It’s not easy being green

The “Bein’ Green” song was written in 1970 and sung by Kermit the Frog in the first season of Sesame Street. Since then, it’s taken on a life of its own. Frank Sinatra did a version of it in 1971 on his Sinatra & Company album and many other artists have performed it. In recent years, it’s been picked up by the environmental movement, given its obvious connotations. It’s even been used in an EDF advert last year.

Those immortal words take on new meaning these days, when the difficulty of being green is all about how we can act in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. This is often made difficult by apparently conflicting information. For example, do I throw out my old fridge because it’s inefficient, or do I use it till it falls apart? If I throw it out I can save energy with a newer model, but I create more waste (even if it can be recycled) and another fridge has to be made to fulfill my needs. The British alone throw out about 3 million fridges per year, so this is not a trivial concern.

I looked it up on google. It seems that fridges manufactured in or after 2000 shouldn’t be replaced for some time yet. Fridges purchased in or before 1985 definitely should be replaced, as replacing them could pay you back in less than 2 years in savings on your electricity bill. Between 1985 and 2000, it’s not so clear cut. Many domestic appliances didn’t have an energy rating until the early 1990s, but a fridge in good condition may still have life left in it.

So how do you know if you should throw your fridge out or not? For the purely financial aspect of saving energy, there’s a calculator at www.energystar.gov that can help you decide. Unfortunately, it’s tailored to the US market, so europeans will have a harder time using it. You can take a more direct approach, and actually measure the consumption of your current fridge, and compare it against other models.

Tom Harrison has a really informative blog (“fivepercent”) which illustrates the effectiveness of this approach. He has reduced his electricity use by 50% in 4 years, and his use of water by a similar fraction. One post refers to measuring power consumption minute-by-minute using a Cent-a-meter, so you can see which devices are really responsible for your consumption. This gadget works for US and european voltages, and Tom estimates that it can pay for itself in less than a year, even if you are already frugal with your electricity.

Toms approach to everything illustrates the importance of actually measuring the things you are trying to save money on. You could simply do some of the right things, like turning off lights in empty rooms, but when you measure your use of electricity (or water, petrol, etc) you will learn just how effective you are being. I have done this myself with my petrol consumption, and I can testify that it is a powerful incentive to save more. I’ve also started tracking my use of water and electricity by reading my meters regularly. Not as precise a method as Tom, but it’s a start.

The cold weather we have experienced recently has caused record demands for electricity (about 92,000 MW), and EDF announced that they may introduce power-cuts to save electricity. That peak could be eliminated by savings of 10% or more per person, which would mean no power cuts would be necessary. 10% is not much to ask for, even Tom managed to find an extra 10% after four years of actively trying to save electricity!

Maybe it’s not so hard to be green after all…

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4 Responses [lang_en]to[/lang_en][lang_fr]pour[/lang_fr] “It’s not easy being green”

  1. Sanna Says:

    We have been “upgrading” our home slowly and piece by piece for years now to lower the electricity consumption among other things. When we did the kitchen we have the old fridge (from -94) to a club that we belong to, that way it’s still in use but only for a day or so now and then. It feels so much better than simply trashing it.

    I like the Cent-a-meter since it shows clearly what change you are making. Sometimes it feels somewhat frustrating when you try to lower the consumption of electricity but the bill is still at the same price. It’s of course the cost of electricity that’s going up in a steady pace that’s causing it, but it also make it hard to really see the difference.

  2. Tony Says:

    Hi Sanna,

    that sounds like a smart use of an old fridge, good thinking.

    Even without a cent-a-meter, just reading my meters every weekend makes me more conscious of my use of electricity. I’m curious to find out how much I really do use, I’ve never known before. Our bills are normally based on estimations, so looking at old bills doesn’t tell me much.

  3. Gill Says:

    it’s the same over here. With all the global warming going on, winter’s are colder and the summer’s are hotter. So in winter our gas (heating) consumption is higher and in summer our hydro (electricity for air conditioners) is also higher, it’s a no win situation.

    thanks for commenting on my blog, and the letter I have assigned you is “N” I hope that is okay?

    Gill in Canada

  4. Tony Says:

    Hi Gill,

    “N”. Hmm, one easy one comes to mind. I’ll see what I can do with it, may take me a few days!