I have read several articles like this lately–easy (and not so easy) ways to save money while being more environmentally-conscious.  A lot of my blog posts have been about big-scale ideas for sustainability and food security, but I want to make sure I’m holding myself accountable for my household’s responsibilities towards sustainability too.  So today I want to look more closely at the 19 ideas suggested by The Daily Green and offer up a short reflection on each idea–if it’s something I’ve tried or wanted to try, or if it’s something that’s illegal where I currently live or not possible because I’m currently an apartment-dweller instead of a homeowner.  One of the reasons I’m really interested in looking closely at these recommendations is because I’m currently serving as a member of the “Green Team” at church and we’re trying to figure out how to offer up a lot of these kinds of ideas for fellow church-goers.  (Strategy/ulterior motive: it will be easier to get people on board with making some “green changes” at church if they are already seeing the benefits of doing these things in their own homes.)  That said, if you’ve had other experiences with some of these ideas and strategies or have other suggestions to offer, be sure to add them in the comments.  The rest of the Green Team and I will appreciate any insight we can get!

“Saving Money by Going Green: 19 Tips That Can Save Hundreds” by Dan Shapley (click on title to link to original article and project idea to go directly to webpage)

Go Green Project Idea (Estimated Cost Savings):

1. Carpooling ($650-$1,000)

We carpool relatively often, but usually with our car…  Bringing a car-less friend along to the grocery store is still carpooling, even if we don’t reap the benefits listed of using our car less often.  (I remember the days of being car-less in Denver and grocery shopping was my least favorite activity…)  As my husband is a full-time student and we live on campus, we also end up doing a lot of the group driving from campus to other activities.  We also try to walk or bike, eliminating as much of our car usage as possible.  It helps that we live in a convenient walking location–my husband walks to class and to his internship, and we can walk to church on Sunday mornings.  Again, it would be nice to reap the benefits of not being the drivers, but I’m glad that if we are driving, we’re getting the most out of our car travels.

2. Eat In/Stop Eating Out (Hundreds, if not thousands)

We’re poor; as noted above my husband is a full-time student and at present I am looking for a job.  Eating in is basically what we’re limited to, with a few affordable and occasional exceptions.  While we wouldn’t necessarily save any more money–you can’t start eating in if you already almost always eat in–it’s nice to know that we can think of this as an energy-saving, green-campaign, as opposed to a circumstantial requirement.  We have been enjoying potlucks with friends recently, which has been a lot of fun, in case you are concerned that eating in would ruin your social life.

3. Rent, Borrow, and Freecycle (Hundreds)

Social media is a great place to ask friends, neighbors, classmates, and random people about borrowing things.  We borrowed a battery charger from our neighbor who responded to a Facebook post a few months ago.  Recently our dvd/cd player started skipping.  When we looked online to see how much the cleaner disc costs we initially thought “eh, $5-10 isn’t so bad, plus we could run it through the computers,” but then we realized that we probably know at least one person who already owns the cleaner disc and has it just sitting around.  Unless they only work once, we should just ask our friends and neighbors.  What I like about renting or borrowing tools, equipment, and other things is that I don’t accumulate them and have to find a place to store them.  Freecycle and other bargain shopping–at thrift stores, second-hand stores, and online sites like Craigslist–results in the accumulation of stuff.

I read an article a few weeks ago (I apologize I can’t remember where it came from, if I do, I’ll drop the link in) about neighborhoods who have created a list of tools and equipment that they are willing to share or purchase together.  The neighborhood described also had a time-share of sorts, where neighbors were willing to help one another do yard work or housework to avoid hiring help.  As you’ve noticed, I’m a big fan of community projects, so that stuck with me.  Plus, I remember living in a neighborhood where we could run next door to get a cup of sugar or flour or whatever was needed to finish making dinner, instead of driving to the grocery store.  It will be interesting to see what it’s like to start or participate in something like that, once we don’t live somewhere that has a maintenance hotline.

4. Start a vegetable garden ($25-$2,000)

Last summer we were the beneficiaries of a friends’ internship: we got to borrow three big planters and several other pots all spring and summer.  When Plant-a-Palooza, the Denver Master Gardeners seedling sale, came around we grabbed three kinds of tomatoes, two peppers, basil, oregano, and chives.  Unfortunately we lived on the sunless south side of the apartment complex until July and our veggies never really took off…  Now we live on the west side of the building (we get plenty of afternoon sun and have a great view of the mountains) and are debating what to try this spring.  Right now we’re limited to container gardening on our balcony, but someday we want to have a big vegetable garden.  We buy a lot of fresh vegetables, but because our resources are relatively limited, we usually only buy what is on sale and we are learning (slowly) to only buy what we’ll use in one week… even if it’s on sale, it can and will go bad before we get around to eating it if it sits in the fridge for too long.

5. Buy an Affordable, Fuel-Efficient Car (Hundreds or thousands)

I’m going to be honest.  I don’t know much about cars, but our Hyundai Elantra is still newer (at least in my eyes), gets good gas mileage, etc.  It’s an automatic; my previous vehicle (an older Elantra) had a standard transmission that got better city gas mileage, but they’re pretty even on highway miles per gallon.  I don’t know what it’s like to have a truly gas-sucking vehicle, but I imagine that only getting 10-15 mpg or having a vehicle that needed a 40 gallon tank would make me want to cry.

6. Do a Home Energy Audit (Up to $570)

A few years ago, I owned a home.  I didn’t do an energy audit, but now I’m really wishing I would have done one, just because I’m curious.  It was built in the 1940s and still had the original doors and windows (with storms), but it had aluminum siding.  I don’t know when the siding was put on or if they did anything to supplement the insulation before redoing the exterior, but I’m curious now what changes I could have made and what suggestions I would have been given.  Currently, we’re apartment renters and our utilities are included in our monthly rent.  I don’t have any idea how much our electric, water, and gas bills would be if we were charged separately.  However, I do know that if we did pay individually we would be much more conscious about the energy we do use…  This winter when it got cold in our apartment, we’d just turn the thermostat up another degree or two and let the heaters run again, instead of just pulling on another sweater.  (Confessions of a bad environmentalist/non-sustainable lifestyle; my apologies to all of you and to the Pacha Mama.)  I promise we’ve already discussed how this practice will definitely be discontinued in the future.

7. Adjust Water Heater Temp Settings ($30-$475)

I hadn’t really thought about the water heater temperature settings before, because, even though I owned a house, I just didn’t really think about that kind of stuff unless it was broken…  In our apartment, I don’t know what the water heater is set at (nor do I know what is normal, average, or recommended), but I do know that when I called in a work order last year to get it checked because I kept getting suddenly scalded (okay, maybe not quite that bad, but it was definitely unpleasant) the maintenance staff agreed to turn it down a degree or two.  Unknowing win!  I’m sure it could go down another degree or two, because in a 60 year old apartment building, we should definitely be fighting more for hot water than we do, right?

8. Make Your Own Green Cleaning Products ($200 or more)

Last fall I had the opportunity to work as a researcher at a day laborers center in Denver.  I was conducting evaluations of the OSHA trainings that had been taking place (know your rights, safety and hazards trainings, use of safety equipment, etc.).  One of the trainings was about green cleaning and making your own green cleaning products.  The day laborers even made green cleaning kits, which contained everything they’d need to clean the nooks and crannies of a whole house.  I have the “recipe list” and am slowly replacing my toxic cleaning supplies with green cleaning supplies…  I would like to start over with the green cleaning kit, but it feels like just as big of a waste to me to throw away a full bottle of expensive cleaner.  (This goes back to the question of Simplicity vs. Sustainability for me; I want to make choices that are the best, sustainable option, but I also don’t want to waste things… what’s already under the kitchen sink has been produced, packaged, and purchased.  Throwing it out won’t change that.)

9. Make Natural Beauty Products (Up to $180)

I would classify my make-up usage as minimal to barely any, so any discussion of lipstick and eye shadow I tend to ignore (which is why I barely scanned this section on my first read-through).  Giving it a closer glance though I realized that I do use lotion (I live in Denver, this is a requirement) and I have recently gone back to purchasing shampoo and conditioner.  My husband started making his own shampoo and conditioner (baking soda and water/apple cider vinegar and water), which I tried for two and half weeks or so until I just couldn’t comb my hair at all.  I know that that means I should have played with the ratios until I got what I needed, but I really missed having sudsy, soapy, pretty-smelling hair.

In an effort to not go all the way back to square one, I’m currently trying out Garnier Fructis’ Pure Clean Shampoo and Conditioner.  It boasts that it is 92% biodegradable, doesn’t contain silicone, parabens, or dyes, and that the bottle is recyclable and contains 50% recycled plastic.  I like them, but I still want to do better–the labeling looks good, but I still can’t pronounce most of the ingredients and I’m always hesitant to believe that any product is as good as it says it is.  I’ve been on the lookout for other recipes for sudsy shampoos, soaps, lotions, etc. and there were several on this page I’ve bookmarked to try.  (I feel a future blog in there.)

10. Recycle Your Old Electronics ($125 or more)

This was the first I had heard about selling old electronics for cash.  Up next for the Green Team is an Electronics Recycling Event (Saturday, April 14 in the Denver metro area), but instead of getting paid for what’s being dropped off, we’ll be paying about $0.10/pound.  We’re working with Metech Recycling and that was their requirement to break-even (they take everything apart piece by piece and recycle/resell it).  I don’t know who the other companies sell to that they can make that much, but personally, I feel like if it’s being discarded in the best manner possible, I don’t mind paying a little bit extra.

Also, as was suggested in this article, we’ll have a phone donation box (they’ll be given to the Colorado Anti-Violence Program) and a box to collect batteries.  If you’re in the area and want more information be sure to ask.

11. Use the Library ($118)

I’ve mentioned a few times now that my husband is a student.  What is amazing is that he hasn’t purchased any books for any of his classes since his first quarter on campus.  He utilizes the school library, inter-library loan, the Denver Public Library and he has coordinated with friends at other campuses to get all of his required readings.  We definitely save more than $118 a year.

Although we both agreed it seemed strange* initially, we’ve also been checking out DVDs from the Denver Public Library… (*strange because you’re supposed to get books, not movies) but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the big collection of independent, international films as well as typical U.S./Hollywood flicks.

We don’t get any magazines or newspapers delivered to our apartment, but we have learned that there are copies of the Denver Post and the New York Times available on campus if we’re craving the feel of real newspaper.

12. Switch to Energy Efficient Lighting ($112)

In our previous Green Team meeting we were discussing some of the ideas we could share with the rest of the congregation and the issue of lighting was discussed–none of us could remember if they even sell incandescent light bulbs anymore.  One of the problems we’ve discovered with our old apartment building is that when I tried to replace one of the burned out incandescent bulbs with a new CFL bulb I blew out the entire light fixture, there was smoke, and maintenance was required.  I was told not to try that again…  so I haven’t, even though our light fixture has only had one functioning light bulb for the last few months.  If the other one goes out, I’ll invite maintenance to deliver some incandescent bulbs; in that sense I guess I am saving money, just not in the way the article intended.  All future apartments or homes will hopefully be better able to support these easy, energy efficient steps.  Otherwise we might have to rely on candles, because I didn’t stockpile the old, incandescent light bulbs.

13. Irrigate Lawn and Garden with a Rain Barrel ($100-$300)

Right now we live in a city that is in a semi-arid desert and because of water laws, collecting rain water is a crime.  (I’m not an expert, but I’ve heard from several sources that due to Denver’s water shed laws or regulations you can be penalized for collecting water.)  That said, we live in an apartment on a campus that has it’s own water source/water rights, so it irrigates too often–our lawn is unnaturally green compared to the rest of the city, and is watered at poorly chosen times of day.  (I know the sprinklers are on a timer, no one comes around and turns them on, so they shouldn’t be watering during the heat of midday.  They could also use a check–our sidewalk and parking lot usually get just as much water as the lawn…)

If we live in a place where we can collect water (and somewhere that gets rain to collect) I would like to use a rain barrel.  I don’t know that I would water the whole lawn with it, as much as any flowers, fruits or vegetables I’m trying to keep alive.  I’ve seen a few different styles of rain barrel online, ranging from simple to complex (the catching system, not the storage concept).  My grandma sets a plastic tub on her deck table all summer (very simple), because she believes the fresh rain water is better for her flowers than water from the tap.  That might be the easiest way to start.

A DIY rain barrel

14. Plug Electronics Into Power Strips ($100)

Because of our apartment’s layout, we already use power strips, but we haven’t used them like we should.  I think this is one area where we could definitely improve–and the added perk of not having to search for any specific charger also sounds good!  I don’t think it would be too hard for us to do, it will just take some time to get into the habit of turning the strips on and off.

15. Use Paperless Billing ($70)

More and more often I catch myself paying my bills online.  I know I should switch them all over and receive them online too, but I’m having trouble convincing myself I don’t need a paper to file when I pay them.  (My method/habit is to write on the top of the bill the date and amount paid, even if I pay online, and put it in it’s appropriate file.)  It would clear up space in my filing cabinet, it would save paper and money… we’ll see, I’ve known for years that this is something I should do, I just haven’t been able to break my bill-paying pattern.  Yet.

16. Line Dry Your Clothes (Up to $85)

This suggestion is about saving money by saving electricity by not using the clothes dryer.  Our apartment’s dryer sometimes dries our laundry and sometimes does not, so we end up line drying on the drying rack, across chairs, over the sofa, etc. more often than we expect.  I was reading a money-saving blog the other day and one of the author’s suggestions was to run the dryer for 10 minutes (use a kitchen timer, not the timer on the dryer), just to get the wrinkles out and get out of the “just washed” phase or start to heat up the clothes and begin the drying process, then to place everything on a clothesline, drying rack, or clothes hanger.  The post pointed out that energy is spent on all of the extra spin cycles and cool down settings–so if you don’t want to line dry exclusively, you can get things started in the dryer, but use it in a limited fashion.

When I owned my house, my washer and dryer were located in the unfinished basement and there were several clotheslines running along the ceiling.  In retrospect, I had everything I needed to follow this blogger’s advice, unfortunately, I didn’t have the advice back then.  This is definitely something I’m willing to try when 10 minutes of drying time doesn’t cost $1, then again, maybe I should just start now, since I have to finish drying on the rack anyway.

Socks hung out to dry

17. Compost ($30-$60)

Before we got married I was living/working in the Dominican Republic and my husband was living/working in Guatemala, so he came to the DR for a week and we planned most of the important wedding-related stuff and we created an online wedding registry (not really important, but whatever).  One of the things we put on our registry was a “counter-top composter,” which we were gifted.  Unfortunately, neither of us really understood that we couldn’t compost in it, we could keep compostables in it and then periodically bring it to the compost pile.  After a few weeks of really bad smelling, not composting fruit and vegetable scraps, we started working with one of my husband’s classmates to build a vermiculture compost bin.  A vermiculture compost bin is one that utilizes red worms’ amazing digestive abilities, I’ve been taking pictures as I work in it to put into another post, but for us, the worm bin is effectively taking care of all of the food scraps we can feed it.  Last spring we didn’t have enough compost yet to use it in our planters, but one of my goals for the next few weeks is to separate the compost from the scraps and use some compost when I start planting this spring.

a worm bin, similar to what we compost in on our balcony

18. Use a Reusable Coffee Mug ($36 or (much) more)

As a result of our tight budget (and tight spending in general), I don’t know that we would save much money here.  We usually are pretty good about bringing our own water bottles or making and bringing our own tea or coffee already.

One place I have noticed that we are getting little discounts though is the nearby grocery stores–each reusable shopping bag is a $0.10 discount at Sunflower, King Soopers, and Safeway.  At the store formerly known as Azteca (I think it’s called Save-a-lot now, but the name has changed 3-4 times in the last 3-4 months), they don’t even offer bags.  Even if we don’t save $36 on coffee purchases, lots of stores and businesses are coming up with little ways to save both kinds of green.

19. Fix Water Leaks ($20)

Our current apartment has only suffered one major leaky shower, which we were able to get maintenance over to fix once we convinced the apartment manager that the sound of gushing water in the background was coming from the faucet, which was closed.  I’m not sure why apartment managers don’t like to have things fixed–when I was a home-owner, I knew it would be less expensive to get something fixed early on, instead of waiting until something required a major repair.  But in another apartment, my shower would start slowly dripping every 2-3 months and the slow drip would turn into a steady stream of water.  It was only when I would describe the leak in terms of how much it was costing the manager, would he send someone over to repair it.  Someday, we’ll live in a place where we can swap out old faucets and fixtures for low-flow efficiency.

Overall, I think this list (or any other similar list) is a good start for anyone who’s not already trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle or a good check-in for anyone who is trying to make sustainable changes at home.  I like knowing where I can and need to make changes (beauty products, power strips, line drying, and paperless billing), but I also like knowing that the small things I’ve already started doing actually do add up.