According to the Department of Energy, residential households make up 21.8 percent of the United States’ total energy usage, with heating being the largest energy drain. There are a lot of efficiency gains to be had there, and not just in energy—water and material usage could be drastically reduced, too. This would not only be good from a sustainability perspective, it would also save you money through lower bills. Here are four ways you can get started.

Saving Water

The average American household uses 400 gallons of water every day, but you can cut his down considerably with a few simple fixes. First, fix any leaky faucets or toilets, which can waste 20 and 200 gallons of water a day, respectively. The next step is showering, which uses about 2 gallons a minute. Use a timer and limit yourself to five minutes maximum when showering. If you have money to invest, get low-flow toilets and water-efficient washers. Outside, rainwater-capture and permaculture features like berms and swales can minimize the water you need for the yard. Active gray-water systems can help too, by capturing the water from your shower and sinks and using it to flush toilets or irrigate the yard.

Reducing Electricity Usage

When it comes to cutting your electricity usage, old devices and appliances are your first port of call. Upgrade to modern or lower-energy equivalents where possible, for example, laptops over desktop computers, and LED or CFL over incandescent light bulbs. For the appliances you do have, ask if you need them at all. Can you hang clothes outside instead of using the dryer, for instance? If you can’t live without a particular appliance, at least use low-energy settings, such as washing clothes on cold or low-heat settings. Also, unplug chargers and other devices that aren’t in use, or use a power strip with a switch so you can conveniently cut the power to multiple devices.

Cutting Your Heating Bill

The biggest thing you can do to reduce energy when heating your home is to insulate your walls. This involves injecting special foam into your wall cavities, which reduces the rate that heat passes through. In winter, it traps heat inside; in summer, it stops the outside heat from getting in. However, it’s costly and takes a bit of time to do. For cheaper and quicker options, insulated curtains are a good first step, since windows are often poorly insulated. Be efficient with your heating and turn the thermostat down a couple of degrees, turn heaters off in rooms you’re not using, and make sure radiators aren’t blocked. See this article by MoneyMagpie for more ways to cut your heating bill.

Cutting Your Household Waste

As the Environmental Protection Agency points out, there are three “Rs” of cutting household waste: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reduce means limiting the amount of stuff—of any kind―that passes through your home. So buy long-lasting products over disposables, go paperless with your bank, repair instead of replace broken items, and vote with your wallet by purchasing products that have minimal packaging. Take special care not to buy too much food, and don’t allow food to spoil.

Reuse means to give away products you don’t need rather than toss them. So you could donate old toys to hospitals, donate clothes to charities that redistribute them, and give any other old possessions to thrift stores.

For recycling, check the local services in your area. Write down what materials can be recycled, where they can go, and when you can take them. Then set up separate storage bins in your house for each material.

As you can see, going green in the home involves both changing your habits and getting home improvements installed. Although you might be tempted to stick with old habits and avoid the larger up-front costs of home improvements, remember that green improvements also reduce your bills and may pay for themselves over time. Which area will you start on first?

Photo: Pixabay

Creating a sustainable or eco-friendly yard through mindful landscaping and upkeep can save you time, money, and energy while protecting the Earth. Eco-friendly landscaping conserves water, supports wildlife, reduces pollution, and leaves you with a healthy and beautiful yard. From choosing native plants to collecting rainwater to limiting water usage, there are many ways to beautify your yard while being conscious of your carbon footprint.

Native Plants and Hardscaping

When thinking about what to plant, consider native plants. Native plants are naturally adapted to your regional environment. If you live in a drought-prone area, choosing native plants can help you use less water, as they’re adapted to the droughts. Furthermore, native plants help sustain native bee populations. To discover native plants in your region, simply enter your zip code on the National Wildlife Foundation’s website, and they’ll offer suggestions for shrubs, trees, grasses, and flowers.

You can be green with hardscaping too. For driveways, choose permeable pavers over concrete. They’re a more eco-friendly option because they allow water to flow into the ground instead of running off into storm sewers, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Opt for recycled or reused materials, such as bricks, stones, glass, and concrete materials in other areas of your yard. If you’re building a fence or deck, try to use recycled or sustainably harvested materials. A living wall or hedge is an even better option.

Water Consumption Awareness

During the hottest parts of summer, skip watering your lawn. This allows the grass to go dormant, which it’s naturally programmed to do. Skipping watering altogether is ideal, but if you do water, ensure it’s a deep soaking. When you shallow water the lawn, you’re promoting shallow root growth, which is more susceptible to drought and insect issues. To conserve soil moisture, use organic mulch in garden beds and around trees.

Almost 70 percent of water pollution comes from stormwater runoff, and half of that pollution comes from chemicals used in yards and homes. To stop pollution in its tracks, replace storm sewers with rain gardens. A rain garden is a landscaped garden that’s placed in a shallow depression where runoff from your home’s roof or hardscaping is directed. You can also collect rainwater runoff from your roof in rain barrels and use it to water your garden. Making a rain barrel is fairly simple, or you can purchase one.

Xeriscaping

As previously mentioned, choosing native plants is beneficial in drought-prone areas. You can be mindful in other ways if you live in these types of regions as well. For example, xeriscaping, which means landscaping with minimal water use, is a great option. Because the lawn is usually the number one area of water consumption in a yard, xeriscaping involves reducing lawn areas and replacing remaining grasses with varieties that survive on rainfall, such as buffalo grass and blue grama grass. The best grass will depend on the region in which you live.

Xeriscaping also involves grouping plants by water needs, called irrigation zones, and choosing efficient watering methods, such as watering by hand, drip irrigation systems, and bubbler emitters. Previously mentioned eco-friendly ideas are also incorporated into xeriscaping, including rainwater collection, the use of mulch, redirecting runoff water, and using pavers.

Environmental Protection

Part of eco-friendly landscaping also involves reducing waste. To reduce waste and increase fertility in your lawn and garden, create compost piles out of twigs and leaves instead of bagging them as yard waste. Also, instead of bagging lawn clippings, use them to smother grass, which will decompose and add nutrients. Recycle plastic garden pots and flats, and switch from gasoline-burning machines to those with electrical engines. However, note that electricity still causes pollution, so use manual tools whenever possible.

There’s no need to implement every eco-friendly idea overnight. Start small by changing watering methods and planting a few native plants. Over time, you can incorporate more ideas, like collecting rainwater and creating a rain garden. An eco-friendly yard gives you a beautiful lawn, while also conserving water, reducing pollution, and sustaining wildlife.

Photo Credit: silverstrike24, Pixabay

Climate change is a growing problem, and unfortunately there is no way to reverse its effects on our planet. There are some things we can do to help mitigate the damage a bit, however, so it’s important for everyone to be educated about what climate change really is and how it affects the world around us. Because it’s a complicated issue that has moral and political ramifications, the topic is a difficult one to broach with just anyone.

As both a vegan and a traveler, you experience the world in a unique way, so it makes sense that the ways in which you can help fight back against climate change would be unique too. You can help the people in your community and around the globe learn more about these dangerous changes–and how to help stop them from growing even larger–by spreading information and citing credible sources. You can also make some changes of your own by becoming more eco-friendly in your travels and making better choices altogether.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions where climate change is concerned.

How does it differ from weather?

Weather patterns will continue to be their own force around the planet, just as they have for centuries. There will still be cold winters and ice storms. However, climate change means that the Earth is getting warmer gradually due to trapped greenhouse gases–including carbon dioxide–in the atmosphere. These gases have been around for a long time, and without them, our planet would be too cold to inhabit. When the gases are in too high a concentration, the planet warms up. It’s been slowly happening since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and as we burn more fossil fuels, create more waste, and cut down more trees (which store carbon dioxide and release it into the atmosphere when they are cut down), we are contributing to the gradual warming of our planet.

What are the negative effects of climate change?

Unfortunately, because those greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere at a growing rate for many years, we are already seeing the effects of climate change. A number of plants and animals are in danger of becoming extinct due to the melting of glaciers; winters are slowly becoming warmer around the globe, meaning more rain, which contributes to flooding and devastating storms. Unfortunately, it will only get worse if we don’t make massive changes very soon.

What can I do to help?

There are many ways you can help mitigate the damage of climate change and global warming in your travels:

  • Before you book your travel, research hotels, airlines, and other accommodations to get a better understanding of their sustainability initiatives. Take a moment to check out their certifications (if any) too.
  • Use transportation responsibly: walk, bike, or use public transportation whenever possible. If renting a car is necessary, opt for a hybrid option.
  • Shop locally, whether locally refers to your hometown or your current travel destination. The more you buy online–no matter how convenient it is–the more you’re helping to contribute to emissions from delivery trucks.
  • While you already know the best places to get your vegan favorites locally, traveling will require a little extra effort. Use tools like HappyCow to find vegan dining spots and health food stores, or cook your own simple meals using local produce and staples.
  • If language is a barrier, use Google Translate or The Vegan Passport to convey your dietary needs and ask for suggestions.
  • While you are traveling and discovering new places, why not give back with a little volunteer work? Even if your travels are just taking you to the next state over, you can use helpful tools such as Volunteer Match to find opportunities near your location.

There are ways you can help from the comfort of home too:

  • Plant some trees. You can make this a neighborhood challenge; talk to the members of your community to see how many people would be interested in planting trees, especially in areas of new development where plant life has been cut down.
  • If you already have your own vegetable garden with all your favorite vegan ingredients, make your home even more environmentally-friendly by creating a compost station or collecting rainwater. Small changes make a world of difference such as changing out your light bulbs for more energy efficient ones, making sure your home is well insulated, turning off the lights in a room before leaving, installing low-flow toilets and shower heads, and investing in solar panels and smart thermostats.
  • Hold a fundraiser in your neighborhood and get as many people involved as possible. Print up fliers and hand out leaflets with information about climate change. Use this as an opportunity to educate others about the positive environmental impact of veganism. Design some t-shirts that can be handed out to volunteers to help spread the message.

Climate change is here to stay, unfortunately, but there are ways to make a difference as you travel and explore. Research sustainable travel options, find ways to support and supplement your vegan diet, and give back to others by volunteering. During your downtime,  start a garden, plant some trees, reduce your carbon footprint, and educate others about climate change and the health and environmental benefits of veganism. These are all great ways to start, putting a small but helpful dent in the global initiative so save our planet.

Photo via Pixabay by Viktoriya

Summer’s song includes the buzzing sound of bees in our gardens. These hard-working insects play a crucial role in our food production. Bees’ large hives are highly portable, and the honey bee is excellent at sussing out all of the plants that need pollination. Here’s some honey-baked food for thought: Bees practice flower fidelity because they only stick to one flower type at a time. This practice makes them highly efficient pollinators.

Bees are an integral part of our farming system as they contribute more than $14 billion to the value of crop production in the U.S., according to the American Beekeeping Federation. They also pollinate wild flowers that provide a food source for insects that fuel the food chain.

Avid gardeners can do their part to attract hard-working bees and help our environment.

What Can You Do to Help?

Gardeners can research plants that are bee-friendly. Maybe you have a small plot in your backyard or a big space where you can plant the ultimate pollinator garden that include wildflowers, fruit trees and bushes. The bees will return the favor by increasing the production and health of your garden and nearby flowers. Providing a pollen and nectar source is an excellent way to help the declining bee populations.

Alternately, if a garden is not an option for you, supporting your local farmers and beekeepers is an easier way to help. Purchase local, organic produce and honey. And, if you really feel the call, perhaps look into keeping a bee farm of your own (provided you are not allergic).

Don’t Have Enough Space?

If you live in a city, you may be thinking that starting a garden is impossible. However, you can grow a garden nearly anywhere! Whether it’s in metal buckets, planters off a terrace, or literally climbing up a wall, anywhere you can pack in soil and plant a seed, you can start a garden. Hydroponics, gardening without soil, has also been a big buzz around the sustainability communities across the globe.

When practicing small-space gardening, always keep your light source in mind. If you are gardening in an urban setting, you’re almost always going to have a building on one side, maybe more. Observe the light patterns over the course of a few days and gauge where your plants will get the most sun. Aside from helping to save the bees, small-space gardening is a great way to expose yourself and your kids to nature and to create at least a portion of your own food supply if you are so inclined.

Simply planting a garden may not feel like much, but individuals making productive and eco-friendly choices is how large-scale change happens. By visiting your local farmer’s market or utilizing your green thumb to start a garden in Manhattan – and everywhere in between – can do wonders to save the bees. When we help the bees, we help ourselves. It’s a win-win solution!

Photo via Pixabay

This Mother’s Day, do something that will have special meaning for your vegetarian or vegan mother. There’s a strong link between vegetarianism/veganism and gardening, as is the idea of transforming one’s own yard into a sustainable source of food. If your mother is an avid gardener who loves to enjoy and share the results of her hard work, you can make this Mother’s Day a memorable one by helping her establish the edible garden of her dreams, with plants that look appealing and produce a delicious source of food for your whole family and neighbors.  

Aesthetic appeal

Creating a garden with visual as well as culinary appeal can be difficult. The objective of a vegetable garden is to produce food, augment your menu selections, and provide healthful alternatives for your entire family. But you can also help Mom create a scene of considerable natural beauty by combining plants of different colors and varying heights, which gives the effect of a harmonious natural landscape. This unique approach to landscaping, sometimes called “foodscaping,” is an enjoyable and utilitarian combination of formal landscaping and farming.

Turning your yard into an edible landscape is not only ideal for a vegetarian; it’s also representative of an environmentally responsible lifestyle. It’s become such an appealing and efficient practice that many businesses and restaurants have decided to grow herbs and plants, which provide a cost-effective way to round out their menus. Growing one’s own food is a very old tradition that reaches back into the very beginnings of the United States and the country’s agrarian origins. There’s more to it than nostalgia. It’s a practical and useful way to add visual beauty and nutritional value to your mother’s yard. And it’s a great family activity, something that even young children can help with and learn from.

An appealing design

Work with your mother to design a garden landscape using a variety of edible plants that look good as they grow together. Kale, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, blackberries, and herbs such as rosemary, mint and basil combine to make an attractive outdoor scene that your mother will love viewing from her kitchen window for months. The fun comes from working out bright and complementary plant combinations, which you can add to with decorative rocks, logs, flagstones and other accents. Don’t forget to use plants based on the amount of sunlight your yard gets, and how much rainfall you can expect during the growing months. If you decide to go with plants that like to sprawl and spread out, consider using a container of some type, like a metal or wooden barrel half. Make sure to put small holes in the bottom and sides so that excess water can drain out.

Keeping it green

As you create your edible garden, bear in mind the ongoing need to water and feed what you’ve planted to ensure that it stays productive. You can make it easy on your mom by installing a form of drip irrigation, which she can activate with the turn of a knob. Soaker hoses make watering a garden easy; all that’s necessary is to lay it alongside your garden plants and let it drip water directly down into the root system. Drip irrigation extends watering times, saves water and time, prevents fungal buildup and can easily be adapted to any landscaping configuration.  

Mulch

Mulching will protect root systems from fluctuations in precipitation and temperature and conserve moisture by preventing evaporation. Be careful not to mulch too heavily, which can prevent important nutrients reaching the roots.

A well-designed edible garden will be a pleasing addition to your neighborhood, something your friends and neighbors (not to mention your homeowner’s association) will appreciate. Consider making it a yearly Mother’s Day activity. Next year, plan on adding some new plants and more color.

Courtesy of Pixabay.com.