Living Green 365: 5 simple actions with big impacts

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5 simple actions with big impacts

I’ve discovered over time that some of the most effective green strategies are also the most common-sense and least expensive ones to implement.  I've put together a list of some that I'm prioritizing in my own life this year because of their practicality and proven benefits. You may recognize some of these from earlier editions of Living Green 365.

Consider creating your own list, or use these as a basis for going green in 2016!

Faucet drip

Fix your water leaks

The EPA WaterSense program estimates that American households waste more than 1 trillion gallons of clean water each year through leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. The average home leaks more than 10,000 gallons of water annually, which is equivalent to the water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry.

Even a "small" faucet leak can waste thousands of gallons of water. Toilets are especially leak-prone (20% of all toilets leak), but because they are often silent, these leaks can go unnoticed.

Most home water leaks are easy and inexpensive to detect and fix. For guidance on how, see PCA Fix Leaks.


Buy less stuff

“A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”  George Carlin, comedian

I recently discovered a schematic on the internet called the “Buyerarchy of Needs” by Sarah Lazarovic. The graphic, modeled after Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, cleverly captures and presents a strategy for reducing wasteful purchases. Working from the bottom up, it encourages us to consider other options before buying new products.

Consumer goods that are cheaper to throw away than to repair have become common. The volume of goods that many of us purchase, use, and then discard has risen over time. This affects the environment in lots of negative ways.

You can reduce your ecological footprint by following the Buyerarchy approach. Here are some questions to ask yourself before heading to the store or the internet to shop:

  • Do I truly need this (new phone or gadget, clothing item, other consumer product) or can I get by without it?
  • Can I borrow, rent, or trade for this item?
  • If a purchase is required, can I obtain it used/second-hand?
  • Can I make this item with materials I already have on hand?

If you do buy new, look for products with a Lifetime Warranty.

See Reuse it and ReduceWasteWhileShopping for more information and suggestions.


Water a tree

Did you know that trees help us to conserve water and energy? Trees  also reduce air pollutants, make us healthier, and help to prevent soil erosion. Trees keep us cooler during the summer and improve water quality, among many other benefits.

If you have trees in your landscape or on your boulevard, one of the best things you can do is to water them. Newly planted trees especially need watering for the first 3-5 years after planting. Mature trees need extra water during periods of drought.

For more  information, see the MPCA Living Green webpage on trees.

Energy Vampire

Slay your energy vampires

Do you leave your phone or laptop chargers, DVD player, video game console, or other electronic devices plugged in when you’re not using them?

If so, you likely have energy vampires lurking in your home.

Energy vampires are electrical items that continue to use electricity even when turned off. They include things that draw power when in standby mode and/or have a display light.

Energy vampires are big energy wasters! They can account for 10% or more of a home’s electric use, which makes them expensive to own. Their use contributes to CO2 in the atmosphere.

 “Slay” these vampires by unplugging them when not in use. The same holds true for cameras, batteries, and similar items that have completed charging. Installing advanced power strips can also help.

Be an eco-driver

Sometimes it's not what we drive but how we drive that determines how much carbon and other emissions our vehicles generate. In 2016, consider using eco-driving habits whenever you’re behind the wheel. Among other things, eco-driving includes:

  • Accelerating and decelerating smoothly
  • Observing the posted speed limits (the EPA estimates a 10-15% improvement in gas mileage by driving 55 mph instead of 65 mph)
  • Keeping tires properly inflated
  • Maintaining a steady speed
  • Avoiding excess idling

For more information, see and Eco Driving and Driving Behavior.

Community events and resources

Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit extended through 2016. The Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit, which expired at the end of 2014, has been retroactively renewed effective January 1, 2015 and expires on December 31, 2016. This tax credit extension means that any qualified equipment installed in 2015 or 2016 is eligible for this credit. As in previous years, the cumulative maximum amount of tax credit that can be claimed by a taxpayer in all years combined  (2011-2016) is $500. This credit applies to energy efficiency improvements in the building envelope of existing homes and for the purchase of high-efficiency heating, cooling and water-heating equipment. Read more

Solar Power Hour. Attend a free Solar Power Hour and discover the benefits of solar energy for your home, small business or farm. This one-hour presentation discusses solar market trends, describes the basic components of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, outlines the evaluation process for installing solar PV, and introduces incentive options and economic benefits. Free and open to the public. See Solar Power HourSM Dates & Locations for more information.

Landscaping for Clean Water WorkshopFree for Dakota County residents but registration required. An introductory workshop covering how raingardens, native plant gardens and shoreline restorations can help improve local water quality.  You'll see dozens of examples of unique gardens that will add variety and interest to your yard and help clean up local ponds and lakes.

February workshops:

  • Apple Valley Municipal Center, Wednesday, February 17, 6:15 PM
  • Burnsville City Hall, Wednesday, February 24, 6:15 PM

Visit or call 651-480-7777 to register.

 Thank you for reading Living Green 365. This newsletter is a publication of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Please send questions or comments about living green to the address below.


Erin Barnes-Driscoll and the Living Green Team