Category Archives: energy

Why I Moved to a Green Hosting Service

Disclaimer: My research was comprehensive but not unlimited. Other “green” hosting options are surely available. I only considered U.S. companies. Also, there are affiliate links for AISO.net in this article.

GreenServerRoomA few months ago, my contract for hosting The Mindful Consumer and my other blog, The Geo Factor, came up for renewal. Because I had done some research around green data centers for my professional work, I knew that data centers have options for their energy sources. So I began to investigate the Web site and blog hosting companies that independent businesses and bloggers use, which all of course use their own data centers or outsource to others.

Paying attention to the sustainability practices of the technologies used to convey my messages seems apropos. I figured that others touting environmentalism and sustainable living would share my attitude, so my first inclination was to find green hosting service companies by looking at which hosting companies the other green bloggers use.

logo_epagppartnerUnfortunately, my run through that sustainable living neighborhood yielded few who were using hosting companies generally considered green. Most sites say nothing about their sustainability practices or energy usage policies. So I used WhoIsHostingThis to check several of the big environmental organizations and green bloggers. Some use Amazon Web services, which uses some renewable sources. Several sites appear to use Rackspace Hosting, which doesn’t mention sustainable practices on its Web site, but I dug around to find that its parent Rackspace claims to use 35% renewables.

Such lack of attention amongst the environmental community to its hosting choices is troubling. These organizations and their members are doing important work to improve sustainability and help the earth. So why not pay attention to who is hosting their Web sites? By some estimates cloud computing alone is consuming 1-2 percent of the world’s electricity resources. Others estimate that information technology-related emissions are approximately 2 percent of global emissions, equal to emissions from the global aviation sector. Perhaps the smaller “green” hosting companies can’t support the larger sites. Maybe the organizations did think through the decision, but aren’t communicating their reasons publically. There ought to be clear statements from green bloggers and environmental organizations about their hosting providers, not buried on an obscure CSR page.

PIA03149To end my own hypocrisy, I decided to switch to a hosting provider that like me considers sustainability important. First, I looked into my hosting company at the time, Westhost. I had used Westhost for years, and its services were adequate for my needs. However, there’s no commitment to sustainability through any statement of policy or use of renewable energy. When I asked its support group, they pointed me to its server company, which didn’t mention sustainability. It was time to investigate alternatives.

I found 10 hosting companies that touted their sustainable practices with options oriented to a low-volume user like me. But not all are created equal. Sustainable hosting comes in multiple levels in which the hosting company:

  1. Claims sustainable practices such as recycling and encouraging employee telecommuting. One provider touts that it plants trees.
  2. Claims to purchase and use servers with the best-available energy efficiencies.
  3. Purchases renewable energy credits to offset use of standard energy sources.
  4. Uses renewable energy.

Screenshot 2015-01-22 17.38.56

Only one amongst those I found, AISO.net, actually uses renewable energy. While the renewable energy credits are better than nothing, I decided to support direct use of renewable energy. AISO.net stands distinct from the other providers I found. Its on-site solar panels in Menifee, California power the data center and office. Backup generators use the cleaner propane fuel instead of diesel. AISO.net also uses windows and solar tubes for natural lighting. To maintain temperature, its building is painted white and its cooling system uses latent cooling rather than traditional refrigeration. Another difference is its use of wireless Internet backbones rather than cables, eliminating the digging necessary to add more feeds or bandwidth. Inside, AISO.net uses a mini wind turbine in its ducting to charge batteries. Lastly, the company building has a green roof and rainwater collection system.

There are other factors to consider in selecting a hosting plan, including bandwidth and disk space limits, number of domains and databases allowed, and price. The importance of those variables differs based on your site.

Frankly, no other hosting provider seems to approach the sustainable practices of AISO.net. I worried about support from what looks like a relatively small company. Surely, I thought, I would run into support challenges during the transition but decided they were worth the risk.

So I selected my hosting plan and started the transition from Westhost. There were issues moving my two blogs off Westhost and onto AISO.net. Those issues were the result of me not completely understanding the process and doing some things out of order. AISO.net support people helped me navigate through all of the issues and were very patient with my limited technical knowledge. My timing of transition was around the holidays, yet the support people were always responsive; I heard back usually within hours.

For its part, the Westhost people were also supportive, but its documentation about leaving its service and moving the data elsewhere was non-existent. Of course I can’t yet report on AISO.net’s reliability and ongoing service but based on my installation experiences, expect good things.

AISO-green-data-center1-300x224Finding a “green” hosting service was surprisingly difficult. This a time when climate change is in the news daily, and environmental groups and bloggers are being heard more than ever. Sadly, the community seems behind in its hosting selections. Fortunately, I was able to move my two blogs easily to a hosting provider that aligns with our mindful consumption practices – AISO.net.

Share

Green Festival DC – Sustainability Show Off

Washington, D.C. 2013 Event Guide
See sustainability in action at the Green Festival DC.

We’re excited to be attending the upcoming Green Festival DC, at the DC Convention Center this coming weekend. It’s the ninth iteration of the festival which we’ve attended the last few years. What is the Green Festival? It’s a place to see and learn about sustainability from economic, cultural, and environmental perspectives. Like we often say here, there are many aspects to living with a sustainability mindset rather than one of blind consumption.

There’s yummy organic food and interesting speakers including iconic Ralph Nader. And a Green Kids Zone as well as an eco-fashion show. So the festival has something for almost everyone, with a focus on sustainability. There’s also lots of food samples, free Ford electric-car rides, and hundreds of vendors. We know from experience that the festival is fun and informative!

This year, there is an expanded emphasis on food, and who doesn’t like food? Food highlights include:

  • Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch and author of the best-selling book Foodopoly, who will speak about food policy
  • DC-based FRESHFARM Markets (FRESHFARM Markets FoodPrints Program) who will present special sessions on “Eating Healthy On A Budget”
  • An Organic Food Court and a Sustainable Beer & Wine Garden
  • Workshops on raising backyard chickens, composting, growing herbs and other sustainability topics.

According to its organizers, Green America and Global Exchange, tickets are $10 for a one day pass and $20 for a full weekend pass when purchased online at www.greenfestivals.org, or $15 and $25 at the door. (All tickets provide access to exhibit floor, all workshops/yoga classes, speakers and films.) And there is FREE admission for anyone who rides a bike to the event and parks with the Clif Bar bike valet, youth under eighteen, union members, volunteers and Green America and Global Exchange members.

Location: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place N.W. Hall A, in Washington, DC. Hour are Saturday, September 21st 10am – 6pm and Sunday, September 22nd 11am – 5pm.

The Mindful Consumer will be there, tweeting from @mindfulconsumer. Let us know if you’re going and we’ll try to meet you. Of course watch Twitter and this blog for our perspectives and announcements from the festival.

Share

Drying Clothes on a Clothesline

 

Hanging Clothes on the Line

My towels hanging on the line
My towels hanging on the line

About two months ago I decided to spring for a clothesline.I wondered why we continued to use the old dryer in our rental when it has been so hot in the summer heat outside it felt like stepping into a dryer. Surprisingly, at one of those big home improvement stores I was able to find an inexpensive umbrella-style clothesline that was easy to install along with extra clothes pins. My mother used to hang clothes out on the line when I was growing up, so a few tips somehow stayed with me all these years. I will share with you a few reasons why you should try it, and a few tips on successful line drying.

Why Hang Clothes on the Line?

1. Energy savings. The sun is free and the dryer is a hog. I’ve found that in the 1 ½- 2 hours it took our dryer to dry a big load of towels, a warm sunny day dried them in the same amount of time.

2. Easy. Is it really easy to hang things on the line? It is. Truly. I find it relaxing and it only takes a few minutes to hang an entire load. A few free minutes of outdoor time can be relaxing. The way they look as they blow on the line is beautiful. I like to sneak between the damp clothes for a moment and pretend I am in a fort where no energy bill can get me.

3. Revolutionary. Instead of buying the newest, energy star product (hey, I love energy star appliances) this technique is ancient, free, and makes a statement that you don’t need to rely on energy to do everything.

4. Smell. Clothes on the line smell amazing. The way they look as they blow in the wind, and the fresh, clean, beautiful feeling is unmatchable. I dried my bed sheets and quilt on the line today and can’t wait to get in to my fresh, nice bed.

 

Tips on Line Hanging Success

1. Pin the clothes, towels, etc. with a tiny about of overhang on the line so you don’t get clothespins marks.

2. Most items of clothing hang better “upside down”, like pants, (hang them by the ankles instead of the waistband) or shirts (so you don’t get weird little marks on your shoulders from where the clothespins were). If you decide to hang your undergarments on the line, you can hang them on the inside so the neighbors don’t see.

3. Check the weather forecast. Enough said.

4. Hang things with space between them for air, and hang all things without an overlap so they dry faster.

5.Some things get kinda “crunchy” on the line, like towels. I feel like they give me extra exfoliation after my shower, and are super absorbent. If you don’t want the extra texture, some vinegar in the rise cycle is said to help alleviate the crunch and won’t smell after the clothes are dry. I have found that if you watch them, and take them down as soon as they dry, the likelihood of crunch is lower. Also, on a breezy day there is less likely to be roughness.

6. Some of the best and easiest things to hang on the line are towels and sheets. Even reducing a few loads of laundry a month is still so significant.

7. Check your homeowner’s association about whether or not they allow clotheslines. Ours (I kid you not) allow us to hang on a clothesline every day but Sunday (no, this isn’t the town from Footloose or a strange Puritan recreation village; that’s just what it says.) If you don’t have a yard, there are lots of indoor ways to hang clothes, too. From indoor clotheslines to foldaway racks. The benefit of hanging clothes indoors in the winter is that is also boosts the humidity in the house when it can get so dry.

 

I have really enjoyed the Zen-like activity of hanging clothes on the line. I also enjoy finding an activity that can cut down on utility costs, connect me to the past, and also become a statement of how I choose to use my energy. Instead of shoveling my wash into the dryer, I spend a few minutes outside, more observant of my surroundings. It forces me to pay attention to the wind, the air, the weather, and it rewards me with fresh smelling laundry that was dried for free.

Share

Clean Energy Stalled?

IEA Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013“… the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago,” says the International Energy Agency (IEA),

IEA released an annual report, Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013. The 154-page report recommendations stress “that the true cost of energy must be reflected in consumer prices, through carbon pricing and the phase-out of fossil-fuel subsidies. Technologies like electric vehicles, wind and solar will need support for several years more, but policies should be flexible and transparent. More stringent and broader energy performance standards, building codes and fuel economy standards can drive energy efficiency.”

IEA asserts that stark messages emerge:

  • progress has not been fast enough
  • large market failures are preventing clean energy solutions from being taken up
  • considerable energy-efficiency potential remains untapped
  • policies need to better address the energy system as a whole
  • energy-related research, development and demonstration need to accelerate

The silver lining is that the uses of solar photovoltaic, wind, and advanced vehicle technologies (especially hybrid-electric and electric vehicles) are growing. Still, very few regions have comprehensive fuel economy measures in place, says IEA. Also, while the U.S. uses less coal than before, other countries use more.

You can dive into the specifics with visualization tools on the IEA site.

How does this affect consumers? IEA encourages governments to reflect the true cost of energy in consumer prices. Without a doubt this would mean higher prices. Still, shouldn’t the true cost of things be reflected in the price tags?

My takeaway from the report is that governments need to start doing more towards lowering carbon emissions. And consumers need to accept — or better yet demand — change. Are you willing to pay more and use less to help delay global warming? Are you willing to tell your government to move faster on clean energy initiatives?

Share

Forward on Climate: Can a rally make a difference?

Forward on Climate Rally crowd

On Sunday, while President Obama played golf in the warm Florida sunshine with oil executives, approximately 50,000 brave souls gathered in subzero temperatures near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. for the “Forward on Climate” rally. We almost didn’t go because it was SO cold and windy … but decided it was important to be there. The rally was touted as the largest climate rally in history and intended to show Obama and others with influence that people want to be heard on the issue of climate change. There was a lot of noise and signage about the Keystone XL pipeline project that is designed to transport oil from the tar sands in Canada to the oil refineries in Texas. The project is in its permitting process that the President must approve for it to proceed.

USA Today’s report noted, “President Obama said in his State of the Union Address that if lawmakers don’t act on climate change, he will. Protesters say they are holding him to his word.”

Perhaps unlike the images of the Occupy Wall Street protests, we saw all sorts of people from young to old, of many races, and from many locations. The climate movement is inclusive by nature simply because it affects everyone. Buses carried people from 28 U.S. states to the rally, coordinated by the Sierra Club and 350.org.

People in the movement are concerned that Obama will keep his promises about working on climate change, which he most recently repeated in this State of the Union address. The concern is that he didn’t do much in his first term, and that hanging out with Texas oil men reflects his true intentions. Medea Benjamin in AlterNet makes the point that golf itself is “environmentally destructive”, implying another contradictory choice for the President supposedly on the side of environmental preservation..

While today the focus is on Obama’s uncertain commitment, the real challenge to the climate change movement is much more comprehensive. Some still don’t believe the science. Others have vested interest in the status quo. And many simply are afraid so they don’t want to think about what could be happening to our earth, our home. What is needed the most is ongoing education and regular activism as seen on Sunday at the rally.

obama golfing rally

People need to learn about the issues and make decisions about their positions. And then, if they are so moved, they must speak out. Yes, we can make the small changes in our daily lives by recycling, driving less, and trying to use less electricity. However, it is the big changes that are more significant – one of the important changes to address climate change is to end our addiction to non-renewable energy. The science is conclusive, now it’s up to we the people to insist on the needed changes. The Forward on Climate rally participation of 50,000 would have been even higher on a warmer day. Perhaps the rally is a turning point for the climate movement, which has mostly relied upon science and reason until now. For the first time in its 120-year history, the Sierra Club board is allowing civil disobedience to fight the Tar Sands. The rally clearly represents what people can do, how their voices can be heard, and if progress can be made soon – just how important it can be to speak out.

Share

Listen Up! Living Green Podcasts

Like many people, I spend a lot of time in the car. Which means lots of time to listen to things, if I so choose. Sometimes that’s radio or music on my MP3 player. I’ve also grown fond of podcasts, and listen to a lot of them around the topic of sustainability, green living, and environmental science. So when I’m not anxious to hear the latest weather or my favorite Aerosmith classics, I’m likely listening to a discussion of organic farming or the latest energy projects. But finding podcasts that aired regularly and had substance took time!

If you haven’t listened to podcasts, it’s fairly easy whether on your smart-phone, audio file player (iPod), tablet, or computer; a good overview is “How Podcasting Works.” I use my smart-phone, which like an MP3 or iPod player does better with a podcast player application. You can use iTunes or the standard media players on the devises they support. I’ve tried the media players and several of the free podcast applications for my Galaxy S phone and prefer Car Cast. It’s easy to use and I appreciate the big buttons when driving.

Some of the podcast directories are a waste of time – I found much of their material dated, so that many of the search results are discontinued podcasts. All of those listed here have ongoing content, with regular episodes ranging from weekly to periodically on a less frequent schedule. If you want more, look at your favorite Web sites to see whether they cover your interests with podcasts. They are interesting and fun!

I listen to these Podcasts

Earth Eats

Earth Eats is a weekly program of real food and green living hosted by Chef Daniel Orr. The program explores local food and sustainable agriculture with recipes you can make at home, interviews with local farmers and Chef Orr’s musings on food, history and culture.” From Indiana Public Media.

If you like food and care how it gets to your table, this podcast offers interesting discussions.

Quick reports on the science of the environment and the future of energy from Scientific American.

 

More Hip Than Hippie

Dori and Val tell you everything you wanted to know about living a green lifestyle that is more hip than hippie. It’s upbeat, informative, and at times rather funny. (Yes, we shave).” Recent topics include food swapping and how to be car-free. This is one of the longest running podcasts I found around living green. Podcasters Dori and Val might appeal more to a female audience, but the content is interesting to all. Of course this is two women talking, so some might think there is some extraneous banter, but it’s all in fun 🙂 Besides a green lifestyle, they review beer and chocolate, thus adding some flavor for listeners. There is regular mention of the greenfeet.com online store, which Val founded. It’s a fun listen and educational too.

Here on Earth

Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders is a live one-hour weekday global cultural affairs program with a focus on the future. We offer breakthrough stories that entertain, inspire, and provide insight to people who are genuinely fascinated by the breadth, difference, and complexity in the world.” From Wisconsin Public Radio.

This podcast offers a wide range of topics, some of which are related to sustainability.

 

 

Podcasts I don’t yet listen to but appear to be promising

Living Green Podcast

Texas Public Radio’s Dan Skinner explores a wide range green activities and issues in San Antonio and beyond. Topics include alternative energy, energy conservation, environmental conservation, community gardens, parks, transportation, and more.

TreeHugger Radio
“TreeHugger is the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream. Partial to a modern aesthetic, we strive to be a one-stop shop for green news, solutions, and product information. We publish an up to the minute blog, weekly anddaily newsletters, weekly radio interviews, and regularly updated Twitter and Facebook pages.”

The EnvironMinute
Each EnvironMinute feature contains solutions-oriented information that encourages listeners to make informed choices about their health and the health of their environment. The EnvironMinute has been a success since its launch in 1991.

The Organic View
The Organic View Radio Show” is a unique, live, interactive, internet talk-radio show that features key leaders, innovators and educators who work within industries that involve organics, environment, politics, living green and sustainability. Host, June Stoyer, explores the background and mission of each guest. Questions are taken by the audience via Twitter, Skype, Facebook and email. Listeners are encouraged to call (917) 932-1068 to ask questions or send an email to questions (at)theorganicview.com”

Share

Google Searching for Greener Energy

Google means Internet search – or does it?

Many of us know there are tools from Google that extend beyond search – e-mail, document creation, calendaring, photo/video sharing, Internet browsing, blogging, online chat, shopping, mapping, health records, patent search, online voicemail, and more. All of these tie into a person’s use of the computer or Internet.

But wind farming?

Actualy, Google has had interest in energy for some time. The bulk of energy spent by Google is in its computers that run the searches. These computers are grouped in what are called data centers. According to its Web site Google has a five-step plan for energy efficiency:

  1. Minimize electricity used by servers
  2. Reduce the energy used by the data center facilities themselves
  3. Conserve precious fresh water by using recycled water instead
  4. Reuse or recycle all electronic equipment that leaves its data centers
  5. Engage with its peers to advance smarter energy practices

Furthermore, Google asserts, “Google.org is working towards a clean energy future in a variety of ways: We’re working on developing utility scale renewable energy cheaper than coal (RE<C) and accelerating the commercialization of plug-in vehicles through the RechargeIT project. Our over-arching vision is to one day transform the global economy from one running on fossil fuels to one largely based on clean energy. Our Clean Energy 2030 plan offers a potential path to do just that.”

On Tuesday, it was announced that Google is a lead investor on a five-billion dollar project to use wind power to generate energy on the East Coast of the U.S. according to a study published Oct. 12 by the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International, wind could meet 12 percent of global power demand by 2020, and up to 22 percent by 2030. Previously, Google had invested in other wind farms.

So while Google surely uses a lot of energy in its businesses, it is working toward efficiencies and is investing in new energy solutions that should benefit others searching for clean power.

Share

Saving on Energy Bills When Summer Turns Up the Heat

Air conditioner bills can skyrocket in the summertime. Here are some tips to keep that bill low when the heat goes up.

Cheap, Free, and Smart ways to Save on Summer Bills…

1. Updated thermostat. Not only are those outdated, gold colored, push-the-little-plastic-lever-til-it-clicks thermostats ugly, they are not efficient. Programmable electric thermostats allow you to program the thermostat to the degree and are customizable to the hour and day. Make it warmer while everyone is gone at work. Make sure you buy one you can understand and program yourself (or if you’re like me, you just need someone in the house who knows how to use it). Some sources say that these thermostats can save up to 20% of your cooling costs.

2. Keep food in the fridge. A refrigerator doesn’t need as much energy to run if there is more food in it. If you have more than one fridge or freezer that you may not always keep filled, consider consolidating down to just one, at least for the summer.

3. Barbeque. Outdoor grilling saves on energy costs, and helps keep the temperature in your home down. Propane burns much cleaner than charcoal, but it is a fossil fuel. Consider trying veggie alternatives on the barbeque for a lower fat, more eco-conscious choice. Try some new recipes and invite your friends over for dinner, and when they invite you over for dinner you can set your thermostat warmer because you’ll be away from the home. Free food, and less energy used? Double score.

4. Take advantage of things like ceiling fans, heat blocking curtains, and crock pots (instead of stove tops). Run your washing machine, dishwasher, and dryer after the sun has gone down. Even better than the dryer is to line dry your clothing. It makes the clothing smell amazing, it’s free, and it saves big time on energy bills.

5. Here are some last tips that are all free. Make sure the furniture is not blocking the cooling vents. Wear breathable cotton clothing, no shoes in the house, and drink lots of cool drinks to make sure you aren’t tempted to lower the temperature. Keep your lamps away from the thermostat, so it doesn’t think it’s hotter than it really is. Let your hair air dry, take advantage of the community amenities, like swimming pools, and enjoy someone elses air conditioning in shopping malls, libraries, or coffee shops. Sleep with less clothing (naked is always greener), and spend more time on the lower levels of your home if you have more than one story.

So take off your shoes, pour yourself a cool glass of water, and enjoy the summertime savings.

Share

Green Baseball Stadiums: Play Ball!

Buy me some organic peanuts and gluten-free sustainable cracker jacks.. well, not really

Baseball is both a summertime staple, and the national pastime. Here in Washington DC, the Nationals Park is leading the way in green operations. Where better than the Nation’s capital to appreciate the United States’ first major stadium accredited as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) structure. In fact, it exceeded green certifications and was awarded the Green Building Council’s silver status, according to the Nationals website. How does a building follow LEED specifications? At the Nationals stadium that means a minimum of 10% of the building is recycled materials, much of the materials were also locally supplied, green roofing that deflects heat,  and an intricate ground and storm water filtration system that takes in to account the close proximity to the Anacostia river. Besides just the building construction, the stadium also institutes drought resistant landscaping, water conserving plumbing help reduce water consumption by 30% (that’s 3.6 million gallons a year) and energy conserving light fixtures that save 21% of energy costs and help reduce light pollution. It is conveniently located by a metro stop, and it is quite an experience loading on to the subway with your fellow baseball fans dressed in their Nationals garb. On game days you don’t even need to know which exits to get off, just follow all the fans! The area where the stadium has been built will boost economic growth, and create a positive influence in an area of DC otherwise known for quite the opposite.
Statistics are one thing, but visiting the park is quite another. Ron and I frequent games there (via Metro, of course) and the park is beautiful. Talk to someone who has been to the park, and no matter who they are cheering for, ask them what they think about the stadium. Even when you leave your seats (to go get some yummy vegetarian chili at the Hard Times Cafe, a local business who has an in-park location) you can still see the field from almost anywhere you stand. Don’t think that because this baseball stadium has these green features that it in any way changes that classic feel of a baseball park: it does not. For the average baseball patron who didn’t know the facts, Nationals stadium is everything that makes a ballpark a ballpark: beer, hot dogs, fans, and of course, a great game. Even if your beloved team wins or loses, the environment wins every single game. Play ball!

Visit the Nationals PDF of the green features here http://nationals.mlb.com/was/downloads/was_green_ballpark.pdf

Share

Thirty-Three Days of Oil

This gulf coast oil fiasco is on its thirty-third day without an end to pumping millions of barrels of oil in to our ocean. As a reminder of the thirty three days that this crisis has not reached a solution, here are thirty-three quick ways to reduce your oil consumption. 

1. carpool
2. recycle
3. eat more vegetarian
4. buy food locally
5. print on both sides of paper
6. buy used
7. recycle used motor oil
8. bicycle
9. dance
10. drive slower
11. farmers markets

12. give your friend an old book

13. walk your dog
14. donate to goodwill
15. paper fans
16. extra sweaters in the winter
17. close vacations
18. less Styrofoam
19. tune your car
20. flip off the lights
21. clean with less chemicals
22. energy efficient appliances
23. have more sex (couldn’t hurt)
24. refillable water bottles
25. conscientious cosmetics
26. less fast food
27. don’t idle your vehicle
28. use up the whole crayon
29. public transit
30. telecommute
31. push mowers
32. avoid over packaging
33. be open to suggestion
Share