Excerpt: 'Guide to Sustainable Living' by Ed Begley Jr.

Photo: Book Cover: Ed Begley, Jr.s Guide to Sustainable Living: Learning to Conserve Resources and Manage an Eco-Conscious LifeCourtesy Amazon.com
"Ed Begley, Jr.'s Guide to Sustainable Living: Learning to Conserve Resources and Manage an Eco-Conscious Life" by, Ed Begley Jr.

From famed environmentalist Eg Begley Jr. comes his "Guide to Sustainable Living," a book about learning how to live the greenest life you can.

Using an "energy audit," Begley explains how each person can create a game plan for living more environmentally friendly at home.

Check out an excerpt of the book below and then head to the "GMA" Library for some more great reads.


The last two years of my life have been unbelievable. I've been filled with hope, watching Americans from all walks of life embrace the environmental challenges of today with action and optimism. Getting e- mails from red-state

VIDEO: Ed Begley Jr.s "Guide to Sustainable Living" explains how to live "green."Play

Republicans that say things like, "I may not always agree with you politically, Mr. Begley, but where do I get one of those barrels to catch rainwater?" makes me realize that this is a challenge we all understand and want to overcome.

Although I think many people give me way too much credit, if the example I've set in my life has been the inspiration for some people to make positive changes in their homes and businesses, then I'm eternally grateful.

In my first book, "Living Like Ed," I tried to summarize my 39-year eco-journey and all of the things I had done in various areas of my life— including my home, my transportation choices, my efforts to recycle and save energy, and much more.

Since that book came out, I've received incredible feedback from people all over the country, including an avalanche of advanced questions on various green subjects. People are hungry for answers, and I feel that since I started this green journey for my readers, I'd better join them on the ride.

If the first book was a map, I tried to give everyone the correct ZIP code for Ecotopia. We even visited some of my favorite points of interest along the way. Now with this new book, "Ed Begley Jr.'s Guide to Sustainable Living," I want to really turn on that green GPS unit and take a very specific look at my entire journey so that I can answer all of your great questions.

As my friend Paul Connett likes to say, there are two kinds of thinkers today: back-end thinkers and front-end thinkers. Imagine your bathtub faucet is stuck and water is pouring onto the floor. Back- end thinkers start to bail water using a cup. When they find the cup is too small, they switch to a bucket. When they find the bucket still isn't keeping up, they bring in a pump to bail the water. When that's not enough, they bring in an even larger pump in an attempt to keep up.

The front-end thinker, on the other hand, turns off the tap to the bathtub, and then begins the process of cleanup. In this book, I've tried to take a front- end thinker approach to going green. If you make the right decisions and do things in the proper order, you can put money in your pocket, reduce waste and pollution in the city where you live, reduce our overall dependency on Mideast oil, and lead a healthier and more toxin- free life. And who isn't for all of those things?

Please join me on this journey to make your home—and your lifestyle—greener and healthier and better overall in so many ways.

Chapter 6: Water

There's an old saying: whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting. And I think it's true. We've certainly had a lot of water wars over the years—throughout civilization, and most recently in arid states including Arizona, Nevada, and California. And we'll continue to have conflict over water as more and more development occurs and the available resources become more scarce.

Water scarcity might prove to be very challenging for places like Southern California, where nearly all of our water comes from elsewhere. In Southern California, we get our water from the Owens Valley, from the California Aqueduct, and from the Colorado River.

But there's been a lot of recent development occurring in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, and Scottsdale, and everybody wants their share of the water. Traditionally, they've been able to get it, but more and more development has spread those resources all the more thin. Visit Lake Shasta in California. You need only drive by it to see how low the water is. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are drawn down very, very low, too.

There are many theories from climatologists about drought cycles. What if the theories are correct about the Sierra snowpack? How much snow will there be in the future? Ski resorts are beginning to feel the pinch on this one already. What if there's less moisture coming in the form of snow and more coming in the form of rain? As weather patterns change, this could be a big problem for places like my home state of California.

But these problems are not restricted to California. Georgia has experienced a big drought. It's hit Florida and the Carolinas, too. There have been droughts in many parts of the country that traditionally haven't had a drought cycle in a very long time.

So we need to be more conscious of our water use, in both the amount of water that we waste as consumers and the amount of water that is wasted in old irrigation practices in agriculture—the biggest areas for saving water. If we can encourage our farmers to practice more water conservation measures, rather than flooding crops the way they've done with canals, they can target that water on the crops in a more efficient manner. We can save a great deal of water with these small measures.

Delivery is a big issue. The beauty of the Owens Valley project in Los Angeles that William Mulholland designed years ago was that it all ran downhill from the Owens Valley through aqueducts and through holes dug in the mountains. The water was gravity fed. Indeed not only did the designers use no electricity to get it from the Owens Valley, they generated some electricity at the bottom of the pipeline to give Los Angeles some of its first electrical power.

That's not the case anymore. It's impossible to get water from the California Aqueduct or from the Colorado River through gravity. The terrain makes it impossible. So what they do is pump the water around using lots of electricity. They reclaim a bit of it on the way downhill, but only a fraction of it.

It takes a great deal of electricity to pump water around the state of California in order to get it where it's needed. And so when you save water, you're not just saving that H2O. You're saving a great deal of C, otherwise known as carbon, as well. You're saving a lot of fossil fuel, because at the end of the day, a small part of that electricity is produced from clean sources like hydropower and renewables, but a lot of it comes from burning coal or methane.

So if you're saving water, you're also saving electricity.

We can't just bring water to California from the Midwest, for instance. The distance is just too vast, and the resources there are stretched thin as well. You know, the Ogallala Aquifer— the vast, underground reservoir that's been available for years under a few states in the High Plains, including Texas, Wyoming, and Nebraska—is getting tapped dry, too.

The United States doesn't have the water resources that we had just a few decades ago. Changes are going to have to be made. It starts with conserving at the municipality level. Residential users can make a big difference, and so can commercial users, from hotels and hospitals to schools and offices.


From a residential standpoint, people can cut back on their water usage in a variety of ways. Some of it is behavioral, and some of it involves changing a few items around your house.

Behavioral stuff is a big part of the equation. I talked about it quite a bit in my first book, "Living Like Ed." I think I was still a teenager when I thought, "Why am I running the water when I'm brushing my teeth? The water comes from somewhere, and it goes to somewhere. And why would I waste it?" So I started turning off the water when I brushed my teeth. I started taking navy showers to save water— turning the water off while I soaped up, then turning it back on just to rinse off—because I knew water was a resource that was scarce in many parts of the world and there was no reason to waste it. These are just a few examples, but there're many ways to modify your behavior and use a lot less water.

According to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the breakdown for water usage inside a typical American home (not counting exterior usage for landscaping and such, which we'll be discussing later) is as follows:

toilets: 28%
laundry: 23%
shower: 19%
faucets: 15%
leaks: 12%
dishwasher: 3%

When trying to conserve, the first thing you want to do is fix any leaks. You can save a tremendous amount of water just by fixing things that are broken.

There are also many devices that you can install around your home to help you save water—and to help your state save energy and therefore help the environment in that way, too. Changing your toilets, changing your faucets, changing your showerheads, changing appliances, using your appliances properly, and maybe even taking the next step and using gray water for some of your water needs are all efforts you can make.


There was a move in the early 1990s in Los Angeles and in many parts of the country to switch to toilets that used a lower volume of water for each flush. In L.A., these low-flow toilets indeed were mandated for any new development or remodel.

I got my first low-flush toilet in 1990, and it was called a Porcher. It was a French toilet, it had a single button on the top, and it used a lot less water. American Standard and Moen weren't making low- flush toilets at that time. So I bought what was available and it worked well. I had it for years, until it finally started to break down. The parts were difficult to find, but by that time, American Standard and a few other major manufacturers were making a low-flow toilet that worked very well.

There's a reason manufacturers have embraced the low- flush toilet model: For quite a few years now, local governments and utilities have been offering rebates and other incentives to get homeowners and business owners to change out their old toilets for more efficient models. It's a smart plan for everybody, because we use less water and the municipalities and states spend less money -- and less energy -- moving water around.

In fact, low-flow toilets are now required by federal law. Toilets that are sold in this country today must not exceed 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). Those are low-flow or low-volume toilets.

There is also the high-efficiency toilet (HET). It takes water efficiency to the next level and uses less than 1.3 gallons per flush. This is a new standard, and it's exciting. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its specifications for what qualifies as an HET in 2007. Best of all, the EPA has a partner program called WaterSense that's sort of the water-wise equivalent of the Energy Star program. Quite simply, in order to even be considered for a WaterSense label, a particular product must:

be about 20 percent more water-efficient than average products in thatcategory
provide measurable results
be independently certified to meet the EPA's criteria for water efficiency and performance

The idea is to make it easy for people like you and me to find products that save water without sacrificing performance. Obviously, in the case of toilets, we want them to flush properly. We don't want to have to flush them a second time to get the job done, since that's not going to save water.

The EPA actually says that if all the older, less efficient toilets in American homes—just in homes, we're not talking about businesses or public places here—were replaced with high-efficiency toilets, we could save nearly 2 billion gallons of water per day in this country. Per day!

Obviously, I'd like to encourage everybody to make this switch. It's easy to do now, since the WaterSense section on the EPA's Web site includes a list of HETs, and the list is updated regularly. You can scroll down the list and see that there are twenty American Standard brand toilets, twelve different Kohler brand toilets, thirty-something Caroma brand toilets (see Resources, page 341), and so on that all meet the HET criteria. That means they've been tested and certified by independent third parties. So when you go shopping, print out this list and tell the salesperson which specific toilets you're looking for.

A New Choice

So, as you can tell, I love CFLs. I'm probably their biggest fan. But now there's something even better: a CCFL, or cold cathode fluorescent lightbulb. My wife, Rachelle, tells me the name is just hideous, but this lightbulb is a beautiful thing. I absolutely adore CCFLs. CCFLs actually have several advantages over CFLs:

1. Many experts say they last even longer, as long as 25,000 hours (compared with 10,000 for CFLs).
2. They produce even less heat.
3. They're dimmable (most CFLs are not).
4. They turn on instantly (whereas some CFLs can take as long as fi ve minutes to reach their full brightness).
5. There's less flicker.
6. They're not affected by frequent on/off cycles, so you don't have to think about how long you're going to be out of a room and do a cost/benefit analysis to figure out if you should turn off the light or if that's going to be causing too much wear and tear on the bulb—so you'd be sacrificing longevity for a little savings in energy, which is not a great trade-off.
7. They contain far less mercury than traditional compact fluorescents.
8. They tend to be smaller and lighter than CFLs. In fact, one of their earliest common uses was in thin computers.

CCFLs work somewhat like a neon lightbulb. Interestingly, they're becoming a popular choice as a replacement for neon lighting. If you go to Las Vegas, many of those colored lights you see up and down the Strip are actually CCFLs. Hotels like The Mirage understand that operating all those lights uses a lot of energy—which costs a lot of money—so they've taken steps to reduce their energy usage by switching over to CCFLs.

I should warn you right up front that CCFLs are an emerging technology. So don't run out today and replace all of your existing lightbulbs with CCFLs, at least not yet. For starters, CCFLs are not as bright as CFLs right now, and they're also not quite as efficient. But with all of their advantages, clearly they show great promise.

See below for a list of resources for CCFLs.

1000Bulbs.com (CCFL bulbs)

BestHomeLEDLighting.com (LED bulbs)

BetterBulb.com (CCFL bulbs)

BuyLighting.com (CCFL bulbs, LED bulbs)

Fire & Water Lighting (lighting design)

Four Seasons Lighting (LED lighting)

Home Depot (CFL recycling)

Ikea (CFL recycling)

LEDLightBulb.net (LED bulbs)

Solatube (skylights)

TCP (CFL bulbs)

Reprinted from the book "Ed Begley Jr.'s Guide to Sustainable Living," Copyright © 2009 by Ed Begley Jr. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.