Beyond Bulbs 2007

Our contest winners share their secrets to living green. Happy Earth Day!

After sifting through all of the entries to our Beyond Bulbs 2007 contest, we’ve selected three winners for our Earth Day essay competition. These folks went a step (or several steps) further than changing to compact fluorescents to make their lifestyles greener since Earth Day 2006.

Viki Bok and Dick Jones
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts 

Last year was the year my husband and I took on global warming, starting with changes in our own household. We realized that even if our government wouldn’t adopt the Kyoto protocol, we could do so as a family. And we did. We calculated this would mean reducing our carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2012. We started by measuring our current emissions, totaling up kilowatt hours and therms from utility bills, and converting them to pounds of carbon. The disheartening result: our emissions were 15 percent higher than the average U.S. household—and U.S. households emit much more than their global counterparts.

So we began to cut back. First, a series of inexpensive but surprisingly effective actions: changing lots of light bulbs, unplugging an extra fridge in the basement, switching to cold water laundry and air-dried clothes, getting serious about turning stuff off, setting thermostats back, and taking public transportation to work. Then more recently, some bigger-ticket items, but ones that will pay for themselves in several years: trading in our old minivan for a Prius, upgrading our heating system, and adding insulation in our attic and basement.

Most importantly, we began to pay close attention to how much energy we were using, reading our electric and gas meters every day to see how we were doing. Simply tracking the data helped educate us about which actions made a real difference, and got our competitive juices flowing.

Over the course of the year, we have cut overall emissions by 37 percent and rising—electric usage by 46 percent, gasoline by 49 percent, and heating by 31 percent—surpassing our Kyoto goal not in six years but six months. We have upped our goal as a result, and are committed to getting other families to join us. If we can do it, anyone can.

Brian Smith and Susan Conrad
Oakland, California

In an effort to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution, my partner and I have done a couple of simple things and one very hard thing.

1. We tore up shrubbery on the sunny side of the house and planted a garden so we are growing a portion of our food—very locally.

2. We bought a laundry line and unplugged the clothes dryer.

3. But the hardest change we made was reducing our vehicle miles traveled by getting rid of cars.

We have joined the latest ecotribe, people living the car-free lifestyle. We now ride bikes to work and take public transit when we go into San Francisco on the weekends. On the weekends, Saturday includes a bike ride to the farmer's market and a grocery store where we can get all the supplies we need for the week. They are hauled home in a baskets and panniers on our bikes. We feel healthier and have been liberated from auto insurance and gym membership payments forever.

Dressing up and riding to a date at an upscale restaurant is always fun. There’s nothing like asking the maître de where he would like the helmets to go.

But perhaps the best part of living car free is when Susan, who is a chaplain at a local hospital and occasional minister, rides her bike to the church on Sunday to preach. Talk about being an eco role model.

Our experience with reducing our greenhouse pollution is that it wasn't hard at all; in fact, our quality of life has improved, and we are saving loads of money.

Kellyn Shoecraft
Somerville, Massachusetts

It started when I replaced all of the bulbs in my four-bedroom apartment to compact florescent to celebrate Earth Day 2006. I then moved, left the bulbs, and replaced all of the bulbs in my new apartment. I replaced the bulbs in my boyfriend's apartment, and I now give out bulbs as gifts with a note about the energy savings in one bulb. Beyond these bulbs I have...

Started paper and container recycling program at the small, non-profit volunteer agency in Boston where I work. In the organization’s 15-year history, there had never been a recycling program, and the building manager did not provide one. I started these programs within three weeks of my first day, and we have since recycled over 1000 pounds of paper and diverted more than 20 pounds of lead from landfills by recycling old computers. The office now buys only recycled copy paper and envelopes.

I also created a used paper program. Scrap paper is saved for printing drafts and internal office documents. I use the paper on all of my volunteer training materials with the disclaimer “In an effort to reduce waste this document is printed on used paper. Please disregard the opposite side of this flyer.” I find that our visitors appreciate the efforts, and I'm working to change people's attitudes from viewing this practice as cheap to mindful.

I just completed a recycled knitting project. I used 107 used plastic grocery bags from friends and coworkers and knitted them into a large and durable tote bag. My bag has inspired at least three other people that I know of to make their own, and I have created and sent out directions and pictures. 

I buy local (and use my dollars as votes), I use my bike as my primary means of transportation, and I borrow and rent instead of buy. I spread the word.

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