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5 Ways You Can Use Technology to Become a More Environmentally-Conscious Consumer



iphone by Gonzalo Baeza via Flikr

Technology is often seen as part of the problem when it comes to climate change, and it’s not hard to see why with recent reports showing that the majority of our electronic waste ends up in landfills in developing nations rather than being recycled.

But since technology isn’t going anywhere, it’s important that we find ways to make it part of the solution too, and there are countless apps and gadgets that can help us shop more sustainably, conserve energy at home and minimize our carbon footprint.

Not sure where to get started? Here’s a quick look at some of the most effective ways technology can help you become a more environmentally-conscious consumer.

1. Shop with green apps

One effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to make more environmentally-friendly purchases, and thanks to all the ‘green’ apps that are being developed these days, it’s becoming a lot easier to figure out which products have the lowest impact on the environment.

For instance, you can find apps that help you to locate farmer’s markets and sustainable eateries in your area, apps that let you scan a product’s barcode to check for carcinogens or toxins and even apps that tell you how and where you can dispose of household items and electronics responsibly.

3. Invest in a few smart power strips

Leaving larger electronics like Televisions, DVD players or computers on standby or plugged in when you’re not using them can use up a surprising amount of energy, especially if you’re leaving a lot of appliances on standby 24/7 throughout your home.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average U.S. household spends around $1,900 on energy each year, and between 5% and 10% of that is used by appliances that are left plugged in unnecessarily.

This is where smart power strips can help, because rather than having to unplug each appliance after use, a smart power strip automatically cuts the power when an appliance goes into standby mode.

3. Install a smart thermostat

Little slips of the mind like forgetting to turn off the heating or air-conditioning when you leave the house can waste a lot of energy, which is why using a smart thermostat can help you conserve energy without even really thinking about it.

Some smart thermostats will monitor your usual habits, such as when you normally leave for work, when you come home or when you go to sleep, and will then be automatically programmed to fit your lifestyle. Others may simply allow you to control the temperature in your home remotely or program a weekly schedule in advance.

4. Use solar energy whenever possible

Even if powering your home entirely with solar energy is too expensive for you at this moment in time, you may be able to switch some of your appliances or electronic devices to solar energy and still make a big difference to the environment.

For instance, research shows that by 2019, the greenhouse gases produced by smartphone charging will be on par with the yearly emissions of 1.1 million cars, so even just investing in a portable solar battery charger for your smartphones and tablets can help.

If you want to start using more solar energy around the home, check out this infographic for examples of innovative gadgets that allow you to harness the sun’s power, including solar backpacks, solar-powered sound systems and solar generators.

5. Use an energy-management system

Unless you’re tracking your energy usage, it will be difficult to get a clear picture of how much energy you’re using, where and when it’s being used and what sort of changes you might make to cut down on your energy consumption.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to use an energy-management system. There are numerous apps that can provide you with a clear overview of your household’s energy consumption and allow you to track it in real-time from your phone, but some energy providers have started providing this service, so check with your energy provider or consider switching to one that offers free energy-monitoring.

Marianne Stenger is a writer with Open Colleges. She covers everything from career development to life hacks and sustainable living. You can connect with her on Google+ and Twitter or find her latest articles here.



Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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