Posts filed under ‘Green living technologies’

Taking green to extremes

Courtesy Yahoo UK

Courtesy Yahoo UK

The other night I watched a segment on Discovery’s Daily Planet showing off a race car made with a lot of recycled or renewable materials. The seat of the WorldFirst Formula 3 car is made with soy foam, the body is made with recycled carbon fibre, the steering wheel is made from carrot compounds, and it can run on many flavours of biodiesel. The car’s builders want to push the green envelope, so to speak, to try to match the speeds achievable in a regular Formula 1 car in a more sustainable car.

What do you think, is there a hope that one-off examples can bring change to an industry? Is this akin to NASA developing futuristic technology (the computer mouse, cochlear implants, Tang) that we adopt for life on earth?

September 30, 2009 at 11:35 AM 2 comments

LED street lights. What a great idea!

Listening to CBC Radio’s The Current this morning, I heard about CRS Electronics, a company in Welland, Ont., that’s making LED lighting for streetlights. Since LEDs are many times more efficient than fluorescent lighting, that’s a whole lot of money cities could save by having their repair crews install LEDs lights as conventional bulbs burn out. In the town of Welland, they replaced 65,000 street lights with LED lights.

The best way to compare efficiency of a bulb is to look at how much light you get out of it for the energy it uses. Incandescent bulbs give you about 15 lumens (a measure of light output) per watt. Halogen bulbs give you 24 lumens per watt. Fluorescent bulbs give you 50 to 100 lumens per watt. And LEDs give you 150 lumens per watt (and last for about 50,00 hours).

In my home, we have a mix of incandescent, fluorescent and LED bulbs. I’m finding that LED bulbs are becoming available in brighter and brighter styles, so they are not just for accent lighting anymore. I’ve noticed major lightbulb manufacturers, such as Philips, making LED bulbs for household lighting.

Have you tried making your home lighting more efficient? What do you think of the results?

September 23, 2009 at 10:04 AM Leave a comment

Renewable energy: considerate energy?

We call solar and wind energy renewable energy, and sometimes clean energy. I’ve been out sailing for the past week, and it’s become clear to me that clean energy is a good name for it, and I’d go for considerate energy too.

While out moored in the beautiful Thousand Islands, I noted that boats of a size meant for sleeping in are equipped in one of two ways. They either have a mix of solar panels, high-efficiency solar lights, small wind generators and coolers with ice and dinghies with oars OR they have dinghies with outboard motors and they charge their batteries that power the lights, the fridge (and sometimes the stereo system) by running the boat’s engine. Some even have an extra generator on board for even more power. A few people have a mix of these accoutrements, but most seem to be of one school of thought or another.

Let me tell you, nothing shatters the peace of early morning in a beautifully natural island bay like someone’s outboard-powered dingy trip so rover can do his business on the island. Followed closely by the guttural sounds of a diesel engine kicking in, ready to power the coffee maker.       

I just hope that the next generation of boats are made with considerate power in mind. After all, hulls with built–in solar arrays would look neat, LED lighting is plenty bright for the cabin, and then there’s the freedom from the gas dock. For now, we outfit our boats ourselves. My partner has a relatively small but well-made solar panel that provides enough energy to power our phones and recharge our solar light. (We love the Sunnan lamp from IKEA – you take out the solar panel and leave it outdoors. At night its flexible arm provided all the light we needed inside the boat.) At night, conventional solar lights meant for the yard serve as mooring lights, emitting a soft glow from mid-mast and at the stern to ensure we’re visible – without blotting out the stars.

Have you seen clean energy replace an old way of powering things?

August 24, 2009 at 11:59 AM Leave a comment

Help in the search for green cleaners

I’ve been trying out a lot of “green” and “natural” products for Homemakers magazine lately. I’m enjoying researching and writing about products – from all-purpose green cleaners to lip balms to dishwasher tabs – that are better for the environment. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the number effective products out there that really do seem like better choices.

The problem is there are a lot of products with toxic ingredients on the market, and it’s next to impossible to know what’s safe and what could be harmful because, for now at least, labels don’t have to disclose ingredients. The federal government’s Canadian Toxic Substances Labeling Act is in its first reading. If passed, the bill requires manufacturers of consumer products to add a label their goods noting any hazardous ingredients.

Not long ago, Seventh Generation, maker of EcoLogo-certified cleaning products, got in touch to let me know about a website and iPhone app they’ve created, called the Label Reading Guide, to help Canadians make sense of household product labels. I gave the app a try, and it is quite helpful in figuring out what product ingredients really are, what they’re supposed to do, whether they’re harmful and what health effects they may have. It’s a great idea to be able to use this tool on the go.

“When they have the information they need to make a healthy buying decision, Canadians are savvy consumers,” says Jeffrey Hollender, President and CEO of Seventh Generation. “But all too often the facts are hard to find. Our new Label Reading Guide™ application puts them in the palm of your hand right there in the store aisle. Much more needs to be done to empower consumers to make wise product choices, but this is a great first step, and one that we hope starts a serious conversation about what‘s really inside household products and how dangerous those ingredients can be.”

Don’t have an iPhone? Use the application right on the Seventh Generation website, linked here.

How do you choose cleaners and other household products? What do you look for when seeking out safe, yet effective, options?

June 2, 2009 at 11:00 AM 2 comments

Putting it all on the line. The clothesline that is!

ClotheslineI’m trying to imagine how clotheslines became so unsavory that, decades ago, municipal counsellors in many Canadian cities and towns decided to ban them. It seems odd that garments so acceptable when worn could be called an eyesore when hung outdoors. Perhaps it was glimpses of sexy lingerie that proved too hot for some to handle.

Last April, the Province of Ontario vetoed bans on clotheslines. Finally, some sanity! And although some subdivision developers complained for a day or two, likely dissidents figured it’s pretty hard to argue against something that saves a lot of energy (apparently five to six percent of domestic energy is consumed by dryers), thereby saving us a lot of greenhouse gas emissions and a good chunk of change to boot. And clotheslines work very well in getting clothes not only dry, but, if hung when they’re still fully damp, fairly wrinkle-free. The bonus: the sun’s UV light will destroy any micro-organisms in the fabric (particularly helpful with tea towels and cloth diapers).

For some, perhaps a clothesline sounds too simple. After all, we have high-tech machinery for this job. My dad calls his clothesline a “solar-powered clothes dryer.” Sound high-tech enough?

When I bought my first home last fall, one of my first home purchases was clothes pins, even though I didn’t intend to put clothes on the line in December. I was just excited to have a clothesline. I have a very efficient laundry machine (a washer-dryer in one) that spins most of the water right out of the clothes, so they dry very quickly. I often hang damp clothes around the house to dry, but I’ve enjoyed hanging some laundry on the line on warm, sunny days.

If you don’t want the classic reels and plastic-coated wire running across your yard, there are options. For the outdoors, there are extendable clotheslines you can mount on a fence or wall. Concerned about hanging your “unmentionables” within neighbours’ view? Consider a drying rack you can mount inside, like those from Laundry Lift.

Do you hang your clothes on the line? Is there anything you still like to put in your dryer?

May 6, 2009 at 12:12 PM 3 comments

Earth Day Becomes Earth Week

It seems like Earth Day will stretch through the weekend: The Green Living Show is on here in Toronto from Thursday to Sunday, down at Exhibition Place. I enjoyed every square metre of the show in its first and second years, so I can’t wait for Year Three to start. The show has a huge range of green-living ideas for transportation, home energy, sustainable agriculture, backyard habitats, land conservation, renovations, green cleaning, beauty and fashion, and all kinds of other things.

My first stop will be to the on-site electronics recycling centre. I don’t have a lot of stuff to get rid of, but apparently Samsung is running an recycling centre at the entrance to the show on on April 24th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and April 25th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you bring something to recycle, Samsung will give you a $2 rebate on your show ticket.

I’d really like to catch Stephen Lewis on the main stage on Saturday, speaking on The Health Impact of Global Climate Change. The show has an impressive roster of speakers over the four days, and I bet Lewis will be a highlight. I’d also love to see Homemakers contributor Alanna Mitchell, author of the new bestseller Sea Sick: Global Oceans in Crisis.

After I’ve had a look at most of the Green Living Show, particularly at some of the home renovation ideas, I plan to go to the Grapes and Hops Tasting Pavilion. I don’t recall this feature in former years, but what’s not to like about a chance to sip local wine and organic beer?

If I sound like a kid in a candy store, it’s just that I’m excited at the chance to be among a crowd focusing on solutions, on pushing ahead with tomorrow’s technology today. Can’t make it? If there’s anything you would like me to scout for on your behalf, just post a comment to let me know! And don’t worry, I’ll tell you about all the neat stuff I find.

April 21, 2009 at 10:12 AM Leave a comment

Preparing for Earth Day: Greening the Office

recycle your file foldersEarth Day is only two days away! I’m trying to have a closer look at what I can do to reduce my impact on the earth at work, at home and when I’m out and about.

I’m excited to be part of a new green office committee at work (I work for Homemakers magazine,, alongside the staff of other magazines at Transcontinental Media). We’re just getting started and evaluating what we can do, but I think if we focus everyone’s desire to work more reduce our waste and adopt lower-impact, healthy ways of doing things, we can really make a difference. We’re a pretty typical office, I think, with cubicles and offices and boardrooms and printers and a computer on every desk. So we’ll need to look at the electricity we consume, the supplies we consume, the way that we recycle, how we can support greener commuting, and many other initiatives big and small.

In my home office, I’ve turned to refillable writing instruments to reduce waste. I’ve saved up sensitive documents (hopefully no one needs to see my 1998 tax statements) and offered them to my parents as fire-starters for their fireplace, rather than using a shredder. I’ve switched a fluorescent light bulb to an LED model (it has a lifespan of over 5,000 hours), and I use a laptop, which I understand draws a lot less power than a desktop computer. (I’ll have to use a power monitor to give you some exact numbers!) I use rechargeable batteries in my flashlight, camera and other devices. All of my chargers are on a powerbar so I can easily turn them off. These are little things, but hopefully they help make a difference!

Have you made changes to make your workplace, or your home office, more sustainable?

April 20, 2009 at 12:08 PM Leave a comment

Rechargeable batteries: The new must-have

rechargeablebatteriesAs Didi pointed out in her comment last week, a key way we can look after this world is controlling how much and what we consume. I think one way to do that is to make sure the stuff you need is durable and reuseable, and for me, rechargeable batteries spring to mind.

For most things around the house – cameras, flashlights, milk frothers, toys – rechargeable batteries work well. With conventional batteries, if you are going on vacation and need batteries for your camera, or planning an interview and need your voice recorder to just work, you would buy some brand new batteries to make sure they’re fully charged, perhaps relegating partly used batteries to the back of a drawer somewhere. With rechargeables, you just pop some of ‘em into your charger. When they’re fully topped up, take them out of the charger and use them.

The best rechargeables are those that run the longest — look for the highest “mAh” (that’s milliampere hours) number you can find. mAh is the amount of energy the battery can store. For an interesting battery guide, have a look at this interesting report. It’s also important to get a battery charger that shuts off when the batteries are topped up, since some batteries end up with reduced capacity if you overcharge them.

I’ve learned that there are a few cases for regular batteries. My partner, a battery whiz (among other talents, of course), notes that low-drain devices such as smoke alarms and TV remotes are best powered by a regular battery because they’ll last better over a longer period of time.

Whether you choose regular or rechargeable batteries, the bottom line is recycling them when they wear out (for rechargeables, that means they’ll no longer hold a charge). According to Statistics Canada, 60 per cent of Canadians put dead batteries in the regular trash. The acids within are not something you want in your groundwater, surely, but even more important, the materials in batteries can be recycled into new batteries. Recycling programs are a bit of a patchwork, but for programs in Ontario click here.

I thought of a neat way to recharge batteries (apologies to Homemakers magazine readers who saw this tip in our May 2008 issue). Because outdoor solar lights come with rechargeable batteries, and because the lights spend the day charging those batteries in the sun, you can take those batteries out when night falls and use them elsewhere. THen you can install it back in the light when you need another charge. It will probably take more than one day to fully charge your battery, but you can always pop the battery out in the evening and put it back in the next morning, rather than letting the light go on.

Wouldn’t it be great if all Canadians used local recycling programs and kept batteries out of the landfill? Check out more pollution solutions at homemakers.com.

How do you use rechargeable batteries? Have you found any problems with them?

April 6, 2009 at 11:43 AM 3 comments

Electric cars not far down the road

tesla_types Now usually I take public transit to get around Toronto, but once in a while, as I’m waiting for the subway, I dream of driving my electric car (powered by renewable energy) to work, nary an emission along the way. So this week, when Tesla Motors of California released their new Type S electric car, at approx. US$57,000, that dream got a little bit closer. You can order one now, for delivery in a couple of years.

OK, I’m hoping a less expensive electric car will hit the market soon (are you coming, plug-in Prius? Wherefore art thou, electric Mini?), but I’m betting that my next car will be electric. I’ve heard a lot of reasons why electric cars won’t replace gassers (as my partner calls them), and I agree with that — but perhaps EVs (electric vehicles) will become the norm, the gasser the exception.

There are a bunch of arguments against EVs. First, there’s range. For most of us, a car that will go even just 100 kms on one charge is plenty far enough. Yes, we’d need a backup plan for long trips, but most days, 100 kms would be fine. (The basic Tesla model has a 250-km range.)

Next, there’s looks and size. Some people are nervous in small cars. Did you get a look at the Tesla? Does that look like a golf cart to you? Can you imagine anything much sexier?

OK, how about the carbon footprint of the electricity that powers the car? True, if you’re hooking your car up to the grid, and the grid is powered by coal in your area, then it’s not a green car. But if you purchase power from a renewable energy supplier, or your area gets its power from more renewable sources, then that car is looking pretty clean. (And yes, you can plug your Type S into a standard outlet.)

Batteries are often a point of concern. Batteries are nasty! But we have become pretty good at recycling them through reusing the materials, and the batteries companies such as Tesla are using are lithium ion – they pack a lot of energy into a small space, just like laptop and cell phone batteries.

What about speed? True, the top-end speed of the Tesla Type S is only about 210 km/h. Oh wait, that’s crazy fast. The company’s Roadster can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. Not too shabby.

The most difficult change? Accepting that our deeply worn infrastructure around gas stations and combustion engines will have to evolve. But when I think about the potential for cities and towns to reduce smog through zero emission vehicles, I feel a lot of hope.

How about you, would you consider an electric car, or do you drive a vehicle that seems green enough already?

March 31, 2009 at 10:39 AM 6 comments


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