Updated on 09.22.14

How Going Green Saves A Ton Of Money

Trent Hamm

JoanI admit to being an environmentalist, and a pretty “far out” one, too – I was raised with a Mother Earth News / Organic Gardening type of father who instilled a ton of basic environmentalism in me, and I try very hard to reduce my environmental footprint. Let me put it this way: one of the biggest things I’m looking forward to when having my own house is having a few giant compost bins in the backyard with potato peels and coffee grounds and yard clippings and earthworms and so on.

Today, Yahoo! launched their Yahoo! Green initiative, which lets you choose from an enormous list of minor lifestyle changes that can reduce your carbon dioxide emissions. It has a slick, cute interface that lets you drag and drop the options from the big list onto one that lists the items you’re willing to do, and it automatically calculates how many tons of carbon dioxide per year that you would save by doing those things.

So why write about this on a personal finance site? It’s because a lot of these items on the list not only reduces your personal carbon dioxide emissions, they also save money. I went through the entire list of items and selected the ones that were really simple to do and also clearly saved money in the long run (I didn’t include ones that were ambiguous to me about money savings). Here they are:

42 Ways to Save Money and the Environment

1. Switch 3 lights that you use for 4 hours a day with compact fluorescent bulbs.
2. Replace a porch light that’s always on with a compact fluorescent bulb.
3. Turn your heater thermostat down 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in the summer.
4. Install a programmable thermostat to adjust your home’s heating and cooling automatically.
5. Make sure your walls and ceilings are well-insulated.
6. Air-dry your clothes in the spring and summer instead of using the dryer.
7. Set your water heater thermostat no higher than 120 F.
8. Replace bathroom and kitchen sink facets with low-flow models.
9. Install low-flow showerheads.
10. Go from 500 sheets of 0% recycled computer to 200 sheets of 100% recycled paper.
11. Drive less aggressively — don’t accelerate and brake rapidly.
12. Drive the speed limit.
13. Keep the tires on your car adequately inflated. Check them monthly.
14. Drive 10 miles less per week.
15. Carpool, take public transit, or telecommute one day per week instead of driving to work.
16. Replace your old refrigerator with a new Energy Star one.
17. Replace an old TV with a new Energy Star one.
18. Replace your old dishwasher with a new Energy Star one.
19. Replace an old computer, monitor, and printer with new Energy Star ones.
20. Replace your old washing machine with a new Energy Star one.
21. Recycle all steel (“tin”) cans, aluminum cans, and glass containers.
22. Take one less short domestic round-trip flight this year.
23. Take one less cross-country round-trip this year.
24. Use a washable mug for your morning coffee instead of a Styrofoam cup (assuming you can get a freebie coffee mug).
25. Get a reusable water bottle instead of disposables (again, assuming you can get a freebie water bottle).
26. Buy products in the largest size you can use to avoid excess packaging.
27. Use washable plates and utensils for takeout dinners and parties instead of paper and plastic goods.
28. Buy vintage clothes instead of new stuff at the mall.
29. Unplug electronics when you’re not using them.
30. Turn out the light when you leave the room.
31. Shut down your computer and peripherals each night.
32. Run the clothes washer with only full loads.
33. Wash your clothes in cold water.
34. Run the dishwasher with only full loads and let dishes air-dry.
35. Take showers instead of baths.
36. Take shorter showers.
37. Insulate your water heater.
38. Clean or replace dirty air-conditioner filters every three months.
39. Replace old windows with double-pane windows.
40. Use a push lawn mower instead of gas or electric.
41. Change your car’s air filter and check it monthly.
42. Turn off the car instead of idling.

Whew! All together, these options would save 7.38 tons of carbon dioxide per year, and all of them would save money in some fashion, either by reducing your energy bill, reducing your water bill, improving your gas mileage, cutting down on unnecessary things (like trips), reusing things more often, or by literally making money by recycling items. It’s very difficult to calculate exactly how much money you would save because of the variables, but these items will save money.

You could also use these items as the basis for your own 101 Goals in 1001 Days list. Just make sure to think about which of these items would work well in your life, and also be sure to quantify them so that the goal is clear, like “Move to taking five minute showers” and then using a wind-up timer to ensure that you’re doing this.

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  1. !wanda says:

    Is replacing old stuff that works fine *usually* cheaper or better for the environment than waiting until the old stuff breaks? (I know that the answer depends on the situation, including how old and inefficient your stuff is and how much better the new stuff is. But my sense is that given the financial costs of buying new stuff and the environmental costs of creating new stuff, you’re usually better off waiting until your old stuff needs to be replaced.)

  2. Brad says:

    Lots of cute ideas. A few are practical, such as the higher thermostat I have been doing for a long time. (Though I still can’t figure out good programming for it.)

    Others are a bit far out. Flying less won’t reduce the flights unless it reduces overall demand for some time. However, I could not fly 1 flight less in any case since I didn’t fly any last year. :)

    Compact florescent bulbs apparently do have mercury in them and accidentally breaking one can negate lots of charges. I heard a recent news story of a lady who broke one and the biohazard cleanup estimate was $2K. They also need to give off better light. I have tried them on an internal ceiling fan and was less than awed with the results. Those went back to Walmart.

    Finally, how do you run automatic backups if the computers are off at night? If I could figure that one out I might do it, but mucking with “start on network” is more difficult than it seems and shutting them off means they never get backed up – which could also be catastrophic.


  3. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The idea is that the next time you need to buy said item, look for an Energy Star item.

  4. Jim says:

    Good list, but I’m a little confused on #40 — by push mower, are you referring to a reel mower? Because my current #1 push mower _is_ electric (the backup is reel).

  5. Gal Josefsberg says:

    Not all tips will apply to you, but the flying one is a good one. One of the factors affecting flights is demand, and if there is less demand, there are less flights (and yes, you’re absolutely right in that demand will need to fall over a long period of time to make a difference). I chose not to fly to Vegas this year (another way in which being good to the environment saved me money) as an example.

    I doubt the CFL clean up story. At 2k, this sounds like internet myth material. However, the item you mentioned about their lighting is true. I ended up replacing one regular bulb with two CFL’s in order to get the same light. I still saved energy though, but then I also had to consider other types of waste such as packaging and the materials themselves.

    Finally, the computer item is more applicable to home PC’s since those are not backed up as often. I back up mine once a week and I do it during the day. That way I can always turn them off completely at night.


  6. Bill K. says:

    The 2k is far from internet myth material, it’s been in the newspapers.

    Basically the lady called the place she purchased the bulbs, they referred her to the local govt, who then referred her to a poison control, who put her in touch with the EPA, who sent someone out to evaluate the “spill” and found 10x higher than “recommended” levels of mercury in the room. They recommended a hazardous waste cleanup team, who quoted her $2k for the cleanup of the area.

    I think the moral of the story is that we need better education about how to clean up CFL bulbs (don’t vacuum the area, use masking tape to stick the mercury, use gloves and eye protection and seal all of that in a plastic bag before disposal).

    I’ve read elsewhere that the average person with fillings has a way higher level of mercury than that room did, however it can be dangerous to children and pregnant woman. They just need a bit more care than regular bulbs.

  7. Thomas says:

    Don’t wash your clothes too cold or too warm, some of you’re clothes will lose the shape…

  8. There is a great deal of variation in light quality across different brands of CFL bulbs. We’ve found that the lower-end multi-packs of 60W equivalent bulbs from Home Depot are great — good light, and full intensity more or less instantly… However, I swapped out a bunch of 65W recessed spotlights and the CFL versions come on dim and take a while to warm up.

  9. Kat says:

    You should also include eating lower on the food chain. Cutting out meat products and eating more grains and vegetables will decrease your grocery bill (unless you like the prepackaged varieties). And it reduces carbon dioxide emissions, air and water pollution from manure, production and overuse of fertilizer, and pesticides; depletion of groundwater; unnecessary use of land to produce feed grains and soil erosion; over-grazing, etc.

  10. guinness416 says:

    I just today received a check from the City of Toronto for their scheme for purchasing energy star washers. So it’s made me a few bucks already!

  11. David Bethoney says:

    Great post and list of how we can each make a difference. I attended an Al Gore speech on his book a couple of months ago in Seattle and it was definitely mind blowing. Even though his speech was too political, he got the point across. The one question which constantly comes up is are enough people going to start making these lifestyle changes to make an impact? Unfortunately not anytime soon unless we have more influential people start setting examples.

  12. Benji Gonzalez says:

    Ok, so is this your “jump-the-shark” moment?

    Why is it that when people start writing and getting an audience they feel the need to seek approval from other writers? It never fails, the need to be liked and have the “right” people say good things about you overcomes any desire to be original instead of a bobble-head seeking approval from his peers. Thats how this whole movement got started.

    For starters even if someone attempted to do everything you suggested to allow them to “go green” it would all be negated with a single computer purchase. Mining, manufacturing, shipping, advertising, and labor for that one purchase alone would be enough to cancel out changing every bulb in your house for a lifetime. You going to give up that laptop anytime soon?

    This whole scam of going green is regulated to a few industries that are deemed “evil.” Its a shame its the very industry that we depend on for EVERYTHING. Its as if all the “good” industries and “good” people exist in an alternate self-sustaining universe. Then again these are the same people that created “carbon-credits” so that they could continue to use regular lights, fly cross-country, heat/cool massive amounts of space, and use up massive amounts of fresh water on acres of landscaped property – and then get greeted to cheers when they speak at a fund raiser that gathers up enough money to pay for the spectacle. Environmentalism/anti-humanity really is the new religious belief of the day.

    I really don’t get this. One day you come from a working family that lived paycheck to paycheck – next you come from a family thats reading “Mother Earth” magazine and concerned about their “environmental footprint” – I weep for you.

    Why not just say hey, here are some traditional things that our grandparents/parents did to save money – why not give it a shot!

    I hope this whole “green” thing has reached its critical mass already. Hell, its outlived the macarana already….

  13. Erika says:

    Good tips! I use CFLs, but I am still waiting for LED light bulbs to go down to a reasonable price. Nice bright light, less energy, and no mercury.

  14. Michelle says:

    I really don’t get this. One day you come from a working family that lived paycheck to paycheck – next you come from a family thats reading “Mother Earth” magazine and concerned about their “environmental footprint” – I weep for you.

    He didn’t change, Benji. He just mentioned something he never had before. Maybe the phenomenon you are seeing is not what you think it is. Maybe it’s not Trent feeling the need to “seek approval from other writers”. Maybe it’s realizing that he has more to say than he originally realized.

    Maybe you should consider the possibility that Trent is the deep thinker, and not you.

    Incidentally, I believe the word you want in the first sentence of your longest paragraph is “relegated”, not “regulated” — although even that word would be not quite right. This is noteworthy because, as it happens, hysterical rhetoric turns quaintly comical when paired with poor command of the chosen language.

  15. Brad says:

    Trent, the reason the cleanup for the broken CF bulb was so high was that the lady involved the local government environmental cleanup office because it was mercury. The story is at http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/story.html?id=aa7796aa-e4a5-4c06-be84-b62dee548fda though that appears to require registration to read the whole thing. I heard it on the SlashDotReview podcast: http://slashdotreview.com/?p=656

    My test involved replacing the 4 lights in a ceiling fan with 4 “ceiling fan” CF bulbs. They gave out a lot less light and I would have no way of putting in two of them instead. Is this what you are saying?

    Not flying to Vegas was probably a great financial decision as well. :)


  16. Gal Josefsberg says:

    Brad, I’m the one who answered you, not Trent.

    Thank you for the information on the mercury clean up story. Although I stand by my assertion that it’s not the bulbs, it’s crazy government bureaucracy. :)

    And yes, if you’re replacing four bulbs with four CFL’s then you can’t do a 2 for 1 swap. For me, I was replacing a desk lamp so I could change the configuration for a different lamp.


  17. Brad says:

    I guess it was you Gal. :)

    I agree about the bureaucracy, but I would have to attribute environmentalism with at least part of the blame in this case. :(

    I am all for being a good steward of our resources. I just don’t agree with much of what is done in the name of protecting the environment.

    I wish I had more places to use CF bulbs. I if I did, I would give them a serious try. But we have so many ceiling fans/lights in the house that I don’t really have a place for such.


  18. Gary Brown says:

    I applaud the effort you put into the ideas. So often we are running too fast in life to take the time to put some good ideas into place. Keep up the effort!

  19. Rob in Madrid says:

    I found with CFLs that they are darker, generally you need 3 11 watt (on sale) to replace two 60 watt. 3 11 watt replaced 3 40 watt. The only room where I left one regular bulb in (along with 3 CFLs was the office) Also adjust what lights you leave on. Also adjust what lights you leave on, they are abit darker but provide a good back light for a tv room. So turn those on instead of the lights in the cabinite (which can’t be replaced.

    Using CFLs can make a big difference as trish over at blogging away debt found out. convinced me. After reading that I went out and bought a bunch. Helped they were on sale as well.


  20. allie says:

    For the CFLs, I purchases one wattage level higher than suggested on the package. This seemed to work fine and it still saves money.

  21. reulte says:

    Bill K. — Just ’cause its in the paper doesn’t make it true (I’m a National Enquirer fan myself).

    While there are elements of truth in the store you give — I believe this might explain a bit more http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp.
    Appearantly the main problem was the first person she contact was unfamiliar with the CFLs and knowing mercury to be hazardous went for overkill rather than reasonable on his advice.

    Benji — so are you saying that there is no benefit and no use to go green? I don’t understand your rant. Also, a family can live ‘paycheck to paycheck’ and still be environmentally concerned. Families, like people, are multi-faceted.

  22. Hugo Garcia says:

    Why do people have to use their cars whenh their going to a place that is close to their houses? I mean, people can just walk somewhere if the place is close to them. They can just use their cars if the placde where they want to go is far away form them.

  23. cara says:

    now before i write this keep in mind this is not negativity this is oppening minds of other readers.everybody disses going green just because it takes 2% effert or you spend a little more money but in the end it adds up to save you 50% on average and this is coming from a 10 year old who just wants to make a point but imagine what an adult can say if they want to do the same thing just think about it not only are you saving money but the next generation what is wrong with that.

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