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October 20, 2010

Do One Green Thing: Transportation

This is the fifth in a series of posts about how to green your life, step by step. Instead of burning out on fossil fuels, Will advises taking it easy on yourself and the planet.

Like the final chapter of Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing, my final entry of this blog series is about transportation, which is responsible for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This is by far the hardest area to tackle when going green. Technology and demand are helping to drive energy alternatives, but at the moment, for an average Joe like myself, it is tough to replace oil.

For an individual, breaking the addiction to fossil fuels can be overwhelming if you try to do it all at once. However, as I have learned from Do One Green Thing, change is possible, but easiest—and most sustainable— in moderation.

Here are some simple steps:

*Did you know that not driving one day a week can reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by about 400 pounds a year?

*I know this may sound impossible, but it really isn’t. Whether you are single or have a family, pick a day of the week (I chose Sunday) to simply stay home. The pressure to go-go-go has us so wrapped up, we seldom take time for ourselves and relax. There is always an excuse to work and do more. Take my advice: STOP! 

Remember, I’m not saying you can’t drive at all. That’s why I like Mindy’s book:  She doesn’t give orders or make you feel guilty. But staying out of the car for a day can be easier than you think, and a lot more enjoyable than rushing around.

* Try trimming the number of trips you take every day. Combine errands and car pool if possible.

* Tune up and change the motor oil. Do the appropriate maintenance so you achieve the most mileage out of your car.

* Take it easy on the accelerator and brakes. Fuel economy improves by almost 15 percent, providing annual CO2 savings of 1,500 lbs, when you drive 65 mph on the highway instead of 75 mph. You’ll cut carbon emissions 5 to 30 percent by avoiding vigorous acceleration and excessive braking.

* Throughout her book, Mindy emphasizes the link between personal health and taking green steps, and transportation is a sector in which we can really benefit. She suggests spending at least a 30 minutes a day walking or cycling instead of driving. If every American did this, we’d cut CO2 emissions by 64 million tons, and lose 3 billion tons of excess body weight a year!

If you can master these steps, you will be well on your way to using public transport or biking the distance when possible. The important thing now is to offset your current carbon footprint and start slow, and, when you are comfortable, move on to the next challenge.

I’m wrapping up this blog without going into many of the other topics Mindy addresses, such as recycling, using greener, nontoxic household cleaners and pest control, choosing greener electronics, plastics and paper, cosmetics and clothing, and the constant holiday challenge of whether it’s greenest, for the distance you have to travel, to drive, fly or take the train.

You can discover these for yourself in the book, and by visiting Mindy’s website,, where she’ll also answer your questions. You can also ask us questions in the comment section of this blog, below, and we’ll respond!

If you take away one piece of information from this book it should be that every person makes a difference and everyone has it in them to make change. So please make me proud, go forth and get your copy of Do One Green Thing and learn how you can change the ocean and the world.