Earth Day resolutions: How ‘green’ are you, really?

Joan Michelson, special to

WASHINGTON – How “green” are you, really? Earth Day is a great time to renew your commitment to do your best to reduce your personal carbon footprint — and save money in the process.

You may think you do a lot to better the environment, but the facts across the U.S. show that we have a long way to go. Each person makes a big difference and your choices matter.

Here are some tips on how you can do more to help the environment:

  • Use less plastic and recycle. Americans do a lousy job of recycling, despite the fact that it’s so easy to do these days. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 8 percent of the plastic generated was recovered for recycling. We can do better than 8 percent. Think about every item before you toss it in the trash and keep canvass shopping bags stashed (in your car, your desk or your gym bag) so you have them when and where you need them.

  • Save energy and money. Buy energy-efficient bulbs and manage your thermostat. Energy-efficient bulbs may look more expensive when you compare prices in the store, but they use a fraction of the energy of traditional bulbs and last three-to-25 times longer, according to the Department of Energy. So really, your money goes further. Reduce your home’s energy use and your utility bill by keeping the temperature a bit higher this summer and using programmable thermostats. Every degree you do so saves 1 percent to 3 percent in energy costs.

  • Save water and money. Take 5-minute showers (set a timer so you train yourself), only run your dishwasher and washing machine completely full and turn off the water when you brush your teeth or shave. You can find more tips for saving water on

  • Drive less and save money. As a major metropolitan area, the DC region is very walkable and public transportation-friendly. Think before you get in the car. Can you get there by Metro? Can you walk? You’ll also benefit from the fresh air and exercise. Organize your errands geographically to reduce driving and reduce stops-and-starts, which use the most gas and pollute the most.

  • Eat organic or sustainable. Local foods are transported a shorter distance, and therefore, use less energy to reach your plate. By eating locally, you’re also supporting your local community. Organic and sustainable foods are more available today than ever. And the lack of pesticides and hormones in them makes them better for you.

  • Spend wisely. There are labeling systems that aim to simplify choices, including the EPA’s Designed for the Environment label, which represents products that perform well, are cost-effective and are safer for the environment. A few others include the Green Good Housekeeping Seal, Green Seal and Good Guide. Look for non-toxic products and packaging that is made from recycled material or is recyclable, itself.

Just as we review the year gone by and make resolutions for the New Year in January, let’s start a tradition of reviewing how well we practice good environmental stewardship.

How well did you go “green” this past year? What new steps will you take?

Joan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Radio and a consultant on the green economy and cleantech. She can be reached at Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

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