Basic Green


Apr 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
Green Light On

Buy Energy Star products—the energy efficiency of which is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy—and cut power bills by up to 30 percent.


I have a "friend" who swears it's better to drive his '78 Gremlin than to buy new wheels, since manufacturing cars is so toxic. Is he wack?
The next time you pass your pal's heap, feel free to chuck your mochaccino at it. The increased fuel efficiency and decreased emissions of a new (post-1996) car more than compensate for the energy used to produce all of its steel, aluminum, and rich Corinthian leather. On average, driving a car consumes ten times more energy over its lifetime than building one.

Is there any defense for a lush lawn?
Sorry, Mr. Cleaver, but a typical lawn is the environmental equivalent of fertilized asphalt—or worse, if you use phenoxy herbicides and other weed killers and pesticides, 102 million pounds of which are dumped on 17 million acres of residential turf each year. On average, 30 to 60 percent of city water goes to lawn care, and more than half of it evaporates or pours down storm drains, toxic chemicals and all—polluting creeks, rivers, and water everywhere. The only way to redeem your soul is to use drought-resistant, slow-growing turf varieties, like zoysia grass, which need less H2O. Better yet, try native prairie grasses, wildflowers, or whatever grows naturally in your eco-zone. And, please, forgo the Roundup.

Paper or plastic?
Ah, a question for the ages. The answer? Neither. The real solution is to use that cloth tote bag the Sierra Club sent with your last renewal. Barring that, you should opt for (drumroll, please) plastic—which wins by a narrow, subjective margin. Plastic is more energy-efficient to produce than paper and takes a bit less juice to recycle. Then again, thanks to double-bagging, the average shopper uses more plastic bags than paper, negating plastic's advantages. So ask yourself this: Would you rather waste oil or trees? Plastic comes from unrenewable petroleum. Paper sacks involve mowing down millions of trees a year—although, theoretically, they'll grow back by the time your great-grandchildren visit Last Living Trees National Park. Mr. Green votes for the tote.

Do green household cleansers actually do the job?
It's impossible to vouch for every phosphate-free soy-'n'-aardvark-saliva product, since consumer eco-cleansers (unlike commercial ones) aren't subject to standardized tests. But thanks to naturally derived (non-petroleum-based) cleaning agents and nonchlorine bleach, major brands like Seventh Generation and Simple Green are dandy sanitizers. Plus they come in recyclable packaging.

I'm on the fence: What's better—electric or gas?
Electricity (usually produced from coal or by Homer Simpson) is so inefficient, 80 percent of it is lost to the ether during production, transport, and usage. Gas is 90 percent energy-efficient. So the gas is greener, no matter what side of the fence you're on.

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