Updated on 02.20.07

The Green Dollar: Being Environmentally Conscious Can Save You Money

Trent Hamm

Pop culture today continually urges us to be more environmentally conscious on an individual basis, something that everyone can agree is a good thing regardless of how you feel about climate change. However, most of the ways people mention to save the environment are expensive (Prius, I’m looking at you). What most people don’t think about is that there are a lot of ways to save money and save the environment at the same time. There are three major areas where you can stretch your dollar and at the same time do your part to help out the environment.

Maximize your gas mileage
When most people hear this, they think about buying a hybrid car or something, but the truth is that hybrids have their own environmental concerns. The best thing you can do as a consumer is simply to find ways to maximize your gas mileage. Every extra mile per gallon saves me around $50 per year and also allows me to use 22 to 23 gallons less per year, meaning that I’m using that much less gasoline. Here are five quick ways to maximize your mileage:

Buy a car with good gas mileage. Avoid SUVs and the like and look for automobiles with strong gas mileage numbers. You probably won’t get the mileage proclaimed on the sticker, but you can use this number to compare models: the higher the number, the better.

Don’t speed. Most automobiles get maximum gas mileage at about 60 miles per hour. If you get much above or below that, you’re wasting substantial amounts of fuel.

Keep your tires inflated. Proper tire inflation (the vehicle’s maximum recommended inflation) is a big fuel saver: for every two PSI your tires are below that number, you lose 1% of your gas mileage (if you want to calculate it more carefully, add up the amount that all four of your tires is below the recommended PSI and divide by 8 – that’s the percentage of fuel efficiency you’re losing).

Clean and change your air filter regularly. You should clean your filter every time you vacuum out your car, and you should change it every fifth oil change. A dirty air filter can eat up 7% of your fuel efficiency.

Drive to conserve gas. Speed up when going down hills (and then use that speed burst to coast when it’s level) and allow yourself to slow down when going up hills. Turn off your engine if you’re going to wait more than thirty seconds. Don’t be afraid to ride behind semis on the interstate, as their wind breaking can really improve your gas mileage.

Reduce energy use at home
This doesn’t mean that you should sit around in the dark all night with the lights turned off, but there are many simple choices you can make to cut down on energy use at home. The real number you should look at is the kilowatt hour usage on your electric bill, and also understand how to calculate the kilowatt hour usage for any device. For example, if you have a 60 watt light bulb and you use it for 6 hours, you’re using 360 watt hours of electricity. There are 1000 watt hours in a kilowatt hour, so that bulb’s usage is 0.36 kilowatt hours. A kilowatt hour costs between $0.08 and $0.13, depending on where you live, which doesn’t seem like much, but those kilowatt hours really add up. Here are five ways to cut down on your watt usage, thus reducing your energy footprint and also saving a bit of money.

Install CFLs The energy reduction and long life of these can make up for their increased cost very quickly. Each hour of usage can save about 50-60 watts over a normal bulb, and so think about how many bulbs you have in your home and how many hours you use them. See how it adds up?

Install programmable thermostats Programmable thermostats automatically adjust your home’s temperature when you’re not at home or asleep, reducing energy use whether you’re thinking about it or not. Dropping your home’s temperature every weekday from 8 AM to 4 PM on weekdays and also from 10 PM to 5 AM every day can reduce your heating and cooling bill by a significant amount – and the programmable thermostat makes it happen, quietly and automatically.

Install surge protectors Surge protectors protect your electronic equipment, but even more, they eliminate “zombie drain.” What’s that? Even when turned off, many electric devices suck down as much as five watts all the time. This means an unpowered device can eat as much as a kilowatt hour every two weeks, and if you have multiple devices with a lot of zombie drain, that can slowly add up over time. You can invest in a tester to check this, but the best way to eliminate this constant drain is to plug as many devices as you can into surge protectors.

Unplug anything you’re not using. Obviously, you can’t put surge protectors everywhere, so one good way to reduce your usage more is to unplug anything that doesn’t need to always be plugged in. My mother used to constantly keep her blender plugged in at all times, even though she rarely used it. So I’ve started unplugging it each time I visit her – and sometimes I find that it’s never been plugged in between visits. Even if the drain is very small, it’s still an energy savings – and a money savings.

Do a “electricity check” whenever you leave. If you’re going to step out for any length of time, make it part of your routine to check for any devices that will gobble energy while you’re gone and turn them off.

Reuse and recycle
Many people read this and think “Work work work,” but it doesn’t have to be much work at all and you can save significant money by doing this. Here are three ways you can save some cash while recycling.

Save your aluminum cans Just have a second garbage can for aluminum cans, then take them all in for redemption every once in a while, whether at a metal recycling center or at your state’s redemption sites. We don’t really have space to do this where I currently live, but we do plan on doing this as soon as we move.

Don’t toss leftovers. The less food you throw away, the less impact you have on our world’s food sources. Learn how to maximize your leftovers – they don’t have to be unappetizing, and once the food is prepared, it’s basically free (when compared to throwing it away).

Reuse everything you can. I reuse Amazon.com boxes (and the enclosed bubbles) for gift wrapping, diaper boxes for storing things, even old newspapers for packaging. You don’t have to obsess on this, but if there are opportunities to reuse items, don’t hesitate to do it. Every time you do it, you not only save money, but reduce your environmental impact.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Sarah says:

    Or you could try walking or biking more places–or taking public transit. If you live somewhere where anything besides driving is totally infeasible, then maybe you should consider how much of your money is going to pay for your spot in suburban sprawl and if it’s worth it to you (especially considering the long-term cost to our country and our planet).

    Walking or biking lets you get to know your neighborhood on a much more intimate scale *and* it’s good for you. It’s not always the right solution, but very often it’s a great idea.

  2. EMF says:

    Yet again, surge protectors do _nothing_ to compensate for the “zombie drain”. Unless it has an OFF switch and you actually turn off the surge protector when you’re not using the equipment plugged into it.

  3. Su Yin says:

    A new eco show of the reality self-help genre premiered on telly last night and it had a few interesting ideas too!

    Some of the environment/bank account friendly tips from the show that could be added to your list are:

    1. Use cloth nappies instead of disposable nappies which are made of plastic, and plastic comes from crude oil – a natural resource that is running out. Every disposable nappy uses a tablespoon of crude oil.

    2. Compost or start a worm farm. Almost half of your rubbish bag can be made into a resource for the garden rather than going to landfill and creating greenhouse gases.

    3. New Zealanders can’t resist a bargain – they buy too much and throw it away quickly. That goes for everything from food to toys. Our landfills are full of junk from cheap shops.

    4. Install a low flow showerhead or flow restrictor. You will not only save water but power because hot water heating accounts for about a third of your power bill.

    5. Fill a ziplock bag with water and leave it inside the toilet’s cistern. You can save up to a third of water everytime you flush.

    The show’s website can be found at http://www.tv3.co.nz/wasted

  4. KAV says:

    Recycling does not have to take up a lot of space. I live in a 2BR upstairs condo and I recycle plastic, aluminum, glass, newspapers, cardboard and junk mail. I use my coat closet as a recycling center. It has a small container for the glass & plastic, etc. stuff and then a bag on a hook for the cardboard and junk mail. It gets a little crowded in there right before it is time to take things to the recycling center on Saturday but it works!

  5. ST says:

    One good tip that I do–

    Do you often get several big thick phone books plunked on your doorstep, but you never really use them? (Who uses them these days, when you can use the net? Especially the white pages.)

    Save them and use them for packing stuff up for mailing. Rip out the sheets and crinkle them up for cushion. It’s tidier, more compact, and easier than saving newspapers or other material for the same purpose.

  6. sid barcelona says:

    i just came across this list of 18 eco-friendly tips that save water, energy and money.

  7. Aaron says:

    Another energy-saving tip for your home: turn down the temperature on your water heater. There’s no need to have scalding hot water, especially when the energy savings could be going in your pocket..

  8. sid barcelona says:

    Here’s the url for the 18 eco tips again:

    and also a link to a grassroots effort called 18seconds.org to switch to cfl lightbulbs by one of the producer’s of ‘an inconvenient truth’

  9. st says:

    If you don’t know where to go to redeem your containers, just enter your zip code here:


  10. SavingDiva says:

    Clean and change your car’s air filter regularly. I just switched to a K&N air filter. It costs about 5 times more than a regular air filter. However, it never has to be thrown away (less waste), and it can be cleaned (every 50,000 miles). It also helps to increase your gas mileage (I haven’t calculated how much it has helped yet), and your horsepower (they have a chart about this, but I don’t actually care).

  11. Sandy says:

    Hang your clothes out to dry!
    If you have an electic dryer, you’ll save WAY more electricity than all the light bulbs you’ll be changing…although , I do that too!

  12. Shirley says:

    We found a person who drives to our house and buys, yes BUYS all of our collected newspapers, junk mail, old magazines pretty much any printed material from us. He pays us 2 cents a lb. but hey, it’s getting recycled and we get paid. We neatly stack up the papers in paper grocery bags in our garage and he hauls them away every few months or so.

  13. Aggie says:

    Recently I’ve been hooked on “ecodriving” (ecodrive.org). The biggest rules are to hurry up and get into a higher gear, then drive smoothly at 2000 RPMs or less. Using your cruise control helps with this.

    The personal and fun challenge is to get below 2000 RPMs. When I look at it that way, being at 55 MPH doesn’t seem slow anymore… it seems thrifty.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *