April 22, 2009 -- So the saying goes, every day is Earth Day. But perhaps that's never more true than during a recession.
Turning out the lights when you leave a room, driving only when you need to and shutting off the faucet when you brush your teeth are all simple ways to help the planet. But those same tips are also plenty good for your pocketbook.
"A lot of the ways that people become environmentalists are just by following their common sense. For example, lots of companies are going green because it makes sense for their bottom line," said Kim Mickenberg, a spokeswoman for the Earth Day Network
"It's not only about saving the planet, it's about saving your money," she said. "There's a convergence in our economic and ecological interests."
In honor of Earth Day, we've compiled a few simple steps to help you conserve the planet's resources and your own. Here are the details.
1. Watch how you shop.
Whether you're shopping for a book or a new refrigerator, online or in the store, there's a way to consume with the environment and your bank account in mind.
For starters, look for appliances and items with the Energy Star label. Backed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, this label indicates a model that has met minimum federal energy efficiency standards.
You may have to pay a bit more up front, but the savings will come. New refrigerators consume 75 percent less energy than those produced in the late 1970s, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). If you replace a 1980 model with one that meets today's standards, you could save more than $100 a year in utility costs. An Energy Star-certified model will save an additional 15 percent or more.
When you get ready to buy electronics, do a little research. For example, ink jet printers tend to be more energy-efficient than lasers, and LCD televisions and monitors usually pull less power than plasma screens.
It also matters where you do the shopping. BetterWorldBooks, for example, automatically offers customers free shipping in the United States for all book shipments. And to help customers shrink their carbon footprints (or the amount of greenhouse gas emissions for which each individual is responsible), every order is shipped carbon neutral with offsets from Carbonfund.org.
2. Measure Your Miles.
Gas prices may be down now but, even so, fuel costs can still eat up a large portion of the family budget. And, in the United States cars are responsible for about 25 percent of the greenhouse gases produced, the NRDC says.
Purchasing fuel-efficient, less polluting cars is an option. So is keeping your current car in good condition with regular tune-ups and properly inflated tires. Car pooling and biking when possible also save money and cut down on emissions.
But watching how you drive can also have an impact.
A tiny, easy-to-mount computer for the car, called the Fuel Efficiency Adviser, gives you real-time information about what's happening in your engine. It can tell you exactly how much each trip costs, which helps you find the least expensive route.
It even shows you the difference idling at one red light can make.
The device costs $159.99, but the company behind it says thousands of people have purchased it, even becoming "addicted" to it.
"They become addicted to observing the cash costs of their driving habits," said Karl Singer, president of Fuel Efficiency Centers.
The Fuel Efficiency Adviser, he said, helps people measure their travel on a dollars-and-cents basis. On average, he said, it saves drivers 200 to 300 gallons or hundreds of dollars each year.
But, Singer continued, even though consumers may be driven by cash savings, they also become a part of the green movement.
"We started to get a lot of interest from people who are buying this as much for a green reason as they are an economic reason," Singer said.
3. Unplug when you can.
It's one of the easiest things to do: unplug.
Standby (or phantom) power, may be haunting your house -- and costing you more money on energy bills than you bargained for. Standby power eats up electricity on common appliances throughout your home while they're not even on. Seem unfair? Phantom power in the United States is responsible for 5 percent of the total energy used and $3 billion in actual dollars wasted, according to the Department of Energy.
Unplugging even the appliances you rarely use, like refrigerators in the basement, could save you about $10 every month on your utility bill.
Using power strips to switch off televisions, home theaters and stereos when they're not in use could save the equivalent to that of a 75 or 100 watt light bulb running non-stop, according to the NRDC.
4. Choose greener power.
Save energy even while you're plugged in. San Ramon, Calif.-based Green Plug recently announced the Innergie mCube 90G, a universal power adapter that eliminates the need for multiple chargers.
According to the company, each year consumer electronics companies churn out about 2.5 billion incompatible power supplies and dump another 700 million discarded products in landfills. Green Plug's one-size-fits-all approach attempts to reduce waste.
If you want to go one step farther, take a look at the nPower PEG, by Tremont Electric LLC. This futuristic device runs off of your own motion. With 15 minutes of walking you can charge your iPod just as much as it it was plugged in for 15 minutes -- with no plug needed.
5. Don't waste water.
Wasting water is an easy way to watch your money go down to drain. But there are several ways to fix this.
First off, take a minute and listen for the soft, "drip... drip," sound coming from your sinks or shower. The NRDC estimates that leaky faucets wastes about 3,000 gallons of water a year.
The organization recommends checking for a leaking toilet by placing food coloring in the tank and then waiting 30 minutes to see if it appears in the bowl. If it does, it's time to fix the leak.
You can also check for leaks by reading the water meter when no one is home and you know that no appliances are in use. If you check it a little later and the numbers have gone up, it could also indicate a leak.
Taking a four-minute shower instead of an eight-minute shower could also save almost 10 gallons of water. If you can't sacrifice that, replacing your water faucets with aerated ones will use less water without sacrificing pressure, and the cheap price of a low-flow shower head will repay itself in no time with the money it could save you in bills.
Have an out-dated iPod or computer? Is your cell looking a little tattered? You could make a buck selling it for cheap on Web sites like eBay, or you could give something back to the environment by recycling it.
YouRenew.com lets you easily sell or recycle your electronics. You can get cash for the electronics with value or ship it to the company for free and they'll recycle it for you.
According to the EPA, more than 40 million computers alone became obsolete in 2007, and the numbers keep rising.
With those kind of stats, recycling electronics is only becoming more essential, especially because they're not particularly biodegradable.
If we recycle 1 million cell phones, we'll save enough energy to power 19,000 homes in the United States for one whole year, according to the EPA.
7. Change a light bulb.
Yes, you've heard it before. But the fact remains that the simple, cheap, and very easy act of replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs saves you about $30 over their lifetimes. In just six months, they pay for themselves.
Besides using about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, they also last about 10 times longer.