The third annual Earth Hour takes place this Saturday, March 28th at 8:30 PM wherever you are. Earth Hour was started by the World Wildlife Federation in Sydney, Australia. About six months later, other large cities jumped on the bandwagon. Now they’ve joined together to observe Earth Hour on a single day around the world.

What Happens During Earth Hour
For that single hour on a Saturday night, participating cities turn off non-essential lights. Local businesses and residents are encouraged to turn off their lights and electronics, too. Actually, it might not be electronics, but I plan to turn off everything and not drive during that hour.

How You Can Observe the Hour
There are several ways to observe Earth Hour. Some might even save you a few pennies on your electric bill.

Turn off the lights and electricity at home. Rather than going out, sit and read by candlelight. Or do other things that are often done in the dark. Hmmm – I wonder if anyone’s tracked an increase in the birth rate about nine months after Earth Hour.

Walk around your neighborhood to see the difference when there are fewer lights. This will vary depending on how light-polluted your area is, but city-dwellers will probably notice a big difference. No neon signs, no flashing signs, no bright decorative lights at businesses and restaurants.

Visit a local restaurant participating in the event. Restaurants across the globe have agreed to turn off the lights at the agreed upon hour. Going out to dinner won’t save money, but it would be fun to experience the camaraderie of the event. Go to the US Earth Hour site to find your location and then find local business that are participating. If you live outside the US, click the “location” button near the top of the main Earth Hour page to find a map of all participating countries.

Twitter or blog about your Earth Hour experience. Tag posts as earthhour or voteearth. Tag Tweets #earthhour or #voteearth. You can also post photos on Flickr or videos on YouTube so the whole world can share your experience.

If everyone participated in Earth Hour, it would have a small impact on our climate. If everyone participated and then vowed to be considerate of energy use from now on, we could make a huge difference in our climate. As frugal people know, high energy use can get expensive. That will become even more so in the future. So, being mindful of your energy use is not only good for the planet, but it’s frugal, too.

Are you observing Earth Hour? What are you planning to do?

Move along, guys. Nothing to see here, unless you find menstruation interesting. Ladies, don’t be grossed out. We all know we have to deal with this, and we all know how expensive and annoying it can be. I’m about to propose a solution to the first part. It helps with the second part, but there’s nothing that can truly resolve the annoyance factor. It’s called the DivaCup, and once you try it, you may never want to go back to pads and tampons again.

What Is A DivaCup?
It’s a small cup made of medical silicone that you use instead of a tampon or pad. You insert it to catch and hold the blood. Then after 8-12 hours (depending on your flow), you empty it, wash it with soap and water, and insert it again. You can sleep in it, exercise in it, swim in it, take a bath in it, etc.

DivaCup Advantages
If you’ve been using pads and tampons, then you’re probably sick of spending $5-10 on them month after month after month. Even if you buy big packs at Costco or Wal-Mart, you’re still shelling out at least $30 a year for these annoyances. And you’re not helping the environment either. The DivaCup is different on so many levels.

It’s Not Disposable. Because it’s medical silicone, it lasts for ten years. Think of it – no more tampons or pads for ten years. That’s 120 months. That’s a savings of $360-$1200! It’s also good for the environment. Other than the box it comes in, there’s no packaging to recycle or throw out. No more cotton and plastic filling the landfills or worse, clogging your toilet. Look at this photo of all the garbage produced by 35-40 years of menstruation.

It’s Cheap. The cup runs about $30. You can buy it at Whole Foods or order it from Drugstore.com to get free shipping and avoid sales tax.

It’s Convenient. Because you can wear it for up to 12 hours, you don’t have to worry about changing it at a rest-stop or in an office bathroom. You also don’t have to worry that you don’t have any tampons when your period starts. Just carry it with you when you think you’re cycle is about to start. You also don’t have to worry that everyone else in the office can see you carrying a tampon or your purse to the bathroom. It’s your secret.

It’s Healthier. Inserting chemical-treated cotton into the body can’t be healthy. The cup is cotton-free and chemical-free. Tampons can also disturb your natural pH, while the DivaCup does not. In addition, it may help you notice changes in your flow that you wouldn’t recognize with tampons. Marked increases or decreases can signal a health problem, so this is important information most women don’t have.

DivaCup Disadvantages
There are a couple of disadvantages to the cup:

It Comes in Two Sizes. There’s one size for women who are under 30 and have not given birth, and another for women who are over 30 and/or have given birth. So if you’re 28 and childless, you may need to buy a new one in two years.

You Have to Be Comfortable with Your Body. If you’re squeamish about blood or not comfortable with your genitals, then this isn’t the right option for you. However, this will force you to become comfortable with your body, which is healthier for you in the long-run.

DivaCup Alternatives
In addition to the DivaCup, there are a few other menstrual cups on the market. The Keeper is made from latex rubber. They also offer a MoonCup made of medical silicone. The Lunette is made in Finland and is also medical silicone. It’s a little more difficult for U.S. and Canadian women to get ahold of, but easy for Europeans to find.

If you want to help the environment, your body, and your wallet, consider buying one of these cups. It really will change you life.

Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles times reported that landfills are filling much more slowly now. The owners say it’s because fewer people are buying stuff, eating out, and throwing stuff out. That started me thinking: how could this recession benefit the environment? Could it even set a trend that’s good for the economy in the long-term?

Less Shopping = Less Trash
We have become a disposable culture. If something breaks, we throw it out and replace it. Everything we buy comes wrapped in layers of plastic, Styrofoam, and cardboard. This year, tons of TVs will wind up landfills because people replaced them instead of buying converter boxes. At the very least, our reduced buying levels will result in the creation of less trash.

Less Trash = Happier Planet
While less trash may make landfill owners feel the pinch, no one can argue that trash is good for the planet. It produces methane, it pollutes our oceans, and it uses up land. If we can make a permanent switch to producing less trash, especially non-recyclable trash, we can perhaps slow the negative impact human life has on the planet.

Fewer Exported Recyclables = More American Innovation
I also heard a report on NPR about the problem American innovators are having getting ahold of recycled metals, cardboard, and paper. Apparently, it was more profitable to ship our recyclables to China than to sell them to U.S. recycling companies. Now China doesn’t want to buy our recyclables because we’re not buying the packaged goods they make from them. That gives American firms a chance to create innovative energy, packaging, and product solutions that require those very materials at more affordable prices.

Unfortunately, recycling sorting centers are seeing lower profits and are closing down or reducing their hours. The excess ends up in landfills. In order to help the planet and allow for American innovation, we need to reverse that trend.

Desperate Times = More Innovation
Obama included green proposals in both his campaign and his stimulus plan. In good times when everyone has money, it’s easy to ignore our impact on the environment. Desperate times, like now, actually make room for more innovation because there’s less risk to taking chances, especially if the government is willing to support new initiatives that will create jobs.

Less Packaging = Cheaper Products
This is probably a stretch, but I hope that the reduction in purchased goods will spur producers to take a look at their methods. If they can cut the packaging on those goods, they’ll cut their cost to produce it. If that translates into a lower price at the store, then maybe people will decide it fits into their budget. At the same time, a reduction in packaging (which must be thrown out or recycled) is a boon for the planet.

This recession/depression is terrible. It’s hurting a lot of people. It’s also an opportunity to change our culture, our country, and our planet. If we change our ways, we could turn this disaster into something positive that will last for generations.

With Obama in office, the movement toward a greener economy will continue. With the recession continuing, we’re going to need to save money. Fortunately, you can do both. This weekend’s LA Times reported that the recession is slowing the contributions to our nation’s landfills because we’re buying less stuff. Let’s hope these 100 ways will continue that trend.

  1. Buy less stuff. Less stuff = less packaging, less production, less waste. And it doesn’t cost a dime.
  2. Shop less. Saves money and the gas driving to the store or delivering packages to your house.
  3. Think before you buy. Do you really need that item? Wait a few weeks and see if you still want it
  4. Buy less packaged goods. Packaging costs money, so focus on simpler products. They might even last longer.
  5. Fix rather than replace. Many electronics can be repaired rather than replaced to save money and the planet.
  6. Turn up/down the thermostat. Being a little warmer in summer and cooler in winter will save money on your electric bill and reduce your energy usage.
  7. Buy CFL lightbulbs. Yes, they’re more expensive at the start, but they save serious cash later.
  8. Make your own cleaning products. They’ll have fewer chemicals and be cheaper.
  9. Turn off the lights. When you leave a room, turn off the lights, TV, etc. Watch your electric bill shrink.
  10. Unplug unused electronics. Turning them off isn’t enough. For serious savings, you need to unplug.
  11. Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth or wash your face.
  12. Use rags, sponges, and towels rather than paper towels to clean.
  13. Use cloth napkins.
  14. Replace the air filter in your house. When your A/C or heat is on, it will run more efficiently.
  15. Close the drapes at night. Keep the warm air in or out, depending on the season.
  16. Open the drapes during the day. Reduce indoor light use by relying on the sun.
  17. Choose energy-efficient appliances. They cost slightly more at first, but make up the cost quickly.
  18. Insulate your home. Again, it costs money at the outset, but saves a ton of energy.
  19. Plant native plants in your yard, rather than non-native water hogs.
  20. Don’t wear shoes inside the house. It will reduce carpet dirt, requiring less cleaning and allowing a longer life.
  21. Cover wood floors with throw rugs. In the winter, it will make your home feel a little warmer.
  22. Check the doors and windows for drafts and repair them.
  23. Check for gas leaks.
  24. Buy a water heater blanket or a tankless water heater.
  25. Buy a solar phone charger.
  26. Shower faster.
  27. Build a rainwater system for your garden.
  28. Trade the bounty of your garden with friends and neighbors.
  29. Make your own sauces, jam, jelly, and preserved fruit.
  30. Turn off your junk mail.
  31. Install low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads.
  32. Shower less. How dirty do you really get in a day? Consider a morning shower only unless you work out in the afternoon or evening.
  33. Reupholster worn but sturdy furniture. All you need is a sewing machine and access to good, cheap fabric. And lots of time.
  34. Ladies – buy a DivaCup. No more tampons for ten years.
  35. Wear less makeup. Less packaging, less water to wash it off, less energy to produce it.
  36. Buy or make mesh produce bags. You can buy tulle for $1-2 a yard. Use the bags for fruit and veggies.
  37. Carry tote bags. Take them to the grocery store. Keep one in your car for errands.
  38. Say no to plastic bags. If you forgot your bag and carry it in your hands, say no to the plastic.
  39. Only run the washing machine when you have a full-load.
  40. Resole your shoes.
  41. Repair seams rather than replacing your clothes.
  42. Be gentle with your clothes – they’ll last longer.
  43. Handwash clothes in bulk. If you have bras or handwash clothes, wash them in order from lightest to darkest in the same tub of water.
  44. Use towels for a week before washing them.
  45. Wash your clothes less often. You can go at least 2-3 wearings before washing them unless you worked up a sweat.
  46. Use the right amount of detergent. You don’t need to use the whole capful! Use the right amount for your washer.
  47. Drive less.
  48. Use mass transit.
  49. Walk.
  50. Ride a bike.
  51. Get your car tuned up to reduce pollution and fuel usage.
  52. Turn off your car when waiting more than a minute (lights not included).
  53. Ask to work from home. Reduce your company’s energy cost and your commute cost.
  54. Carry an aluminum water bottle with you.
  55. Bring a mug, plate, and silverware to work.
  56. Bring your lunch to work in a reusable container.
  57. Plant a vegetable or herb garden.
  58. Compost. Free fertilizer, less waste!
  59. Recycle. Not a money saver, but it doesn’t cost money either.
  60. Don’t buy bottled water. Either drink regular tap water or buy a sink filter.
  61. Use a clothes line or drying rack instead of the dryer.
  62. Don’t buy carbon offsets. I know, organizations push them, but I think they’re ineffective. Instead, donate your money to an environmental charity with a proven track record.
  63. Have fewer children.
  64. Switch to cloth diapers.
  65. Buy fewer plastic toys. Or really, fewer toys in general.
  66. Share kid’s clothes or buy used. They grow so fast that their clothes are usually in good shape.
  67. Share toys or buy used.
  68. Breastfeed.
  69. Make your own baby food.
  70. Don’t be afraid of dirt. Dirt is natural. Kids who aren’t exposed to it tend to have more asthma and allergy. Let the dirt in to reduce the need for medications.
  71. Eat at home. Less carry-out waste, less wasted food, more cash in your wallet.
  72. Eat less. Your wallet, your waist, and the planet will thank you.
  73. Learn to cook from whole, natural foods.
  74. Eat less meat.
  75. Don’t buy packaged food.
  76. Reuse plastic butter tubs and other containers.
  77. Use up all your food before it goes bad.
  78. Use a refrigerator thermometer to set the temperature right. Saves energy and reduces food waste.
  79. Don’t buy more food than you need.
  80. Learn to love leftovers to avoid food waste.
  81. Learn to use your freezer to avoid food waste.
  82. Reuse baggies.
  83. Buy from local farms. Many farmer’s market vendors are organic or sustainable even if they legally can’t use the “organic” label.
  84. Quit coffee. Can’t do that? Buy reusable filters or take your own mug to Starbucks.
  85. Buy local clothes and goods. Local goods are often cheaper because there’s less shipping involved.
  86. Entertain at home. You’ll reduce your energy use at movie houses and restaurants, and save money.
  87. Reduce your gift lists. Prepare now to trim down birthday, Valentine’s Day, and holiday gifts. Not only will you save money, but you’ll contribute to less waste from wrapping paper and stuff no one wants.
  88. Read rather than watch TV. Reading requires only the energy from your lamp. TVs, especially flat-screens, are real-energy hogs.
  89. Don’t watch TV (or watch less). No TV means no cable and no commercials. It also means less keeping up with the Jones.
  90. Borrow books from the library.
  91. Use Paperback Book Swap.
  92. Read your news online.
  93. Print coupons online, and only the ones you need.
  94. Don’t smoke. If you do, quit.
  95. Think before you print.
  96. Shred your mail and use it as mulch during winter.
  97. Print on both sides of the paper.
  98. Steal used paper from work and print on the other side at home.
  99. Get a spouse or a roommate. Shared electricity, food, etc.
  100. Live a simpler life. Enjoy activities close to home with family and friends. Fill your heart, not your home.

Okay, that’s 100. Some are cheaper than others. Nearly all will save you at least some money. They’ll also help you do your part for the planet, without being the smelly guy who only eats lettuce and wears hemp everything. Got more ideas? Post them in the comments.

The other day I heard Vicki Robin refer to the Simplicity Movement in a CNN interview. She was brought on as the counterpoint to a man saying that it was our patriotic duty to spend money. Obviously, she didn’t agree. More than that, it started me wondering just what the Simplicity Movement is and how it works. It turns out, I’m already a follower. If you’d like to simplify your life and help the US build a more sustainable economy and environment, then this movement may be right for you. Here’s more about it.

How Did the Simplicity Movement Start?
The book Voluntary Simplicity really kicked off the movement. It was published in 1981. A few years later, Your Money or Your Life extended the interest in the movement. The two books together advise people on living a simpler, more fulfilling life. That doesn’t returning to the woods to live on nuts and berries, but instead consuming more consciously. Let your values determine your spending, rather than letting your spending determine your values. For most people, this switch leads to a more frugal life where we spend less because we focus more on the people and interests that matter to us and less on finding fulfillment through material goods.

What Are The Cornerstones of the Movement?
Frugality. A shift towards more frugal lifestyles is probably the primary result of the movement. You could say that the nation is trending toward simplicity because we’re all scaling back our spending and looking for ways to enjoy what we have more out of necessity. Cooking at home is in, dining out in expensive restaurants is out. Keeping the car you have is in, buying a new car every three years is out. Making your clothes last longer is in, buying the latest fashions is out. All of these are choices straight out of the Simplicity Movement.

Sustainability. In addition to frugality, many followers of the movement are concerned with creating a more sustainable environment. They do this by being aware of the way our choices as consumers affect the environment. Most followers choose to buy more whole foods, fewer packaged foods, products with less packaging, and used goods. They also choose not to buy just to buy. For some, it also means buying pastured beef, milk, pork, chicken, and eggs and growing more food in a home garden.

Family. Followers of the movement tend to place a higher value on family and community than they do on career and money. Many scale-down high-intensity careers in order to have more time to spend with their families, pursue personal interests, and contribute to the community. Again, as we shift into this new economy, many people are returning to this simple attitude toward life by necessity.

Spiritual Well-Being. The movement doesn’t preach any particular religious faith or belief. Instead the focus is on improving your spiritual self rather than your material self.

Where Do I Learn More?
In addition to the above books, SimpleLiving.net offers a wealth of information, study groups, forums, and events. You can also look for a PBS series called Simple Living with Wanda Urbanski.

Don’t look at magazines like Real Simple. That’s just consumerism masked as simplicity. The Simplicity Movement doesn’t mean buying pretty wicker baskets to organize your stuff, it means getting rid of the stuff.

As with all prior economic downturns, this new trend towards national Simplicity won’t stick as a whole, but it may stick with you. Now is a good time to follow the herd and get back to basics, just make sure you don’t follow them back to consumerism once the economy is flush again.

The 111th Congress officially convened on January 3, but since that was a Saturday, they officially got to work today. Rather than waste time declaring national observances, I want them to hit the ground running, so I’ve prepared a to do list of things for them to accomplish in 2009:

  • Fix the economy
  • Fix the environment
  • Fix healthcare
  • Fix retirement

It’s a short list, so totally doable, right? Okay, maybe I should get a wee bit more specific in my requests.

Pass an Infrastructure Funding Package
As I’ve said before, I believe an infrastructure funding package would be a much better form of economic stimulus than tax cuts or rebate checks. Infrastructure spending creates jobs, which encourages spending, which in turn creates tax revenue (as does increased employment.) We have to fix our roads and bridges anyway, so why not make it a two-fer?

Fortunately, Obama’s economic plan leans heavily on infrastructure projects, especially turn-key projects, like all of those that were recently halted in California because the state is low on money. Congress, start building the package now so you can pass it on January 20 and Obama can sign it right away.

Create Enforceable Financial Regulations
Instead of driving used children’s clothing stores about of business, focus on creating solid financial regulations for lending, investing, and insuring all manner of financial products, then give the SEC the funding and teeth to actually enforce them. Maybe that would get the banks to finally start lending to consumers and small businesses again.

Fund R&D for Alternative Energy
Gas is briefly cheap, but it won’t stay there. Unfortunately, the market has been slow to develop alternatives. In this case, Congress may have to step in to speed up the process by providing grants and research funding towards sources of fuel and energy that don’t rely on oil, coal, and corn ethanol.

Pass Solid Environmental Regulations and Improve Enforcement
Rather than let lobbyists water down attempts at meaningful environmental regulations, pass some rules with real teeth, then let the EPA enforce them. It’s their job, and they’re not doing it right now. If you have to, increase their funding so they can actually do the job.

Pass Health Insurance Reform
You’ve started to do it already, but you really need to pass regulations that would limit the ability of healthcare insurers to kick out patients who require expensive care. You also need to limit their ability to determine whether a procedure is necessary. No one should die because their health insurance company doesn’t want to pay for the treatment.

Eliminate the Roth IRA Income Cap Permanently
In 2011, there is no income cap for contributions, but then it falls all the way back down in 2012. Even if you don’t make the associated Bush tax cuts permanent, remove this cap permanently. There’s no reason for the income limit on this fantastic retirement vehicle, so this year you should remove the limit permanently.

This isn’t a simple list, but it’s necessary to get our country on the right track again. What do you want Congress to accomplish this year? List your to dos in the comments.

Right now you’ve probably got one kind of cobbler on your mind: apple. Today I’m going to talk about the other kind. Not peach. The kind who repairs your shoes. I heard a report on NPR this morning about the booming business cobblers are doing, and it reminded me that I picked up a pair of shoes from my local cobbler just this weekend. Instead of buying new shoes, my local shoe repair place saved me $20 and a pair of shoes I love.

Types of Shoes that Can Be Repaired
Most people consider shoe repair only for the most expensive shoes, but you can get affordable shoes repaired too. My local shop repairs these types of shoes, regardless of the original price:

  • High heels
  • Men’s dress shoes
  • Women’s flat dress shoes
  • Casual shoes
  • Loafers
  • Lace-ups
  • Boots

What a Shoe Repair Place Can Do
The majority of shoe repair involves replacing soles and fixing heels, but they can do more. They can also repair luggage, handbags, and leather jackets. Some of their shoe repair jobs include:

  • Resole, including half-soles, full soles, and three-quarter soles
  • Repair a broken heel
  • Replace plastic heel soles with rubber
  • Protect heels with a scuff guard
  • Extend the life of a leather sole with a sole guard
  • Restore the original color
  • Change the color
  • Shine them
  • Stretch heels and toes
  • Replace Velcro
  • Replace or repair zippers

My Shoe Repair Experience
I have a pair of Skechers that I love, but the insoles were worn out and the Velcro straps weren’t holding. I spent weeks checking my nearby discount shoe store for a replacement pair, but they never had my size and the style has changed slightly. I much prefer my original style.

I drive past an old-fashioned shoe repair place every day and one day the sight of it triggered an idea. I took me shoes in to find out if he could fix the Velcro. He certainly could, and for only $10. I stopped at CVS to pick up a pair of insoles, too. For a total of $20, my favorite weekend shoes are good as new. A replacement pair would have cost at least $20.

When Not to Repair Shoes
There are certain shoes you shouldn’t repair, like heavily-used athletic shoes. I buy new gym shoes every six months because the insoles are completely worn out by then. I need much more support and cushioning than even the best gel insole can provide. Even though new gym shoes cost around $50, it’s worth it to keep my feet strong and injury-free.

It may not be worth it to repair cheap shoes, either. If the cost of the repair is more than you paid for the shoes, then it’s probably best to buy a new pair of shoes. Of course, it’s a different story if they’re designer shoes you picked up in a thrift store.

Now that I’ve had one pair of shoes repaired, I’m checking my closet to see what else needs fixing. If it can be repaired instead, I’ll save money and be helping the environment by reducing waste. Everyone wins.

My water footprint is 1,092 gallons, which is about 100 less than the national average. That’s not great, considering that I don’t own a home and therefore don’t use much water. It doesn’t seem obvious, but your water footprint does have an impact on your finances, now and in the future. It also has an impact on the future of the planet.

What Is a Water Footprint?
Your water footprint is the amount of water that you use per year. H20Conserve.org measures it in gallons while WaterFootprint.org uses cubic meters.

Your water footprint isn’t restricted to the amount of water you consume, personally use, or use in your home, though. It also includes the amount of water required to produce the food you eat and the products you use. It seems counter-intuitive, but vegetables actually use less water than meat. Gasoline actually requires a lot of water.

Why Does It Matter?
As with all things footprint-related, Americans use way more resources than people in most other countries. Since North America only has 15% of the world’s freshwater, we’re using far more than our fair share.

To ensure that there is enough water to go around, we should be more aware of our water usage and try to cut back where we can. Europeans already use less water than we do, so perhaps we should follow their example.

As an added bonus, wiser water usage will actually save you money. If you buy fewer new clothes or products to save water, you also avoid spending money on them. If you use less water at home, you’ll cut your water bill.

How to Reduce Your Water Usage
There are a number of ways to reduce your water usage, some of which you might already be doing, some of which you might not.

Install low-flow showerheads and faucets. These showerheads and faucets are so well made that you won’t notice much of a change in water pressure, but you will notice the difference on your water bill.

Install low-flow toilets. Some people use a brick in the tank to displace water instead, but a low-flow toilet is better in the long-run. If you already have a low-flow toilet, don’t add a brick to the tank to save more water. These toilets are designed to use a specific amount of water and won’t work properly if the water is too low.

Don’t run the water. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, washing your face, or doing the dishes. When doing the dishes, fill one side of the sink with soapy water, then put the sudsy dishes in the other half so you can rinse them all at once.

Choose native grass and other plants. Most people in this country have gorgeous green lawns, but those lawns aren’t native in most regions. If you live in a region where those loans aren’t native, you’re wasting a lot of water to keep them alive. Instead, choose grasses and other plants that are native to your region and can stand up to your natural weather cycle. That will also reduce your water bill because you’ll need less of it to keep your garden pretty.

Eat less meat. Meat is very water-intensive to produce, so the less of it you eat, the more water you save. You’ll probably also save money on groceries.

Reuse and recycle. It takes more water to make new clothing, paper, plastic, and home goods, than it does to reuse or recycle it. So instead of throwing something out, make the extra effort. When you find a new use for something or buy something used, you’ll also save money.

When you think about it, reducing your water issue really is a personal finance issue, but it’s also an environmental issue. To make it personal, consider how much money you waste when you also waste natural resources. Hopefully, that will get you to save water, which will help you and the planet.

What’s your water footprint?

Source: June issue of Discover Magazine.

Recently, I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and immediately started looking into grass-fed beef. I’m also considering the switch to naturally-raised pork. I found both at my local farmer’s market, but then I had to confront the issue of price. Is it possible to that grass-fed beef is a cheaper alternative to corn-fed beef?

Cost Comparison: Grass-Fed Beef vs. Corn-Fed Beef
On the face, grass-fed beef is more expensive than corn-fed. I compared the prices from the beef at Ralph’s with those of the beef I found at my farmer’s market:

Beef Cost Comparison

As you can see, corn-fed is cheaper from a purely cost perspective. The price at the farmer’s market also recently went up a dollar, due to the increased fuel cost to transport it to the market. I expect the grocery store price to increase some, too, but not as much.

Nutrition Comparison
Once you consider other factors, grass-fed beef starts to look cheaper. First, there’s the nutritional element. According to Time Magazine, grass-fed beef is 35-65% lower in fat, depending on the cut. By some estimates, it has only 10% of the saturated fat of corn-fed beef and is much lower in calories.

Grass-fed beef also has much higher ratios of omega 3 fatty acids and a healthier ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Finally, it’s higher in vitamins A and E, both antioxidants.

If you compare eating mostly corn-fed beef with eating mostly grass-fed beef, it seems clear that it’s much more nutritious. Although it’s still high in cholesterol, you will ingest and store less saturated fat and receive more heart-healthy fats.

Health Cost Comparison
Corn-fed beef is more likely to contain E. coli and other harmful bacteria because of the way it’s raised. It’s also more likely to contain antibiotics due to the presence of these bacteria and the infections cows develop as a result of eating corn.

I believe that switching to grass-fed beef could reduce your health-care costs later in life. You may require fewer blood pressure and cholesterol medications. You may also be slimmer and have less fat in your arteries. You’ll have a lower risk of food poisoning. If everyone switched, we’d worry less about bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Energy Savings Comparison
Grass-fed beef saves energy on a number of levels. To start with, it cooks 20% faster, which means you’ll save money on gas or electricity when you cook it.

Grass-fed beef requires less energy to produce it. A substantial portion of the corn grown in this country is feed to livestock and poultry. Corn consumes a large quantity of energy in the form of fuel for farm equipment, fertilizer, fuel to transport the grain to the feedlot, and fuel to process the grain for livestock consumption.

In contrast, grass-fed beef produces some fertilizer as it grazes, in the form of its own waste. Growing all that grass still requires some fertilizer, but not as much.

Environmental Impact
Grass-fed beef is gentler on the environment, but not completely gentle. They still produce methane, which is a huge polluter. However, they produce less pollution because you can’t raise as many of them in one place and they take longer to mature. They also don’t contribute to increased pollution from growing corn to feed cattle.

If more people switched to grass-fed beef, we’d have to eat less of it because less of it is available for consumption. More grass-fed cows would (hopefully) reduce the number of corn-fed cows, which would further reduce pollution from cattle.

Final Thoughts
Once you factor in the nutrition, health, energy, and environmental benefits of grass-fed beef, I think it wins the cost comparison. We now only eat beef a couple times a month, whereas we used to eat it once a month. For the most part, I’ve switched some of those beef days to meatless days. I haven’t yet switched to naturally-raised pork, but after seeing the environmental impact of feedlot pigs in Discover Magazine, I think I have to. Again we’ll reduce our consumption there, and replace it with more vegetables.

Last weekend, summer arrived early in Los Angeles. It’s gone again, but the brief appearance caused thousands of air conditioners to be fired up for a few days. Even if summer hasn’t arrived where you are yet, now is a good time to check your system or develop a plan for energy efficient air conditioner use. Not only will it reduce your electricity bill, it will also help the environment.

Of course, air conditioning options depend on where you live, but here are a few suggestions for different types of housing:

For a house with windows, a yard, and space on all sides, there are four primary suggestions for reducing air conditioner use:

  • Plant trees on the sunny side of the house to provide shade on hot summer days
  • Turn off lights and close the drapes or blinds in any rooms you’re not using
  • Open opposite windows or sliding doors to allow cross air-flow
  • Apply window films to block additional light.

By doing this, my parents are able to limit their AC use to days when it gets over 95 in the house. Using a fan makes a room feel four degrees cooler, but when it’s over 90, that’s not much of a difference.

For an apartment without air conditioning and adequate air flow, some of the same above suggestions apply, but some don’t. For example, you probably have no control over the foliage outside your apartment. My landlord allowed a giant shrub to grow all winter, and then cut it down when it got hot outside. This is the exact opposite of the ideal, so I discovered several ways to keep cool in these conditions:

  • Use an outdoor grill and limit oven use. If barbecues aren’t permitted by your lease, use a Foreman grill inside.
  • Buy several fans. If your front door faces out to fresh air, place a box fan in the doorway to suck cool air from outside. Some of my neighbors said they had luck facing the fan out, so it sucked all the hot air out of the room, but I could never feel the difference.
  • Open the front door and all windows to allow cross-air flow, but keep the blinds down. Instead, tilt them open to block some light, but still allow air through.
  • Keep the lights off as much as possible. Don’t use candles, they’re just as warm.
  • Take off your shoes and socks. You lose heat through your head, hands, and feet, so keeping them bare will help keep you cool, as will wearing shorts and t-shirts.

For an apartment with air conditioning, and adequate air-flow or direct light, use the same suggestions to avoid turning on the air conditioner until it’s absolutely necessary.

For an apartment with air conditioning, but little air-flow or direct light, some of the above suggestions apply, but most don’t. My current apartment is a more modern building surrounding a courtyard, but we get little air-flow or direct light because of the design. To keep our apartment cool without using a lot of AC, we follow these suggestions:

  • Turning off lights in other rooms
  • Grill outside or use a Foreman grill inside to reduce oven/stove use
  • Wear shorts, t-shirts, and go barefoot
  • If you have airflow, keep the windows open longer and use fans to cool the room
  • Set the overnight AC above 78 degrees. Turn it up just long enough to bring the temperature down before you go to sleep.

In summer, you should also drink lots of water and other refreshing beverages – not soda – to stay cool and hydrated.

Extreme temperatures usually necessitate air conditioning, especially for children and the elderly. If you don’t have air conditioning, go the library, the mall, or some other air conditioned location. Even if you do have it, you can reduce your energy bill by going outside in the twilight hours to enjoy the fresh air or use the library or mall’s AC. With wise AC use, you can reduce your energy bill significantly and still be comfortable.

If it’s still winter where you live, try these tips for reducing winter energy costs.

What’s your favorite way to avoid using the air conditioner? Tell me in the comments.

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