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Sustainability on a sofa: couchsurfing is the ultimate in living like a local

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What better way to experience new places and cultures, and save vital resources, than to stay on someone’s sofa for the night?

I’m a bit new to this couchsurfing lark. With over 7 million members in 100,000 cities, Couchsurfing.org, founded in 2004 as a non-profit organisation although since filed as a company, has become a global phenomenon.

A platform for people with a spare place for travellers to rest their weary heads (hosts) to advertise, and said travellers seeking a bed for a night and a guide to their destination (the guests) to find them, it allows people to connect in new places. Couchsurfing hosts are everywhere, from the Sahara to Sydney.

But then am I such a novice as I think? I’ve slept on sofas before. I’ve arranged to stay with friends of friends in the past. I’ve met with local people to show me around. Although Couchsurfing.org has made the concept a more established travel option, albeit with some sceptics, and has opened up the possibility of visits to and accommodation within regions where the six degrees of separation may not have allowed for previously, it is essentially just staying with a person in their home.

So is this the most environmentally friendly, locally focused, sustainable way to travel?

On meeting my first ‘official’ couchsurfing host, I confessed that I was a virgin to this experience, and I didn’t really know what to do. “You just have to be my friend for the weekend”, he said.

This is what makes couchsurfing not just freeloading, but a form of cultural exchange. Hosts could just get a lodger if they have space; a paying one. For them, the allure of opening up their home to, let’s face it, a stranger with a big bag who is about to disappear off into the unknown, is that of meeting new people from different places.

For guests, it should be the same. Welcomed into a home, you become part of the household, and live like your host. You’re not tethered to them, but why sleep (metaphorically) with a stranger, for however brief a period, without getting to know them in some way? From breakfast to bars, this is the ultimate in living like a local.

Having someone to show around your home and its surroundings is often a thrilling and liberating experience for the host. For all the talk of staycations, few people really explore and relearn the location in which they live. Routines are established, favourite haunts founded and a settled way of life begins.

Who visits the tourist information in their hometown? Seeing the place you have lived for a few years with the eyes of a newcomer and watching them get excited can revive the passion for your own home. Hosts often fall in love with their hometowns through the process of aiming to make a visitor do the same, and at the same time provide a much needed tourism boost to local museums, attractions and businesses in an economic climate that is not always hospitable to smaller players.

As well as an insight into local life and the opportunity to meet new people, it is a greener form of accommodation than hotels or hostels. It is not at all a free experience, as an extra person in the home will involve an increased use of water, electricity and other resources, but the increase will be negligible compared to that of a hotel.

One of the reasons for this is that there is a certain level of respect that comes from staying with a ‘real’ person to whom you have spoken to, as opposed to a faceless corporation where you are just another paying number. Without the option of using four towels where one will do; the urge to undo every bottle of complimentary bath goodies even if you are not sure what it does; or the guilt that comes from running a full bath and lazing the night away, comes a reduced use of resources.

There’s also a part of me that sees this as sustainable, as I view the couchsurfing phenomenon with slightly rosy glasses and the desire to believe in karma or the notion of ‘paying it forward’. It’s a nice thing to do – open up your home and welcome a visitor.

Everyone from Jesus to Kant has spoken on the importance of treating everyone with respect and as a friend or family, with the latter believing that it is the “right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when in the land of another”.

We are all part of the same world, and although few would go so far to consider someone we have never met our brother or sister, a la Jesus, there’s an increased recognition and acceptance of the term ‘global citizen’.

To really travel locally and make it more than just a buzzword, we have to engage with locals, get excited about the every day, saving resources as we do so – and what better way than at a home?

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

Further reading:

When on a responsible holiday, do as the locals do

Responsible tourism means helping communities to thrive

Sustainable tourism: people power and destination stewardship

A responsible tourist considers local communities

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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Environment

Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions

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Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.

Reduction of automobile emissions

Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.

Reduction of energy production and consumption

According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.

Reduced need for paper

Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.

Effective recycling

While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.

Takeaway

Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.

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