GreenPrint

A friend of mine works for a company down in Portland with a really great idea which turned into a really great product. The idea is to minimize the amount of printing we do from our computers not by threats, guilt, or peer pressure*, but simply by eliminating all unwanted/unnecessary printing, like those pesky near-empty pages that always seem to show up after printing a web page. As I understand it (I've never actually used the product because I only print about 4 pages per year and I am extremely cautious to make sure there aren't extra pages), this program intercepts the data sent to the printer and then allows you to pick and choose what you want to print. It also has other options like printing to PDF and tracking paper saved.

The company is called GreenPrint and they've just offered up a version of their software for free called GreenPrint World. The two minor downsides are that it is only available for PC (sorry Maccies) and there is a little bit of "tasteful advertising" involved. Anyway, you should check it out. Besides a listing of their products (they also have corporate versions which could really do some change), they have some interesting facts about office paper consumption.

Go forth and print green. After all, millions of trees can't be wrong.
Wednesday January 30 2008File under: links, environment

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Veggie Fuel

Unfortunately, this picture is kind of hard to see*. Written in dust on the back of the bus, it says "100% Waste Veggi" and "Zero Fossil Fuel". While this is a bit of an overstatement (we use a bit of regular diesel fuel to warm up the engine and a couple of times when the veggie system has failed), it is something we are very proud of. When I�ve explained it to people in the past, I think they might have gotten the wrong impression, what with all the media hype surrounding ethanol, biodesiel, etc. So here�s a brief explanation of how it works.

Our engine burns vegetable oil, not biodesiel. The oil comes straight from the grease barrel behind the restaurant and into our gas tank. (Gonzo collecting is the most fun part, see?) When looking for used vegetable oil, you have to be kind of particular about quality. Most fast food places use hydrogenated oil which is bad (for some reason I�ve yet to understand). Also, not having chunks of stuff floating in the oil is a good thing. Water content is another thing. Sushi places are generally considered to be the best places to obtain the oil, although we got our first tank full from The Keg in Bellingham.

Okay, so now you�ve got a tank full of used veggie oil. Most vehicles that have been converted to run on veggie oil also still have their deisel tank and fuel lines with duplicates for the veggie stuff. The veggie lines usually have another filter or two as well as a heat exchanger, to heat up the oil. But once you�ve got all that stuff in place, you just warm up the engine and veggie oil using diesel fuel and the throw the switch, and -badda bing- your tail pipe starts smelling like french fries.

The pyschological effect of not using fossil fuels to travel is really something. You are taking something that would have been thrown away and using it to power your vehicle. While you�re still not in the clear regarding environmental impact of traveling (additional parts need to be replaced, roads need to be built and maintained, etc.), you are lessening your impact drastically. So now, when we idle the bus for the 15 minutes we�re stopped at a rest area (or, in the case of being in Mexico, a stand of trees), I no longer freak out about wasting fuel.
Friday December 28 2007File under: travel, Mexico, environment

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Beat the Heat

This past Monday was blog action day!, a day where bloggers around the world unite to give coverage to a certain topic. The idea of a group call to action for bloggers doesn't sit extremely well with me (like so many memes), but this year's topic was the environment, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Because environment and environmentalism are such huge topics, I abandoned my original idea of listing all the environmental blogs I read, lists of tips and tricks to lessen your environmental footprint, and maybe even post my reflective essay It's About More Than Carbon, Silly. Instead, I decided to cover just one thing, which happens to fit in with what I've been doing recently.

Beat the Heat is a community group here in Skagit County (which meets in Anacortes) dedicated to working to "slow global warming through public awareness, personal action, and political advocacy." I've attended a few of their meetings to see what they are all about. It was great to see people self-organizing to work towards a goal they believe in. Many of the projects are closely in line with interests/goals of my own*. Their website has some great resources including a calendar of upcoming environment-related events including sponsored movies and lectures.
Wednesday October 17 2007File under: environment, Anacortes

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Pacific Northwest Clean Energy Expo

By now, anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a bit of an eco-geek: I like public transit, local foods, solar energy, etc. When the opportunity to attend the Pacific Northwest Clean Energy Expo* arose, you shouldn't be surprised that I didn't pass it up.

The expo was held at the Seattle Center Pavilion. The room was split space-wise equally between alternative-fuel vehicles and booths with products for your home. Additionally, there was a podium and seating for the various lecturers scheduled throughout the day.

The vehicles were very interesting. While there was nothing overly cutting edge represented (like that oh-so-sexy Tesla), there were some home-brew electric cars, factory electric cars, bio-diesels, and "neighborhood" cars. One of the speakers was the president of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, who I caught after the presentation to further delve into the details of converting a gas powered vehicle into an electric*. The general gist I got from all the vehicle stuff was to do anything truly alternative, it will cost you.

The home booths ranged from tankless water heaters to solar panel salesmen. In talking with the representatives, it seemed like they were more there to transact business than discuss the finer points of energy savings with a non-homeowning eco-geek, but I got a few concepts clarified. My favorite booth, however, was a little old(ish)* lady who had made up her own guide to transportation in the north Puget Sound area. It has rate and schedule information on all transportation choices from public transit (SKAT, WTA, Island Transit, etc.) to Greyhound, Amtrak, and the Airporter. She and I chatted for a good long while.

While the Expo didn't blow me away with the latest and greatest, it gave me the opportunity to see what is actually available consumer-wise, hear about what type of projects people are pursuing on their own, and filled me with motivation, enthusiasm, and inspiration that you get by being surrounded by like minded people.
Sunday September 16 2007File under: environment

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Simple Solar Power

Sunny days here in the Pacific Northwest aren't as frequent as some other places in the world. In fact, we probably rank pretty low on the number-of-sunny-days-per-year list. But for a brief time during the summer, the sunny days outnumber the grey ones reminding all us Washingtonians that NW Washington is a great place to live.

For this month's Environmental Project of the Month, I thought I would focus on the sun. Part one of the project is nothing new for me, but I want to share it in hopes of encouraging you to give it a try. Hang drying clothes is a wonderful way to harness the power of the sun and save electricity [and fossil fuels, if you have a gas powered dryer]. Not only is it great for the environment, hanging your clothes on the line is a great excuse to be outside on a beautiful day, if even for 10 minutes or so. Drying your clothes on the line isn't a summer only practice, even here in the northwest. For the past 5 years or so, I would say 90-95% of my drying needs have been met by the sun and wind.

Part two of this month's EPotM is what I am really excited about. From junk found around the house, I've built a solar oven. (Plans abound on the internet if you are interested in giving it a try yourself.) Basically an insulated cardboard box with aluminum foil covered collectors, a well made solar cooker can get to 250-275 degrees. In test runs, I've only got mine up to 214. Right now, I've got a couple of baking potatoes and some lentil beans cooking. We'll see how my first home solar-cooked meal turns out.

For those of us not ready or not in a place to make the leap to photovoltaic panels for supplementing our electricity needs (or even for those who are), harnessing the power of the sun through simple methods is a great way to reduce our impact. And speaking of how awesome the sun is, check out this audio ode to the sun. (For those of you at work (esp. in cubicles), be warned: The audio is embedded and hidden in the page so no volume controls or stop button is present. When will people learn that just because you can doesn't mean that you should?)
Tuesday June 19 2007File under: food, environment

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Project of the Month

One of the many benefits of all this free time I've arranged for myself is the interesting projects and experiments I've been able to play around with. I've posted about some of them before (puzzles, games, and food just to name a few). Now I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some of the environmentally related projects/experiments I've been playing around with. Conveniently, they've all been month long projects which has put me into a nice little routine.

In February, I experimented with 2 ideas. Firstly, I wanted to look at my personal transportation impact, esp. regarding automobile driving. I'm a firm believer that one of the best ways to lessen our personal impact (in many cases) is to simplify. In terms of transportation, I felt like simplification is best achieved by driving less. I gave myself the ambitious goal of driving less than 10 miles a day on average. That means a trip to Bellingham on the weekend must be offset by 8 or so days of not driving at all. Over the month of February, I closely watched my miles. By the end of the month, I was slightly over. Perhaps 100 miles a week is a more achievable goal. Give it a try and let me know!

The second February experiment was with home heating. With Ma in NZ, I was in control of the thermostat. As anyone who visited during that time knows, keeping it set to 63 makes an extra sweater a must. But in looking at the bill afterwards, the amount of natural gas saved was nothing to sneeze at.

March's environmental project of the month was unsubscribing from catalog mailing lists. We get tons at the house that we never even look at, so I thought: save the paper, save the fuel to ship and deliver them, and save the mail carrier's back. Done and done.

April's EPotM definitely falls into the experimentation category. I've decided to take a small foray into vegetarianism, at least for the month. (Those who know me know how I have wrestled with this before.) My experimental step for the month is to purchase no meat. I've got too much in the fridge to go cold turkey, and I hate seeing good food get thrown away on my behalf. But to the best of my ability, I will be doing what I can.
Wednesday April 4 2007File under: environment

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Environmental Atonement for my travels (part one)

Travel, general speaking, is bad for the environment. Until a year or so ago, I didn't realize that air travel was among the worst forms of transportation for the environment. (The all-knowing David Suzuki has a great explanation of why here.) Throughout my trip, I was thinking about what I could do to atone for this. Carbon offsetting was something I knew something about, so I promised myself I would environmentally redeem myself, or at least make an attempt, when I got back.

First step in my quest for atonement was to assess the damage. A quick calculation of the miles traveled by plane came out to around 20,000 miles. This figure alone hit me pretty good, as it is approximately equal to 4 round trip flights from Seattle to NYC. To equate that to environmental damage, I chose carbon dioxide production as a measure. Various "calculate your impact" websites gave total carbon production from just me from 7,500 kg to 10,800 kg.

Step two is to find a way to offset said carbon. The sites that help calculate are quick to offer an easy way to offset the impact of your flights. Each does it a little differently, but the general idea is that they use the money you give them to support clean energy projects, which conceptually takes carbon out of the atmosphere. The prices for this ranges from $13/tonne(1,000kg) to $27/tonne putting the environmental cost of my flights between $100 and $300.

This investigation into my impact and what I can do to offset it has been very enlightening, but I hestitate to drop a couple hundred bucks on such an abstract solution. As the title of this post implies, this is to be an on going project. My next focus will be alternative methods for offsetting carbon. Stay tuned!
Tuesday January 2 2007File under: travel, environment

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