the most hopeful trends recently has been a growing awareness of the fragility of the Earth and our need to become better stewards by taking more environmentally-friendly actions to save our planet. Sustainable living -- in which we adjust our lifestyles to try and reduce the use of the Earth's limited natural resources -- is the new mantra.

Going green is certainly not anything new. The environmental movement was really big in the 1970s, when the mantra became the 3Rs -- recycle, reuse, and reduce -- a concept we still embrace today.

But the 1980s became the greed-is-good decade and the 1990s were the self-centered years. Now, in a new century -- and with a big push from the Millennial generation -- we are again focused on the environment. Of course, we also are getting inspired to go green from leaders such as Al Gore and Barack Obama.

The challenges we face, though, relate to how we personally can contribute to saving the Earth through a sustainable lifestyle -- especially if we do not have the financial resources to buy solar panels for our house or purchase a new hybrid vehicle.

The good news is that there are many ways we can make easy and inexpensive changes to our daily routines that will indeed have a major impact on the environment -- and may even save us money in the process.

Here are 10 simple (and inexpensive) ideas to help you go green and do your part to safe the planet (while putting more money back in your pocket).

1. Unplug all unnecessary appliances. So many of our small appliances -- cell phone chargers, USB hubs, cordless tool chargers, game systems, cable boxes, microwave ovens, etc. -- use small transformers that continue to run even when the appliances are not in use or being charged. While the energy consumed by each appliance is fairly small, when you add up how many you have (and how many every person has), unplugging them can really make a difference in reducing our energy consumption. You'll also see a savings in your electric bill -- ranging anywhere from $10 to $20, depending on how many you have, the cost of your power, and how many you turn off.

2. Adjust your thermostat. Setting your thermostat a little lower in the colder months and a little higher in the warmer months can save a lot of energy. If your household is also out of your home for long periods during the day, get into the habit of adjusting the thermostat even more so you are not wasting money on air-conditioning or heating when no one is there. If you have the money to make a small investment, you can purchase a programmable thermostat ($50+) that will do all the work for you once you set the parameters -- reducing your energy use and saving you at least 5 percent on your heating and cooling costs.

3. Turn off your lights. An easy change to your habits such as simply turning off the lights in a room when you're done in it can have a major impact on your consumption of power -- and lower your electric bills while saving the planet. You don't have to live in the dark, but you also don't need to live in a house that is lit up like a Christmas tree every night. Regular incandescent light bulbs also produce a lot of heat, so in summer months they are actually making your air conditioner work harder. The higher the wattage of your light bulbs -- and the more you turn off -- the higher your savings.

4. Change your light bulbs. Whether you want to turn the lights off or not, another great tip is replacing those standard incandescent light bulbs you currently use with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). CFLs use 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs, producing 75 less heat -- and lasting up to10 times longer. Studies show that if each of us replaced just one traditional light bulb with a CFL, we would collectively save more than $600 million in energy costs and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from more than 800,000 cars! Imagine what can happen when you replace more than one bulb.

5. Compost your grass clippings and organic waste. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute almost a quarter of our solid waste stream. By simply composting these materials, you not only reduce the amount of waste going to our landfills, but you'll gain an organic material that you can use to fertilize your gardens and lawns. (A related tip here -- using compost helps reduce the poisoning of our soil and underground water supplies that are adversely affected by the chemicals in commercial fertilizers.)

6. Recycle as much as you can (and purchase products made from recycled materials when possible). Many of the items we purchase and consume are packaged in materials than can be easily recycled, reducing the amount of unnecessary materials adding to our overused landfills. According to some studies, as much as a third of our trash is packaging materials -- most of which can be recycled. Studies show we annually throw away 200 billion beverage containers (plastic bottles and aluminum cans), 27 billion glass bottles and jars, and 65 million plastic and metal jar/can lids/tops. An added benefit of recycling -- in addition to reducing our waste in landfills -- is the reduced cost of recycling products compared to the energy needed to produce new containers. Furthermore, because most plastic bottles are made from petroleum, recycling reduces our reliance on foreign oil necessary for the production of new bottles.

7. Buy products with reduced packaging. Love them or hate them, you must give credit to Wal-Mart in making a major push for U.S. manufacturers and suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging in their products. (Wal-Mart initially focused on reduced packaging as a way to drive down costs, but quickly came to see the environmental benefits too.) Finally, remember that, when you can, recycle all packaging materials rather than tossing them in the trash.

8. Reuse or repurpose items. There are no energy costs and no negative environmental impacts when you find a way to reuse an item rather than either recycling it or throwing it in the trash. For example, reuse plastic grocery bags or other sacks when you go shopping. Refill plastic water bottles rather than buying new ones. Save gift boxes and repurpose them for future occasions. Use old cans and containers for arts and crafts projects. Donate no longer used clothes to Good Will or other thrift stores (and keep the really old ratty ones for shop rags). Hold a garage sale -- or swap sale -- so others can reuse your stuff.

9. Ride a bike or walk to work or shopping. Even just occasionally walking or riding your bicycle to work or shop can improve your health and save you money while helping the Earth. Yes, there may be some minor inconveniences you'll have to overcome, but doing so will have such positive results -- for you and the environment. Remember to get the approval from your doctor before you start -- and follow all safety rules. For cyclists, always wear a helmet and obey traffic laws. For walkers, remember to use the sidewalks and always face traffic when walking. (Can't afford a new bike? Check with your employer because more and more are offering incentives to employees who walk or bike to work.)

10. Carpool or use public transportation. We have gotten into the bad habit of driving our cars to work -- usually by ourselves. Doing so is such a waste of limited resources and money, as well as adding to the pollution (through greenhouse gas emissions) of our environment. Carpooling is a great option that reduces pollution, costs, and time. (Yes, there are some inconveniences and hurdles you may need to overcome, but the benefits far outweigh these.) Even better than carpooling is using public transportation -- trains, busses, subways, etc. -- to get to and from work ( as well as for other trips and errands). Using public transportation is cheaper, often faster, and has less negative environmental impacts than driving our own cars.

Final Thoughts on Green Living Tips

Many of us make the incorrect assumption that we need to have a large amount of discretionary money to go green, and that simply is not the case. While you can certainly take environmentalism to the next level and install solar panels or wind turbines, the reality is that we can make a very large and positive impact on the Earth simply by doing a few simple and inexpensive things to change our habits and lifestyles -- and in many cases, these changes will not only help the environment, but directly save us money.

A special note to smokers. Here's a special tip for you smokers who think nothing of throwing your butts out your windows or dumping your ashtrays along the side of the road, or tossing your butts on the ground, the beach, or in rivers and lakes. You are not only littering the countryside, but your butts do not easily biodegrade (because of the plastic in the filters). Change your ways and put your cigarette butts in the trash, not along the side of the road. (Even better -- both for your health and the environment -- stop smoking all together.)

Finally, here are some other sites offering some great green tips:
  • The Green Guide
  • Green living tips
  • Ideal Bite
  • Living with Ed
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    Avid wellness guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., is an avid bicyclist, adventurist, environmentalist, and student of wellness and photography, with a mission of empowering others to lead great lives. He is Founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites. Dr. Hansen is also the founder and caretaker of this site, EmpoweringRetreat.com, as well as founder of EmpoweringAdvice.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com or reach him by email at CEO(at)empoweringsites.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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