However, if you can train yourself to think about the settings before each use, that’s better, of course—because when the greener choice is the wrong choice, you generate waste when you have to do it over.
Companies can do this as they set the defaults in the factory—and so can individuals. Look around at how many things you can control, and examine the defaults. And of course, if you have to replace a piece of equipment or a supply, look for replacement items that have green settings so you can make them the default.
Here are a few examples of the places you can save.
Dishwashers: Use light or normal wash, instead of the pots and pans setting. Turn off the heated final rinse and the extremely inefficient dry cycle (which turns electricity, very inefficiently, into heat and essentially burns the water off the upward-facing bottoms of your mugs). Instead, when the wash cycle stops, turn the cups right-side-up by hand, so the water can drain off the bottoms. (Tip: before loading the dishwasher, scrape the dishes into the compost and let them sit in a small amount of soapy water for five minutes—then the lighter settings will be adequate and you want accidentally bake on food residue. This is especially important if it takes you several hours to fully load the dishwasher.)
- Washing machines: Set the default to light wash, cold water. If you’re dealing with soiled diapers or a kid who loves to jump in mud puddles, adjust upward.
- Toilets: If you have the European-style toilet with heavy and light flush settings, keep it set to light (or just use the light-flush button).
- Appliances, televisions, and computers. Plug them into smart power strips—or plug them into regular power strips and keep the strips switched to off when not in use. This will save money and energy, reduce fire hazard, and add only microseconds to power-up time. Good candidates: toaster ovens, microwave ovens, televisions (which are major power thieves when left idling in standby mode), computers and peripherals. In our house, where computers are used constantly, we power them up in the morning and then shut down and flip the power strip off before bed. That’s usually at least six hours of inactivity where we’re not consuming electricity.
- Room heaters: keep off unless you’re in the room.
- Programmable thermostats: In winter, set for 60 degrees F/15.5 C at night and during the times of day when the house is empty, 65 kicking in just before you wake up or return home. And set your own internal thermostat to stay warm by putting on a sweater and slippers or grabbing an extra blanket at night before reaching to turn the heat up. If it was good enough for President Carter in the White House, it’s probably good enough for you. (But if this is an alien concept, lower the temperature gradually, starting at about 70 F/21 C, and knocking it down a couple of degrees every few days, as your body acclimates.) In summer, if you use air conditioning, try it at 78 F/25.5 C. If the air temperature outside is 90 F/32.2 C, you’ll still feel nice and cool when you step inside.
- Refrigerators: Keep your refrigerator at no colder than 36-38 F/2.2-3.3 C and freezer around 5 F/-15 C.
- Showers: Set for the lowest flow and water temperature that provide a comfortable shower.
In short, the potential to save money, energy, and carbon emissions is all around you, if you reprogram your devices, and your brain.
Shel Horowitz, shel at greenandprofitable.com, shows you how to "reach green, socially conscious consumers with marketing that has THEM calling YOU." He writes the Green And Profitable/Green and Practical columns and is the primary author ofGuerrilla Marketing Goes Green (John Wiley & Sons, 2010).