Part III: Activism, Activism, What to do? by Stephen Riella

So, you want to get involved? Environmental activism can be a crazy place. How far are you going to take it? Do you want to speak with your money? Would you rather speak with your time? Who do you contact and how can one person start to make an impact? Let's explore the ways one person can get involved with the conservation movement.

There are a lot of organizations out there and a lot of them need your money, or at least that's what they'll tell you. How can you know who is actually making a difference versus who is just raking in some cash and not doing much with it?

Let's tackle the second part of that two part question first. Legitimacy is the key. There are a number of organizations that have dedicated themselves to figuring out who is a real nonprofit and who is not. One such service is Guidestar. At the end of this article you will find links to several helpful pages and one that we will include is Guidestar. They verify nonprofits 501(c)(3) paperwork from the IRS along with a host of other pieces of information. They will tell you who the Board of Directors are, what projects are ongoing and also the areas that the organization operates in.

The first part of the question can get tricky. Part of the problem is the level of impact in the eyes of the donor. Do you want to support an organization that lobbies for reform or would you rather support a group that puts feet on the ground? Only you can answer that question. One good way to find out if an organization is doing what they say is if they have on going volunteer events that you can sign up for. Nothing says support the environment better than a group planting trees, cleaning beaches or helping parks out with service projects. Attend an event and see if they really have something going on. If they do, then support them as much as you can.  If you want to support a lobbyist group things can get a little murky. The best way to verify that funds are being used properly, review the organization's financial statements that are released to the public. You will be able to view how much goes to overhead and how much actually reaches the cause. For any group a solid number is a minimum of 60 cents for every dollar is reaching the cause.

Volunteering is 1a for nonprofits to the 1b of fundraising. Speaking as the president of a nonprofit, volunteers are priceless. Our organization like any other, is so grateful for time that people take out of their schedule to support a cause. If you can free up the time, I can almost guarantee you will not have a bad experience. Don't get me wrong, working with an environmental group can be messy and exhausting but it can also be a pretty good time. Volunteerism can take on other roles with a nonprofit; help spreading the word about an upcoming project, help drive social media presence, assisting with events or even pitching in on the fundraising efforts in a donation drive. Don't be afraid to reach out to an organization. They will take the time to speak to you and let you know where they could use a hand.

Lastly, and possibly one of the most important steps in activism is to be, well, active. Do you know what proposals your State/House representative is submitting for possible bills? If not, you need to look into the laws, budget proposals, bills and rules that our government is proposing. All too often we turn a blind eye to this incredibly important process. We cast our votes every two to four years and completely forget to hold these people accountable. If someone submits a bill to just get rid of a National Monument, or if someone proposes the genius idea to allow oil drilling in a National Park, we need to get involved! Simply contact your local congress person, let them know you are extremely opposed to these actions and let them know why! We vote for the person and their job is to perform the duties in line with their voters. Below you will find a link to help guide you on how you can get in contact with your local rep. Use it.

In closing of this three part series, all the environmental problems that we face are complicated. Together we can help drive a change. We can protect our natural resources, trim down on our foot print and clean up our public lands, but only if we, as individuals, are all willing to do our part. We all live here and it's our responsibility to leave things a little better than when we got here.

Find your House Representative:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Contact your Senator:

https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

Search Charities:

https://www.guidestar.org/Home.aspx

   

Part II: Being a Responsible Consumer by Stephen Riella

BUY, BUY, BUY! As consumers that thought of purchasing the next biggest thing is ingrained in our minds at an early age. We accumulate stuff for the sake of having it. However, as a consumer can we, collectively, make any changes that might keep our environment any cleaner? 

Here is a sobering fact, last year Americans used 50 billion plastic water bottles. Other than the obvious issue there is another startling fact, only 23% of those bottles were recycled. So what happened to all the others?

Most water bottles end up in trash cans or simply tossed out wherever they are emptied. Now aside from the very obvious fact that pollution is costly for many reasons, these bottles alone cost far too much money. Bottled water, per gallon, is more expensive than a gallon of gas. There are so many ways to alter your daily pattern of water consumption. Bring a cup with a lid on it, by a reusable bottle or use a glass water bottle. Any of those options are far better than continuing to purchase plastic water bottles.

Bags. Yikes! Where did all these plastic bags come from? When I was young we got paper bags from our local grocery store. We used the same bags as book covers or trash bags. These days it's almost impossible to get a paper bag from a store. Have no fear, there is a very simple solution to stop this insane, wasteful and environmentally damaging problem: just buy a reusable shopping bag. They are not expensive and they are environmentally friendly. 

Let's put some simple things into perspective. Globally we use more than one million new plastic bags every minute. Just in plastic bags alone, it takes more than 2.2 billion gallons of oil per year to create them, according to a Boston College study. The most common item we remove from parks on cleanups, are water bottles and plastic bags. Last fun fact on plastics, every single piece of plastic ever made still exists. Still think you need that bottle of Dasani?

Do you know who you buy from? Decades ago, consumers had a pretty good idea. Your family went to orchards to pick fruits, they had one local grocery store and you probably had a butcher in town. Now? Well the city I live in has over a dozen National chain grocery stores. Does anyone know where that food comes from? What practices are being used to farm the fruits and vegetables that you are eating? Is the chicken you buy raised in a healthy environment? 

I have no answers to any of these questions when I buy from a store. So is there anything that can be done to figure out any of these things? Yes, we can grow some of our own vegetables. We can also background check the businesses that we buy from. It's important that our food is raised and delivered to us in a clean and sustainable way. It's better for the quality of food that we get. It is also better for the environment that we don't support companies that don't meet our own personal standards for cleanliness and environmental footprint.

Part 1: Your Home by Stephen Riella

So, is there nothing an individual can do to help the environment? Is everything too far out of reach for one person to start making a difference? Certainly not! In our three part series we are going to give ways were everyone can help out, pitch in, lower consumption and help keep our country just a little cleaner.

Air leakage is a really big problem when trying to maintain energy efficiency. Loss of conditioned air and penetrations that allow outside air in keep your A/C or heating system running. This causes higher bills and increases our footprint. Here are some easy fixes that can help your energy efficiency in your home.

Caulking the windows on the interior and exterior of your home: Go outside and get up close and personal with your windows. Look at the seams where the window contacts the brick or siding on your house. First do you have any clear caulking visible? If you do are there any gaps? Even a small gap can lead to loss of conditioned air costing you more money. The solution is simple.

Go to your local hardware store and get a caulking gun and a few tubes of clear silicone caulking. Follow the instructions on how to apply it and make sure you keep a wet rag on you, because this project can get a little messy.

Next go inside and look at the areas where your windows meet up with your Sheetrock or plaster. Examine the windows exactly the same way you did on the outside of the home. If you have gaps follow the same steps as you did for the outside but instead of using a clean silicone caulking use a white latex. After drying the white latex caulking can be painted to match the rest of the room.

Next we move on to air loss from your ducts. Keeping things simple and easy is the key. Get a ladder and a screw driver and go to all of your vents and return air grills. Take them off and examine around the duct where it meets with your Sheetrock. Is there a gap around the duct where it meets with your drywall? If there is use the same white latex caulking you used for your windows and close up those gaps around your vents. 

Doors, doors, doors... Ever stand next to your front door on a cool, windy day and feel a draft coming through? If you have, you probably need to replace that weather stripping. First identify the problem. Close your door and check if you can see any light showing through around the reveal. Next examine your current weather stripping. Are there any tears, is it still soft and flexible? If not it's time to head over to the hardware store and pick up some new weatherstripping. It's easy to apply and will help keep those drafts out of your home.

Changing to energy efficient light bulbs. This is a no brainer. If you haven't already, you need to. This is one of the easiest fixes you can make and there are a lot of options on the market to fit your budget. Typically energy efficient bulbs use 25% less energy than traditional bulbs and last three times longer. 

Let's move on to our appliances and some ideas that can help you lower your bills.

Adjusting your thermostat. Your AC and heater probably use more power than anything else in your home. You shouldn't have to sacrifice comfort for savings but, if your not home for 8 hours a day why keep your home as cold as your fridge? Get a digital thermostat and set your times. If you know you are gone Monday through Friday for 8 hours set your thermostat to up the temperature in the summer five degrees at the time you leave and an hour before you come home have it set to return back to the normal temperature you enjoy. This will save you money every month and you will never know the difference.

Unplug those appliances that aren't being used. The typical American household has over 40 appliances that are plugged in and drawing power on a daily basis. Typically, we think since we aren't using them that they aren't drawing power. Unfortunately that is not the case. These unused appliances can account for as much as 10 percent of our overall bill according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  So, let's unplug that toaster, remove those cell phone chargers, unplug that TV and pull the power out of the desktop when we aren't using them. Your power bill will thank you.

The main drain! Your hvac system. Heating and air is one of the biggest contributors to our monthly power costs, but there are ways to make sure that your units are running efficiently. First make sure to change that filter according to the manufacturers suggestions. If you have pets change them out a little more frequently and it will keep your hvac system running smoother.

Second if you have a suspicion that your unit is not running as smoothly as it should contact a reputable  hvac company and have them run a diagnostic and give the unit a tune up. A tune up can lower your monthly bill and make sure that the unit is in tip top shape. 

Lastly, if your unit is on it's last leg make sure that you look at energy efficient models that fit your needs. Make sure when you are installing a new unit that you have the proper insulation in your attic and that all of your exterior penetrations are sealed to get the most out of your new heating and air unit. 

Now it's time to head outside! Let's take a look at that yard of yours. While you may not save a whole lot of money on your landscaping you can have quite an impact on the environment by making some simple choices. From fertilizers to pesticides, from local plants to trees let's take a look at some changes you can make.

Trees are probably one of the few places outside were you can save on your power bill and help create a cleaner environment. If you have the area, planting a tree can provide some great shade and reduce your carbon foot print. Make sure you don't plant the tree to close to your home to avoid potential foundation issues.

Fertilizers and pesticides are an area that have a very large impact on the environment. Fertilizer runoff can damage local waterways by causing explosions in algae that can choke out plants and rob fish of precious oxygen. Pesticides from runoff destroy insects that are a valuable source of food for birds, small mammals and amphibians. If it can be avoided do not use pesticides in your yard. Sure major infestations need to be dealt with. See if you can find natural pesticides or traps to deal with minor issues. The same goes for fertilizers. If you fertilize at the beginning of spring and in the fall you should not need to do anymore. Plant new grass that survives well in your climate for dead areas.

Responsible landscaping is the key. If you have groups of native plants and flowers than your home will by default be beautiful and you will be supporting a clean natural environment for everything around you. Keep watering to a minimum. Invest in soaker hoses that will keep soil levels moist around your foundation and invest in a rain sensor for your sprinkler system. If it rained an inch two days ago you don't need to water today. 

I will include at the bottom some helpful links that can get you started on a number of these projects. If you have any questions feel free to email us and we will get back to you with any information that may help you. Remember your home is the first and most consistent way you can help make a positive change on our environment. Keep your energy costs low and conserve, conserve, conserve.

Windows

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8cXoLV_seA

Consumer Reports On Energy Efficient Bulbs

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/10/best-energy-saving-lightbulbs/index.htm

Planting Trees

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5Oa1PeAI_M

Fertilizer Ideas

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUZzU6kEtUk

Ideas About Native Landscaping

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-QPg2dVooE

If all of these items are taken care of already here are some projects to take your home to the next level of energy efficiency:

Solar Panels:

http://www.wholesalesolar.com/complete-systems

Grey water systems:

http://greywateraction.org/contentabout-greywater-reuse/

Rain harvesting:

https://www.rainharvest.com/shop/