David Suzuki's Green Guide

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Greystone Books, 2009 - Business & Economics - 192 pages
Everyone knows that the planet is in trouble, but is there a solution? This timely book identifies the most effective ways individuals can be more green in four key areas: home, travel, food, and consumerism. It also describes how citizens can ensure that governments take the actions necessary to make sustainable lifestyles the norm instead of the exception. Environmental lawyer David Boyd and celebrated ecologist David Suzuki provide vital tips for choosing a home, creating a healthy indoor environment, and decreasing energy and water use — and utility bills. They discuss what readers can do to drive and fly less, profile the most environmentally friendly transportation choices, and explain how to purchase carbon credits, among other suggestions. In addition, they offer simple changes individuals can make in their diet to eat fresher, tastier, healthier food. Included too is invaluable advice about how to buy fewer things and avoid toxic consumer products.

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David Suzuki's Green Guide

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Suzuki is a Canadian scientist and environmentalist, known best for his CBC television science show The Nature of Things. With Boyd, a Canadian environmental lawyer and writer, he provides concise but ... Read full review

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About the author (2009)

From Chapter 2: Home Smart Home

We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape our lives.
Winston Churchill

Gas-guzzling SUVs get a lot of blame for creating pollution and causing climate change, and rightly so. But the average North American home actually causes more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions of the average vehicle. Part of the problem is that when we flip a switch or turn on a tap, the environmental consequences are out of sight and out of mind. Electricity and water appear to be limitless and their use seems benign. The reality is that building and living in today''s homes accounts for 70% of electricity use, 40-50% of the extracted natural resources, 1/3 of total energy consumption, 35% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 25-33% of landfill waste in the US and Canada. The total footprint of an average single-family house includes over 300 metric tons of material, and is growing. In the US, the size of a new house jumps 500 square feet every twenty years (see Table 1). Yet average household size in the US has fallen from 3.3 people to 2.6 people since 1960 and the trend in Canada is similar. Bigger houses plus smaller households equals environmental trouble.

Table 1. Average size of new homes in the United States
1950 1,000 sq. ft.
1970 1,500 sq. ft.
1990 2,080 sq. ft.
2005 2,434 sq. ft.

As immense as the volume of materials involved in the construction of a new home may seem, they comprise a small fraction of the total ecological footprint of a home over its lifespan. In other words, the impacts of living in a home, mostly energy use, dwarf the impacts of construction and demolition. Detached single-family residences use the most energy and are the most common form of housing in Canada and the US. Compared to a detached single-family home, a house on a smaller lot has a footprint that''s 8% smaller, a townhouse''s footprint is 22% smaller, and an apartment in a high-rise has a footprint 40% smaller. When it comes to housing, small is beautiful--smaller homes require less material and energy to build, maintain, and operate (and have less room for accumulating junk!). The most important steps toward reducing the ecological footprint associated with where you live include
-choosing a modest-sized home near work, school, recreation, and public transit;
-getting a home energy audit and following the recommendations;
-buying green electricity; and
-creatively finding ways to use energy and water more efficiently.

Buildings last much longer than most industrial products. Only a small proportion--1 or 2%--of the total housing stock is built new each year. As a result, the total environmental impact of new buildings is dwarfed by existing buildings. While we must move as quickly as possible to make zero energy homes the standard for new construction, as the UK is doing, we also need to dramatically improve the performance of existing homes.


Location, location, location

Perhaps the single most important determinant of your ecological footprint is your home''s location. Living in distant suburbs causes higher home energy use, higher transportation costs (time, money, and pollution), and higher infrastructure costs. The average Canadian and American will move 12-13 times during their life. This means you may have ample opportunities, in the years ahead, to make an ecologically astute decision about where to live. Next time you move, look for a comfortable yet modest home in an area where you can use your car less. Look for a neighborhood with safe streets for walking, cycling, and children, lots of trees, and proximity to attractive green spaces. Choosing to live close to where you work, study, and play, and living in a reasonably sized home can have a tremendous effect on your ecological footprint and is likely to increase your happiness and quality of life.

Save energy, save money, save the planet

Conservation means freezing in the dark.
Ronald Reagan, former US President

Conservation is living comfortably at a fraction of the cost of our wasteful lifestyles.
D. Chiras, author of The Homeowner''s Guide to Renewable Energy (2006)

Every time you turn on the television, take a shower, buy a new appliance, or replace a burned-out light bulb, you''re making a decision that affects the environment. You already know that using energy contributes to climate change, smog, oil spills, and acid rain. But you may not realize just how big a difference you can make by taking energy use into account in your daily activities and household purchasing decisions.

In order to identify your energy-saving priorities, you need to identify the biggest contributors to your home''s ecological footprint. To some extent this will depend on the climate where you live, your utility''s energy supply, your energy use patterns, and home size and features. Electricity in Canada tends to be much cleaner than in the US, as burning coal, natural gas, and oil generates 70% of American electricity but only one-quarter of Canadian electricity. If you live in B.C., Manitoba, Quebec, or Idaho, most of your electricity comes from hydropower, which makes a minimal contribution to climate change. In most states and provinces, however, the lion''s share of electricity comes from burning coal or natural gas-activities that emit huge quantities of climate-changing carbon dioxide.

Our advice is based on average North American energy use, since the overall picture for Canadians and Americans is quite similar. The cost of using energy in American and Canadian homes averages almost $2,000 per year. Heating your home probably uses the most energy, followed by appliances, heating hot water, and lighting (see Table 2). No matter where you live, using energy more wisely will save money, protect the environment, and make your home a healthier, more comfortable place.

Table 2. Major uses of energy in American and Canadian homes

Home energy use USA Canada
Space heating 49% 57%
Appliances and electronics 20% 13%
Water heating 15% 24%
Lighting 7% 5%
Space cooling 6% 1%

Every step you take to reduce electricity use has three times the impact that you might imagine. This is because of a phenomenon called ''energy conversion loss.''

Losses occur during the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. For every unit of electricity that you use in your home, three units of primary energy are consumed by the power system. Keep this important fact in mind if you have doubts about whether your actions make a significant difference.

For many investments in energy efficiency, you''ll receive a very good return on your investment. The phrase ''payback period'' describes the time it takes to recoup your investment in enhanced efficiency through lower energy costs. If you spend $25 on an insulating jacket for your hot water heater and your utility bill drops by $5 a month, the payback period is five months. On top of lower utility bills, there''s more good financial news if you own your home. For every dollar cut from utility bills through conservation and efficiency, the value of a home rises by $20. Lower your annual utility bill by $500 and your house gains $10,000 in value. Increased energy efficiency is also a form of insurance against rising energy prices.

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