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Happy New Year (and back to blogging!)

I’m off from work this week and am trying to catch up on my life, and my blog.  I can’t believe that my last post was at the end of July!  It’s not because I’ve abandoned my goal of making my life more sustainable, but because I’ve been failing a bit on the personal sustainability side of things.  I started a new job, which has consumed most of my time.  When I’m not working, I’ve been catching up with friends and family.  Unfortunately in the struggle for work-life balance, blogging has taken a back seat.

There has been a lot going on on the sustainability front though. Since August,  I’ve changed my old steam heating system with a high efficiency, hot air system.  I got insulation installed, and caulking done around my windows.  These changes have resulted in HUGE savings on my gas bills.  I’ll try to be better about blogging in the new year and write about all of these changes in more detail, as they each deserve their own post.

In the meantime, Happy New Year!


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An Energy Audit Saved My Life

A couple of weeks ago I had an energy audit.  For those of you who have never gone through the process, one of the things they do during an audit is to use a big fan to suck all of the air out of your house to see where the air leaks are located.  Before they get started, they test the CO (Carbon Monoxide) levels in your furnace.  Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that is a by product of the use of fossil fuels for cooking and heating.  While some CO is acceptable, high levels can be deadly. People die in their homes every year, without ever realizing that they are in danger.  The levels in my furnace were high, very high.  In fact they were ~200 times what would be considered acceptable!

The energy audit guys were great. They explained that the levels were dangerously high and that they had to call the gas company.  They waited until the gas company arrived and investigated the problem.  They gas company did an inspection and found that because the CO was located only in the furnace that it was not an emergency, but we still could not proceed with the complete energy audit until the CO levels could be lowered.

I had the gas company come out again to try to fix the furnace, but unfortunately they could not get the CO levels to a point that was acceptable.  Looks like I’ll be spending several thousand dollars on a new furnace, but at least I’m alive!  The other benefit is that whatever boiler I install is guaranteed to be more energy efficient than what I have, lowering my bills and energy usage.  I guess every cloud has a silver lining …

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Now I know what to do with my old cell phone…

Last Fall I was doing some organizing around the house and found three or four old cell phones.  I knew I shouldn’t put them in the trash, but really wasn’t sure what else to do with them.  I had heard that you could donate them to charities but wasn’t sure how to do that.   A few weeks later, a friend sent me a link to the Women’s Funding Network, a group that connects over 130 organizations that fund women’s initiatives globally.  Areas covered are include health, human rights and education.

The group has a list of online actions that people can take to help the cause of women and girls across the globe.  One of these actions is donating your old cell phones.  Great!  I went to the page where you can request a mailer and filled in my information.  Within a few days a self-addressed, postage paid box was delivered to my door.  Now I had to find enough cell phones to fill it!

I had a few cell phones of my own, but that was not nearly enough to fill the box.  I spoke to the IT department at work.  They were in the process of upgrading Blackberries, and were able to contribute several additional phone to the box.  It’s been a few months and my collection efforts have stalled a bit.  I’ve decided to pack up what I have and sent it off tomorrow.  A dozen phones saved from the landfill are better than none!

If you decide to request a mailer, I would suggest the envelope rather than the box, unless you have a huge amount of phones to donate.  I have about 12 in the box and it is not even close to being full.  Happy recycling!


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Cultural Differences

I kind of take it for granted that in this day and age everyone recycles.  I take the time to separate out all of my glass, plastic, paper and aluminum.  I even compost.  However, it’s become very clear to me recently that not everyone does.  It seems that there are what can only be described as “cultural differences.”

This became abundantly clear to me in regards to the women who clean my house.  Over the time that they have worked for me, I have noticed more than once that my recycling has ended up in a trash bag and left neatly by the door for me to take out to the trash cans outside.  When I catch the error, I take the recycling out of the trash bag and put it back in the recycling bin.  I’m rarely home when they come to clean, so there is little opportunity to talk to them about it in person and even if I did I’m not sure I could convey my point effectively because English is not their first language, and it is the only language I speak .  Instead, I remain vigilant and rescue the recycling whenever possible.

The situation reached a new level of ridiculousness last week.  I (finally) purchased a counter-top compost container, lined it with a biodegradable plastic bag, and diligently collected my food scraps to be taken out to the compost bin in the backyard. I forgot that the cleaning people were coming that day, and so therefore didn’t take out the compost before they got there.  When I was cooking dinner later that night I went to put some food scraps in the compost container and realized that it had been emptied and in place of my food scraps was a fresh, bio-bag.  Ughh!  Then the search began.  I opened the trash bag left neatly next to the door to find all of my compost scraps neatly tied  up in their bio-bag.  I pulled  them out and took them straight to the compost bin in the backyard.  Ordinarily I don’t like picking through the trash, but this time it was fine since the only other “trash” in the bag was my paper recycling!

I can only imagine how this must all appear to the cleaning ladies.  They probably think I am so lazy that I can’t be bothered to put the trash in the trash can, even though it is right next to the recycling bin.  Either that, or they think I have some strange hoarding disorder where I must compulsively stack all of the wire hangers in a little caddy (to be returned to the dry cleaner, and yes this has ended up in the trash bag, too).

A friend suggested that I put labels in their native language on the recycling and compost, asking the cleaning people not to touch them.  I think that’s a great idea.  A simple, yet brilliant solution that I wish I had thought of myself.  We’ll see if that helps to  overcome our cultural differences!

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The Problem with Wanting More

According to John Sterman,  “As long as every person in the world wants more, there is no solution” to the issue of global warming and the sustainability of our planet.  Check out his interview in the MIT Sloan Management Review:

Topics covered include:

  • how to get people to think for real on sustainability
  • why the conventional wisdom about energy is just a myth, and
  • how to live as if there’s just enough time left to save the world

Professor Sterman is one of the world’s leading experts on system dynamics and is very active in the sustainability initiatives going on at MIT, and MIT Sloan in particular.  He has a brilliant mind and is a fantastic speaker.  If you ever have the opportunity to see one of his lectures, DO IT!

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Down to Earth in Boston

The other day some friends and I headed over to D2E, the sustainability expo now in its second year in Boston.  They had a great range of exhibitors from vendors of solar panels, to green clothing and lots of baby goods.  There were definitely some favorites:

  • Green Depot ( They have a wide range of household goods from LED lights for your chandelier to monitors that let you know how much energy your appliances are using when they are turned off.  I bought a counter-top compost container, which was identical to the ones at Williams-Sonoma, but at a much better price.  They have great customer service (which I will probably talk about in another post) and I definitely plan to shop with them again.
  • Jute & Jackfruit ( Great selection of designer clothes made from sustainable materials.  They do a great job of finding clothes and accessories that are cute and green.  My favorite were these clutch handbags made from soda can pulls crocheted together by women in Brazil.

In addition to the booths, they had some great workshops and demonstrations, including a green fashion show and a talk from MIT researchers about the future of transportation.  The organizing team did a great job and I’ll definitely go again next year!

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Today’s the day!

While I’ve always been a person who was concerned with the environment and the impact we all have on our planet, over the last year I have become increasingly dedicated to living a more sustainable life.  Sustainability means many things to many people, but to me it is this:

  • Reducing my personal impact on the planet as much as possible, by making small (okay, sometimes not that small) changes to the way I live my life
  • Increasing the positive impact I have on the lives of other people
  • Managing my life so that my personal life gets just as much attention as my career

It’s been a long, windy, and often very funny road and I have learned many valuable lessons along the way.  While I am not a sustainability expert, I think I can make it easier for others to walk down this path by sharing my experiences so they can avoid some of the pitfalls and make more informed choices without having to do all of the research themselves.

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for a while, I guess today’s the day!

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