How Can I Decrease My Energy Use?

Q: There are so many ways that I use electricity or burn oil or gas every day. Can you suggest changes to my energy use that will have the most impact? A: The answer depends on how you live your life. In the US, roughly one-third of our energy use comes from driving, one-third comes from home energy use, and one-third from industrial uses. That means that individuals contribute the majority of our carbon emissions. This month, I’ll borrow from a list compiled by to suggest some simple ways to reduce your personal energy use. I encourage you to visit this website to plug in your specific energy usages and calculate your own carbon footprint. Simple things:

  1. Sign up for Energy for Tomorrow through We Energies, a program that will supply your electricity from renewable sources (e.g. wind, solar, and hydroelectric power) – this will reduce your carbon footprint contribution from electricity to zero. If your landlord pays for electricity, offer to pay the difference (on average $7 per month).
  2. Do shopping in a single trip or combine with other errands. A higher percentage of carbon is emitted within the first 15 minutes of driving, before the car has warmed up.
  3. Carshare or carpool to work, take the bus more often, or walk / bike when the weather permits. See if your employer will allow you to work from home one day a week.
  4. Turn it off when not in use (lights, television, stereo, computer, etc.).
  5. Turn down the heat (try just 1 to 2 degrees at a time) when you are home and turn down even more when you are not home or sleeping. 
  6. Turn down the water heater setting (just 2 degrees will make a significant saving). 
  7. Fill your dishwasher and washing machine with a full load.
  8. Unplug your mobile phone as soon as it has finished charging and unplug all other non-essential appliances when not in use. 
  9. Hang out clothes to dry rather than using a dryer.
  10. Go for a run rather than drive to the gym. 

A little investment (1-4 years pay off)

  1. Fit all light sockets with energy-saving light bulbs such as compact fluorescents. 
  2. Insulate your hot water tank, attic, and walls (35% of heat generated in the house is lost through the walls.
  3. Weatherproof windows with rubber or felt sealants and plastic.
  4. Replace old appliances with new, EnergyStar rated ones. 

Secondary footprint:

  1. Reduce your consumption of meat (meat production requires many times more energy and water than grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  2. Don’t buy bottled water; get a Brita or PUR filter and your own reusable water bottle.
  3. Buy local fruit and vegetables, especially organic, or even try growing your own. 
  4. Try to buy products made closer to home.
  5. Recycle as much as possible; see if you can get down to 1 small garbage bag per week. 

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