Friday, December 31, 2010

Green Resolutions

Well, 2011 is upon us. I am one of those people who make New Year's resolutions. I am also OCD enough to create a tracking mechanism to see how I'm doing. That may be why I am reasonably successful in achieving many of my resolutions--I write them down and make myself track progress. I hate to see no movement in the direction I want to go. So I may not achieve all of the resolutions I make, but I almost always make progress

Generally, I don't share my resolutions. I figure they aren't important to anyone but me and unlike many, sharing them doesn't seem to make it any more likely I'll succeed with them. However, I'll make an exception in the case of one of my resolutions, since this blog is about living more sustainably.

Last year I resolved to recycle everything possible and to not use any bottled water in the courses I teach for my business. I now put out a trash bin only once a month, if that--everything else has been going into the compost bin. I expected to get bad feedback on course evaluations over the lack of bottled water in my courses, but that didn't happen. I had ice water in pitchers available and everyone seemed fine with that.

So what's on the docket for this year? This year, I have decided to eat more sustainably. I don't do a bad job of that now, as I cook from scratch pretty much all of the time. However, my husband is a confirmed carnivore, and I have been catering to his preferences in cooking. For a variety of reasons, we have been on different eating schedules this past year, so I am going to go back to fixing more vegetarian meals for myself and eating out less.

I like eating in restaurants, but there's no doubt I eat more and know less about what I am eating than when I cook for myself. I am not going to cut out eating in restaurants, but I am going to eat out less and order more vegetables when I do go out. After all, I do want to help support the local economy, right? (OK, so that bit of logic was thrown out to support what I want to do anyway.)

What's your green resolution? If you're not sure, here are some ideas that won't force a huge change in your lifestyle but can be beneficial. If you're already doing all of these, there are many other things you can do. Anyway, here are some ideas:

  • Eat one vegetarian meal a week (or add one more vegetarian meal per week if you are already doing this.) Why? Meat takes more water and food to produce. Eating more vegetables reduces the amount of water used in agriculture and also, leaves more food to feed everyone. Americans eat more meat than they need for good health (yes, I know vegetarianism is a healthy diet and people can choose not to eat any meat and be healthy, but it does require paying attention--so go with me here) and for most, a reduction in meat will have a positive effect on cholesterol.

  • Turn up the thermostat in the summer and turn it down in the winter. Just a couple of degrees can make a difference. My husband has been sneaking the thermostat up to 70 this winter and in the summer, he wants the AC on 65. What sense does that make? I try to keep the heat between 65 and 68 and the AC between 78 and 80. When it's 100 degrees outside, 80 feels darned good.

  • Start a garden. If you don't have the room or the inclination for a large garden, think about starting some herbs on the kitchen windowsill and planting some tomatoes or peppers in a pot on the patio.

  • Buy local produce. Some foods in our stores is trucked thousands of miles when the same type of produce is grown in our local area. Reduce the carbon footprint by buying from local farmers at the farmers market, when it's open.

  • Eat more seasonally and put up produce for later. Again, we spend lots of carbon fuel to bring in crops that do not grow in our area (or the US) in the winter. Change up your menus to allow for root and cold weather crops in the winter and take full advantage of in season fruits and vegetables in the spring and summer. Can or freeze in season crops for a winter treat. I have some peaches in the freezer an acquaintance gave me in the summer when he had too many for his family. I am looking forward to a peach cobbler soon.

  • Fix water leaks and change out plumbing fixtures to water saving devices as you do so.

  • Look for energy saver devices when updating appliances.

  • Don't buy bottled water. The water in Wichita Falls tastes good most of the time. If you can taste the Lake Kemp water at certain times of the year, consider getting a filter for the tap or a filter pitcher to keep in the refrigerator.

  • Consider buying/cooking in smaller amounts. Americans throw away a LOT of food. This is a waste of money and also uses more resources than needed.

  • Make a compost pile. If you don't have room for a big one, consider a small one targeted toward food waste.

  • Eliminate some invasive plants from your yard. Although many invasive ornamentals are pretty, they tend to use more water and they provide less food for our native wildlife. We tore out a lot of invasive shrubs this fall and are replacing them with native plants.

  • When landscaping, buy native and reduce your dependence on chemicals and water.

  • Eliminate plastic shopping bags by getting cloth bags. Remember to take them to the store when you go. It seems my bags migrate into the house, and I don't always remember to put them back in the truck when I go to the store.

  • When purchasing cleaning supplies, switch from products with ammonia and bleach to those with natural ingredients. You may have to experiment with different products to find ones that do a good job that you like, but they are out there. I like Meyer's products myself, but there are more to choose from all the time.

  • Get a rain barrel. In our area, rainwater harvesting can have big benefits. If you want to experiment, try a rainbarrel first to collect water for your houseplants. Trust me, they prefer rainwater.

  • Try to reduce use of your car/truck. Wichita Falls is not laid out for a walking community and public transit is admittedly not as efficient as it is in some larger cities. However, we can all reduce the number of trips by combining errands. I pass by my favorite supermarket and my favorite used book store when I have to go to Wild Bird Rescue, so I often combine those errands on the way, rather than make separate trips.

  • Consider buying used. I buy almost all of my books used at this point, although since my husband got me a Sony Reader for my birthday, I am also buying many books as electronic downloads, eliminating paper and transportation altogether. The Wichita Adult Literacy Council book sale is coming up in early March--read cheap and support a great organization at the same time. I also stop in the Goodwill store for shirts and consignment shops for work clothes. I don't always find what I need, but often I do, saving me money and keeping these items out of the landfill.

  • Change your newspaper to e-edition. I am still trying to decide whether I like this or not since I made the switch. I just need to develop discipline to read the paper this way each day. I am enjoying less paper cluttering up the house though.

  • Spay/neuter your pet. There are way too many unwanted dogs and cats euthanized each year.

  • Keep your city cat in the house. Cats kill many wild birds and other wildlife. Cats outside live shorter lives--cars, disease, injury and predators do in many pets. I can understand those who have rodent problems in their barns, etc. keeping outdoor cats, but for most of us, we should take better care of our pets.

  • Produce less waste. Consider packaging when purchasing. Making more of your own food from scratch will help a lot, but consider the amount and type of packaging in your purchasing decision. Is the packaging made from recycled materials? Can the packaging be recycled? If you eat out, consider getting To-Go Ware.

These are just a few ideas. Pick one or come up with one of your own. We don't have to make a huge change to make a difference. If we each did one thing, we could make a big difference in our environment. What's your green resolution for 2011?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Newspaper Test

Well, I did it. I have been thinking of changing to an e-edition only subscription for the newspaper for some time, but honestly, change is hard.

I tend to go for days sometimes without reading the paper and then have to catch up. In the meantime, I have all of these papers laying around the house. Then I have piles of newspapers sitting around until I get around to taking them to a recycle bin. They can go into the compost bin for the city, but I have so much other compostable material to put in the bin, I have kept the papers separately. Anyway, I was looking around my house the other day and noticing how many newspapers were laying around cluttering up the place and said, "now's the time." I immediately called the circulation department and changed my subscription to eliminate the paper delivery before I had a chance to waffle again. After all, if I decide I hate it, I can change back. Now I don't have to remember to stop delivery when I am out of town.

On average, a daily newspaper uses 550 lbs of paper per year. Although most newspaper in the US is now recycled and the ink has been changed to soy-based inks, there is still a lot of water and energy put into the production of newspaper. Much of newsprint contains a high proportion of recycled content. According to the EPA recycling paper uses 50% less water and causes 74% less air pollution than making the paper new. However, when you get down to it, using no paper causes no pollution and uses no water. So environmentally, it makes sense to switch to a no-paper option.

However, when I posted the switch to my Facebook page, even my environmentally conscious friends said they thought it was a bad idea. The arguments were that reading the paper at breakfast was a tradition, and I would read less of the paper on line. I admit, I like to sit and read the paper, but I am not sure it matters whether it is online or in print. And I definitely won't miss the black fingers.

I had much the same trepidation when my husband bought me an e-reader for my birthday. I like the feel of a book in my hand and wasn't sure I would like the reader. However, I do. I still like my paper books, but I can carry the e-reader in my purse. I have over 100 books on it. I can make the font bigger to help my eyes (and that is becoming a bigger deal by the day). So I am getting used to it. I haven't quit reading regular books though. I can still buy a used book for less than I can purchase the e-books and as much as I read, that is not to be sneezed at. However, I can also download many classics from the Google library for free.

So, we'll see how the experiment goes. Can an old dog learn new tricks? I think so. I'll report back in a few weeks.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Post from a Friend re Wichita River

I received an email from my friend, Paul Dowlearn, with Wichita Valley Nursery, about a news report concerning the Wichita River. The news report is currently available on I am not sure how long it will be posted. I am presenting Paul's email content as sent to me. I will look into this further and post information later.

"I have heard several news reports concerning the results of a survey on flood control of the Wichita River. The last news report state a sense of urgency..."We must act quickly." Really? Let's not lose sight of the fact that the recent flood event was comparable to the flood of 1941...70 years ago!! The law of averages and current long range forecast show no imminent danger. Instead we may be headed into another drought cycle....This sense of urgency then may signify that there is some funding available and for whatever reason local engineers and contractors could certainly benefit from a nice, fat, expensive project.

Question is...Have we (citizens) been given the opportunity to consider the impact of such a project? Do we really want our river to resemble a much larger version of Holiday Creek? This is a river...not a creek. I am among those who lament the Holiday Creek project regardless of the obvious relief of those living in low areas historically prone to flooding. I still recall summer picnics in Weeks Park, splashing up and down the creek trying to capture minnows and crawdads. Today, there is little is an aesthetic value of Holiday Creek save the Hike and Bike Trail. At normal flow, one has to negotiate a good 50 feet or more of ankle twisting stone (placed there for man made erosion control) to get to the water. IF you are brave enough to walk down you wil find the native marine life that once existed has all but disappeared. Algae, a few plants...maybe a golf ball?

So what about the aesthetic value of the Wichita River? Consider the history of our namesake. What about the River Walk, The Falls, Lucy Park, Williams Park, Bicycling and Equestrian Trail, Wee-chi-tah Park, Front Street Bridge and Berend's Landing. How will these be impacted? How about tourism, adjacent hotels, RV parks, fishing, canoeing, or kids just having fun? Will we be able to enjoy the river with no shallow rapids or deeper holes for fish? Well....judging from the news reports, that's exactly what the experts that submitted the report are proposing. I say let's leave the felling of trees to the beaver population.

I am not an expert at hydrology, but common sense and simple physics tell me that water actually backs up on itself regardless of the channel capacity. In other words, if enough rain falls on any given location, there will be flooding. Furthermore, if the goal is to relieve flooding in the downtown area, the removal of obstacles should occur downstream and not in the city itself. Finally, Nature controls erosion by slowing runoff with her trees, shrubs and grasses. While this does cause occasional flooding it also reduces current strength. An increase of unrestricted current could cause the river to change course. Historical evidence of this is easily seen in the occurrence of numerous oxbos along the length of the Wichita. True, there has not been major flooding in Holiday Creek since the channelization...yet. So chalk one p for the engineers at the loss of a few (?) picnickers, kids chasing crawdads, and golfers who would rather lose a ball than risk an ankle injury."

Paul Dowlearn, citizen, email:

Oncor to Begin Installing Smart Meters

Oncor is to start installing smart meters in the Wichita Falls area on December 13. Since this is a large project, it will take some time to impact all of the businesses and houses affected. The smart meters will allow home/business owners to better monitor their energy usage on their computer. The goal is to put visibility into energy usage so users can make smart choices.

There does appear to be an additional charge for the meters and not all homeowners have seen their bills drop. It will be interesting to see the impact (if any) in our area.

Getting Employees Involved in CSR Activities

Although this blog is oriented primarily toward individual sustainability, many companies are looking for ways to improve their sustainability practices and to get employees involved. This is a good blog post from The Green Economy Post on the subject I thought was worth sharing.