The same can be said for becoming environmentally aware. Changing behavior to become more energy efficient, water conscious, plastic free or carbon neutral may seem daunting at first. However, taking a small step and building on it may enable you to save money and help the Earth.
Take energy efficiency. Your monthly electric bill is a useful tool for monitoring the effects of small changes in behavior.
Many items use power when plugged in but not in use. These phantom or vampire loads have increased dramatically due to the rise in consumer electronics. According to Steve Schmidt of High Energy Audits, our community uses nearly a quarter of its residential electricity serving these vampire loads. Making a commitment to unplug these devices before going to bed is a small step. Try it for a month and see the result in next month’s energy bill.
You can do the same with household temperatures. Move the thermostat up 1 degree in the summer months or down 1 degree during the winter months. See the impact on the electric bill and notice if other household members can tell the difference.
For the next step, sign up for GreenTown’s free online energy tool to identify where you use the most power and how you can reduce it. Small steps can have a big impact. Folks in Los Altos Hills who used this tool reduced their energy bills by more than $700 annually. You may be amazed at how much energy you conserve.
Similarly for water use, review your water bill to see what happens after adjusting your water timers two minutes less for each cycle. Watch the results on your water bill and in your yard. Can the plants tell when they are watered two minutes less?
The Santa Clara Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program’s Watershed Watch recommends that people “adjust watering levels to match the season: In summer, generally water once every three days. In autumn, cut your watering time by half. And in winter and spring, completely stop watering once the rains begin.”
But take the next step and schedule a free Water Wise House Call from the Santa Clara Valley Water District to create an irrigation-scheduling plan just for your lawn and garden. This can save you a lot of water and money.
Try for zero waste or become plastic free. Start by reviewing your community’s recycling guide (provided by the franchise waste haulers, Mission Trails in Los Altos and GreenWaste in Los Altos Hills). Recycle everything that can be recycled for one month. Watch the difference in the garbage container. Next move onto compost.
Then try to go plastic free. Begin by bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store. Buy glass containers instead of plastic ones.
According to Save the Bay, 90 percent of trash in our streams does not biodegrade. The oceans and animals in them are suffering from plastic pollution. Take another small step and get educated at algalita.org.
How about becoming carbon neutral? Start by encouraging your children to bike or walk to school one day a week. Or drop them off a few blocks from school so that they can walk the rest of the way. Perhaps take your bike instead of your car when running errands a mile away. Take the next step by “greening” your errands within two miles. Then take the Drive Less Challenge for two weeks (www.drivelesschallengeLA.org).
Riding a bike may become your main mode of transportation. Given that vehicles are responsible for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, that’s a welcome change.
Two other important steps for reducing carbon emissions include avoiding plane flights (or at least purchasing carbon offsets for the ones you must take) and replacing one meat-based meal per week with a plant-based meal. Taking these additional steps makes the planet just a little cooler.
Small steps can be an easy way to create a new habit that ultimately makes a big difference for the environment. You can soon become a GreenTown Los Altos volunteer and help your neighbors become sustainable. A journey of 1,000 miles does start with a single step – take it today.
Michael McTighe is chairman of the GreenTown Los Altos Leadership Team.