from flickr user smoovey

image: flickr user smoovey

One of the hallmarks of the sustainability movement is a recognition that many of the ways we have conventionally consumed food over the last fifty-odd years haven’t been the most sustainable.  We turn to organics to be kinder to our bodies and our earth; we turn to natural, unprocessed foods to eat more healthfully and more naturally.

But consuming foods out-of-season can be a detriment to the environment – and in turn, to ourselves – as well.  According to the International Institute for Environment and Development and Oxfam, food in the U.S. in 2004 traveled an average of 5,120 miles from farm to fork.  That represents a seriously carbon-intensive way of sourcing our food supply.

Buying tomatoes or strawberries or almost any fresh produce in the winter (at least for those of us on the East Coast, or in the Northern Hemisphere) almost invariably means that food has traveled a long distance, from warmer climates.  So what can you do about that?

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Canning!  Canning is one of the most surefire ways to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables from your garden, CSA, or the farmer’s market for the winter.  Stocking up and canning now can ensure a steady supply of healthy foods throughout the winter, sourced locally.

Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff is a new, updated guide to canning fruits, vegetables, chutneys and more, containing over 150 recipes.  With recipes for canning like “Classic Peach Jam,” “Salsa Verde,” and “Zucchini Pickles” – and recipes for foods to be enjoyed with canned foods “Applesauce Cake,” “Rustic Almond Cake,” and “Joe’s Basic French Bread,” this handy guide is all you need for year-round inspiration.

Green Depot carries Weck Canning Jars with Glass Lids.  These jars are available in a variety of shapes and sixes, and have unique glass lids with rubber gaskets, meaning no BPAs.  They stack easily, and have wide mouths making them easy to fill and clean.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

 

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By now, most Americans are likely familiar with Energy Star as a certification label for higher-efficiency appliances and other products.

But behind the scenes of Energy Star are lobby groups and nonprofits working to raise energy efficiency standards within the appliance industry.  Some of these organizations provide their own certification processes for energy-efficient products.  The Consortium for Energy Efficiency is one such organization.

The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) was founded in 1991 in Boston as a nonprofit, public benefit corportation that “works with its members to promote the use of energy-efficient products, technologies, and services,” according to their fact sheet [PDF].  Today, those members include gas, water, and electric utilities; research and development organizations; state energy offices; and regional energy programs.  CEE receives significant support and guidance from both the EPA and the Department of Energy.

CEE’s work sets standards across industries and sectors to create a more sustainable America.  Their initiatives since 1991 have included providing definitions for high-performance commercial kitchens (2006); promoting energy efficiency in municipal water and wastewater facilities (2004); providing resources for energy-efficient traffic signals (1999); and in 1994 spearheaded an initiative to stimulate the residential market for CFL lightbulbs in partnership with Energy Star.  CEE is currently investigating the potential for expanding the LED residential lighting market.

More than providing evaluative criteria for the manufacturing and services industries, though, CEE also runs certification programs, similar to Energy Star, for home appliances including refrigerators, air-conditioners, clothes washers, and dishwashers.  This program, which compliments Energy Star, is the Super-Efficient Home Appliance Initiative (SEHA), and has proven to be an evaluative criteria of such a quality as to be official registered as an ISO standard.

When looking for energy-efficient appliances, starting out with an Energy Star product is a good start.  But to determine which products are the absolute highest-efficiency, turn to SEHA-certified products.  Since 1997, the SEHA program has identified the super-efficient spectrum of the Energy Star spectrum.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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A HEPA filter. Image credit: Flickr user John Loo licensed under Creative Commons.

Standard vacuum cleaners can actually aggravate allergies in a home because of the allergens and pollutants they can recycle into the air.  Texas A&M University provides a guide to allergens in the home and vacuum cleaner use, which illuminates a few interesting facts:

1. The average vacuum cleaner – one without a HEPA or UPLA filter – filters particles from 30 to 50 microns in diameter, exhausting harmful allergens that are smaller than this back into the home.

2. The most common airborne particle size is 2.4 microns.  Human hair is 60 – 100 microns; a dust mite is 125 microns; dust mite waste is 10 – 24 microns; mold is 4+ microns; pollen is 10 – 40 microns; bacteria is 3 – 50 microns; fungal spores are 2 – 10 microns in diameter.

3. HEPA filters and ULPA filters are the two most effective and common air filtration systems found on vacuum cleaners.  Of the two, ULPA (Ultra Low Penetration Air) filters are the most effective: they filter out 99.999% of air particles.  HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are the next most effective air filter: they filter our 99.97% of air particles – more than enough for all but the most sensitive of allergy sufferers.

For more facts on the effectiveness of air filters for a healthier home environment, visit the aforementioned guide by clicking here.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Green Depot is having a vacuum cleaner sale at the moment, which can help to ensure that the indoor air quality of your home is the healthiest it can be.  Take a look at these green products:

The Electrolux Versatility Upright Vacuum is a full-featured vacuum cleaner.  This cleaner includes a quick-release wand, allowing you to vacuum hard-to-reach spaces on the ceiling and in difficult corners.  High impacts plastics and rugged construction make this a durable product, and the anti-odor HEPA filter captures 99.7% of pet dander, dust mites, pollen and mold for healthier indoor air.

For something a little more basic, the Electrolux Egrorapido is a cordless two-in-one stick vacuum for cleaning floors, and a hand vacuum for spot jobs around the home.  It includes a motorized brush roll, has no bag to dispose of, and includes attachments for a variety of uses.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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image credit: flickr user pfsullivan_1056 on creative commons license

For some folks, having a cool indoor temperature during the summer is a matter of health.  But for many of the rest of us, having indoor air conditioning is a matter of comfort, rather than health.

But what many of us don’t realize is the extent of the impact that air conditioners can have on the environment – and on our utility bill.  In many instances – especially here in the Northeast U.S., where Green Depot is headquartered – a fan can prove to be significantly more economical and environmentally-friendly, and create a home environment that is just as comfortable as it would be with an air conditioner.

How an A/C Works

Air conditioners don’t differ much from how a refrigerator functions.  An air conditioner pumps a chemical refrigerant through a cycle of compression and expansion.  As the refrigerant moves, it absorbs heat from the interior of a home and pumps it to the outdoors.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is also known as the Entropy Law, states simply that when there is a heat differential – i.e., when one area of a room is hotter than another, the heat will move from the hotter part to the cooler until an equilibrium is reached between the two.  An air conditioner has to mechanically compress the refrigerant into a hot liquid form to suck the heat out of a room efficiently enough to cool it down.  This requires a substantial amount of energy – usually electricity – to accomplish.  You can read more about how air conditioners work by clicking here.

The Impacts of A/C

The substantial amount of energy needed to make an air conditioner function typically comes from a power plant or a car engine.  According to National Geographic, air conditioner use in the U.S. results in average of about 100 millions tons of CO2 emissions from power plants each year.  Surprisingly, that accounts for 1/5 of all kilowatt-hours consumed per year.  Think about it – one fifth of all electricity consumption in the United States goes to cooling buildings, and even this is often not enough electricity to supply Americans with the air conditioning they use in the hottest summer months: consider the brownouts and rolling blackouts that many of us experience in the hottest days of August.  And according to alternet.org, the electricity used to air condition the U.S. exceeds the entire electricity consumption of the India and Indonesia combined.

Air Conditioners and the Ozone

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the depletion of the ozone layer was a major cause of concern for governments, environmentalists, and citizens alike.  A major contributor to that depletion at the time were chlorofluorocarbons – CFCs – which were widely used as air conditioner coolants.

an image of the 2009 "hole" in the ozone layer, taken by scientists at NASA's Godard Space Center via their flickr account, gsfc, on a Creative Commons license

Thanks to international policy coordination, CFCs were replaced by the much more ozone-friendly hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which deplete 95 percent less ozone.  But according to National Geographic, demand has grown significantly for air conditioners in India and China, and despite the 95% reduction in ozone depletion thanks to HCFCs, the volume of air conditioners being used has set back ozone recovery by 25 years.  In the U.S., ozone-depleting coolants were made illegal in 2010, but many of the older air conditioners we use still use HCFCs (and the oldest still use CFCs).  In developing nations, HCFCs will be allowed until 2040.

Air Conditioners and Healthy Home Air

One of the other major issues concerning air conditioner use are the impacts they have on human health.  A co0ler environment in the hottest summer days can make the difference between life and death for infants, the elderly, and those in poor health, but air conditioners also run the risk of becoming health hazards.  Dirty air filters in air conditioners can allow allergens, pesticides, and other particulate matter into the home which may aggravate respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Air Conditioners vs. Fans

Fans don’t cool a home, but they do have the potential to make a home much more comfortable in the summer months, without the massive energy drain that air conditioners require, and without the risks posed to the environment and respiratory health.  Fans work by moving air around, and whisking moisture and heat away from the skin.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

The Bedfan Cooling System

Green Depot carries a wide array of green products that can be used to help make your home more comfortable in the summer, without sacrificing your electricity bill or the internet.

We carry a number of standard fans that can be used around the home (like the Vornado Compact 530 Whole Room Fan, or the Charly Metal Fan), but there are other fan options to make home more comfortable.

The Bedfan cooling system fits at the end of a bed and circulates cool air under your sheets at night, removing the heat that is trapped by your sheets, and has even been proven to stop night sweats due to menopause, andropause, diseases, or medications.

The Vornado Under-Cabinet Circulator fan affixes underneath any horizontal surface: cabinets, desks, in the kitchen, the laundry room, office, or workroom.

Lastly, the Solatube Solar Attic Fan is a solar-powered fan that vents all the hot air that has risen into your attic space out into the environment.  Not only does it cool your home, it also wicks moisture from the air, leaving your attic free of molds and mildews that can become a health hazard over time.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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One of the big issues with interior household finishes – whether for wood, metal, or the paints that cover our walls – are the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that they contain.

Conventional finishes typically contain a synthetic, liquid solvent that gives off – or “offgasses” – toxic fumes that come from volatile organic compounds present in the solvent.  This is the source of the poignant smell in paints, turpentine, varnish, stains, and other finishing products, which can often cause headaches and other health issues, if they are inhaled in enough volume over time.  The troubling thing about conventional products with a high-VOC content is that those substances can continue to offgas VOCs for years after it has dried, and after the poignant smell has abated.  Just because you can’t smell the VOCs anymore doesn’t mean you’re not still inhaling toxic fumes.

Wood and cork finishes also contain potentially-hazardous VOCs, which is why Green Depot carries a low-VOC wood finish to keep you, your family, and the environment healthy.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

OSMO Polyx-Oil is one of several green products we carry to help you finish your interior.  OSMO Hardwax Oil in particular is an engineered finish made with plant oils and waxes, with enough mineral spirits to allow an easy application.  This finish offers durability and renewability with a lustrous finish, and will never crack, blister, or flake off: the finish has open pores that “breathe” allowing moisture to pass from the wood, unlike polyurethane which creates a plastic film seal over the wood.

OSMO Polyx-Oil is made from two natural waxes and three natural oils and contains no biocides or preservatives.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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sunSummer brings so many wonderful things – cookouts, camping trips, and trips to the beach.  But one of the less wonderful things that accompanies the arrival of summer are sunburns.

UV radiation is a serious cause for concern.  And each year, millions of Americans apply sunscreens and sunblocks to prevent those rays from reaching their skin.  But what’s surprising to know is that many of the products which we use to block the sun are unregulated by any governmental organization, and therefore can put anyone at risk to the exposure of hazardous chemicals whenever they apply sunscreen.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit environmental organization located in Washington, D.C. that is dedicated to research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.  One of their major projects in the last few years was their 2010 guide to sunscreens.

The EWG has done some astonishing research into the safety of commonly-used sunscreens.  On their website, they cite a few salient facts as the rationale behind conducting an audit of the safety of sunscreens, and reasons why you should chose a sunscreen that is less risky in terms of its chemical ingredients:

  • 1. The FDA has failed to finalize its 1978 sunscreen safety standards, and this has muddled the understanding of the safety and efficacy of conventional sunscreens.
  • 2. There’s no clear consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer – meaning that choosing a more toxic sunscreen to prevent cancer might be more dangerous than using a milder, or natural one, and avoiding more sun.
  • 3. Major “chemical” sunscreens penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone systems; mineral-based sunscreens do not penetrate the skin.
  • 4. This is the 34th summer in a row without final U.S. sunscreen safety regulations.

To learn more about the dangers of sunscreens, you can visit the EWG’s 9 surprising truth’s page by clicking here.

So, what alternatives then exist?

Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group has gone through and analyzed an entire host of sunscreen products, in an effort to identify which are the safest for human use.  These would be sunscreens that pose the least amount of risk in terms of toxicity and chemical exposure, with the least amount of effects on human health.  You can access the full guide by clicking here.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Green Depot carries one green product in particular that has been vetted and cleared by the EWG as being one of the safest available and most effective sunscreens on the market.

Badger brand unscented natural sunscreen has been given a rating of “1″ by the EWG, placing it in the highest bracket for safety and efficacy.  This sunscreen is water resistant for at least 40 minutes, environmentally-friendly, safe for children, and blocks both UVA and UVB rays.  This entire line of natural sunscreens uses the mineral zinc oxide instead of chemicals to block the sun, and a base of only certified organic plant oils and beeswax to moisturize the skin.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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