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Sustainable Sleep

January 5, 2008

New years mean new resolutions, and with the pace of the typical schedule, it can be difficult to fit additional activities into each day. However, I offer one resolution that may even make the others easier to keep:

Practice Sustainable Sleep. I know, it may not seem like environmentalism in the traditional sense, but maintaining a sustainable lifestyle allows you to operate more efficiently, and have a higher quality of life. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the loss of even a few hours of sleep each night can cause difficulties with anxiety, mood, and health and impair alertness and motor skills.

“Daytime alertness and memory are impaired by the loss of eight hours of sleep, especially when sleep loss is sustained over a few nights.

“University of Pennsylvania researchers found that when study subjects were only allowed to sleep 4.5 hours a night for one week, they reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted, with overall scores for mood and vigor declining steadily during the test period. “ (both via this NSF PDF)

So start sleeping. Each person requires a different amount of sleep to function at their best, and it can vary over seasons and years. The best way to find out how much is right for you is to simply start sleeping. Go to bed early enough that you can get 9-10 hours of sleep before your alarm would wake you, more if possible. If you wake up naturally before your alarm, get up and begin your day. While the first several days will see you sleeping far more than you thought was necessary, eventually your body will even out to somewhere in the 7-9 hour range.

Stick to this resolution with these sleep tips from the NSF. The quick summary is to make sure you allot plenty of time to relax and sleep, and give yourself a stress free, comfortable place to sleep. These two have been a struggle for me during my time in architecture school and living in the dorm. But I’ve been making an effort this year to reduce my late nights in studio and eliminate my caffeine intake. It’s really made a difference in decreasing my overall stress level.

What are your sustainable resolutions? (photo via)

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Yes, It’s Wal-Mart, But At Least The Bag Is Pretty

January 3, 2008

Wal-Mart has just come out with a reusable bag for shoppers, and surprisingly it is devoid of any large logos. While the green typography is a little smug, I have to admit it has both wit and probably the ability to succeed in the mass market, especially since each bag is only $1 at checkouts of one of the nation’s largest retailers. I think the nice part is while they are twice the size of plastic bags, they’re still small enough to easily carry, unlike those monstrous IKEA bags. Is it greenwashing? Maybe. But either way, it looks like reusable bags are going to be the CFL’s of 2008. So pick your favorite kind, whether it be Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, or homemade, and jump on the latest environmental bandwagon. Just don’t let them be an excuse to over-consume!

(via C3Blog)

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Legs To Stand On: Are Multiple (Weaker) Arguments Better Than A Few Strong Ones?

January 2, 2008

I was reading a post recently at The Sietch that discussed how the radioactive releases of burning coal (including the byproduct fly ash) and it’s potential detriment to our health is just another nail in the coffin for coal power. However, the radiation we could receive from coal isn’t really worth considering when you compare it to what we’re exposed to via naturally occurring radon and even medical x-rays: (via the USGS)

Coal doesn’t even make the pie chart.

Are “weak legs” like this one viable supports for arguments for sustainability or do they devalue the stronger ones they accompany? Is it worth it to even make the radioactive argument when issues such as greenhouse gas release, mountaintop removal, and air quality are so much more compelling? If the subject were being formally debated, an opponent could spend their entire time picking apart the weak legs and undermining your message, while completely circumventing any strong points you hoped they would have to concede.

Environmentalists shouldn’t have to grasp at straws here. We know things such as fossil fuels, over-consumerism, and habitat destruction are bad for the environment, and the people we need to convince know it too. So what’s the problem? Accountability and the bandwagon. It’s hard for individuals to see the environmental results of their shopping choices and energy use when the impact is hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s also difficult to change when it seems everyone else lives just as wastefully. But the strongest points for sustainable practices have elements of both accountability and individuality.

Consider the “Save the Rainforest” campaigns of the 1990s. They focused on highlighting a specific area that was being destroyed, and connected it to individuals in the Western World. The rainforest is supposedly the home of miracle drugs for cancer and all sorts of unsavory illnesses. Everyone knows someone with cancer. So not only is a parrot in Brazil suffering from habitat destruction, but your great aunt as well.

It’s easy to start analyzing the details when you’re in a group of like-minded sustainable people. But when going head-to-head with an ardent consumerist, stick to the basics. They’re on our side.

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Free Hugs

January 1, 2008

Since you can’t hug on the internet, this is the next best thing.  RSSHugger is a site that seeks to join readers with blogs, according to my rudimentary understanding of the blogosphere.  Quite frankly, I just love the little guy in the logo.  But it seems like an interesting system to try.  Review RSSHugger and you get a free 10-year membership.   It indexes blogs in a user-friendly site that visitors can poke around and find your blog either through a monthly popularity ranking or by topic.  Hopefully the end result is that you get more traffic, RSSHugger gets more traffic, and everyone’s happy.  And quite honestly, who couldn’t use a hug?

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Candlelight Power

January 1, 2008
photo by Bob.Fornal

Although candles were long ago replaced by electric bulbs for most of our lighting needs, we retain their use for decorative, aromative, and emergency functions. As the lights in the guest bathroom at my parent’s house are on the fritz, I “installed” a taper candle and barbeque lighter to retain use of our windowless bathroom. So far this system has been working passably, but I’m curious whether it reduces overall energy use or costs more than the existing fixture.

A candle typically produces about 13 lumens of visible light and 40 watts of heat, depending on the wick (according to Wikipedia) A 40 watt incandescent light bulb will give you 500 lumens for the same power. A compact fluorescent bulb will use about 20-25% of the power of the incandescent (also from Wikipedia) So candles are rightfully categorized as “decoration” and not as a viable energy-efficient lighting system.

But using a single candle to light a room raises questions about the amount of light we actually need. The fixture currently in the bathroom takes 3 bulbs, so we can estimate it provides 1500 lumens, but as evidenced above just 13 lumens provided enough light to negotiate the room.

Take a moment to evaluate your lighting needs and see if you could get by on less. It will save you energy and $$ in the long run.

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Tea Time

December 29, 2007

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When the weather gets cold, herbal tea is my best friend. A steaming cup of hydration goodness is the perfect welcome home or companion to a crossword puzzle on a lazy afternoon. But I’ve never liked all the packaging required for tea bags. Not only is there a large box, but individual wrappings for each bag, plus the bags themselves. Seems like a lot of extraneous material.

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So I reduced the packaging and increased my potential enjoyment by getting a tea ball. It’s basically a reusable metal tea bag, which not only allows me to get loose leaf tea but customize my concoctions. Loose leaf tea is hard to find in a standard grocery stores, but Whole Foods and other local culinary outlets often have a good selection. It comes in larger cans or bags with no additional interior packaging. Because it’s loose, you decide the amount of each tea to put in the ball, not the manufacturer. So whether you like Earl Grey-Rosemary, Mint-White, or Chai-Oolong-Dandelion, you can go for it. I’ve been favoring a Chrysanthemum-Chamomile-Rose Petal mix lately; the Chrysanthemum was recommended for my digestion, and the rest help mask the flavor of the former. The tea is also more flavorful as the larger leaves retain more of their natural oils and have more surface contact with the water in a tea ball.

This winter I’ll reduce my tea waste by 91 cubic inches by using the tea ball. It’s assuming I drink 1 cup of tea each day all winter, and that the waste from a tea bag and packaging is about 2″x2″x.25″. I know it’s not much, but this is not only contributing to habits of sustainability; it’s improving my experience and encouraging better hydration through a more flavorful and customizable tea. Anytime I can do that AND help the environment, it’s a no brainer.

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Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2007

 Have a Merry (Green) Christmas!!