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									The Basics

6 foolish ways to go green
Your heart is in the right place, and some retailers are using it to find your wallet. Before you try to save the
planet with bamboo-fiber sheets, find out what really helps.


By Sally Herigstad
We all want to save the Earth. Every day, however, we're bombarded with conflicting information about just how
to do that.
Valli Bindana, a co-owner of multimedia-film maker KreativeVistas, went online to look for reusable grocery bags.
She was amazed at the "green" things for sale, including bedsheets, clothing, even a key chain made from a
recycled bicycle chain -- for $32.
Bindana says: "I think the best way to go green is to stop using so much stuff. Why buy another shirt if you have
so many already?"
It's easy to be lured into a purchase you wouldn't make otherwise or to make conscience-driven choices that
actually backfire on the environment. Here are six ways that can happen:
Buying green for the sake of it
Much of the advice we hear is from people or businesses that seem to define "going green" as going after the
green in your pocket, preying on your impulse to do good.
"Some businesses are capitalizing on people's desire to splurge with a clear conscience," says Erica Sandberg, the
author of "Expecting Money."
New parents are particularly susceptible to over-shopping, and expensive organic, environmentally conscious baby
gear is the rage. No one wants to expose their precious child to toxic chemicals, and we all want to save the
planet. But buying something you don't need is always wasteful, no matter how it was produced.
Before you pull out your credit card, think: "Will buying a T-shirt made with bamboo fiber really help save the
environment?" Buy a T-shirt because you need a T-shirt, not because you want to save the planet.
Choosing the wrong products or technology
To get the most good for your money, select technology and products carefully. For example, buying a green
product at a hardware store but not matching the best product for the use accomplishes nothing. A low-flow toilet
that requires three flushes hasn't saved anything.
Kathy Greely, the director of the Commonwealth Community Energy Project in Pennsylvania, says, "Despite
common knowledge to the contrary, replacement windows are typically the wrong thing to do to improve energy
efficiency."
If you have old, double-hung windows that leak air, it makes sense to replace them, Greely says. If you have
single-pane glass less than 50 years old, it's probably not the best place to spend your money. You're better off
adding insulation to the attic and sealing holes in the house. Your power company can do an energy audit on your
house and tell you how to do the most good for your money.
Video on MSN Money




   Is solar energy worth the cost?
State incentives are making it attractive to go solar in California, where wineries are putting it to good use. But not
everyone is convinced solar is the way to go.
Sometimes new technology can create more problems than it solves. For example, ethanol was exciting when it
looked like we could grow our own energy. Now we know that it takes a tremendous amount of energy and water
to grow corn and convert it to ethanol. Trish Riley, the author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Living,"
says: "Corn ethanol presents a lot of problems. It doesn't make much of a dent in addressing our energy needs.
And rising prices for corn are a disaster for people who depend primarily on corn for food."
Spending too much to save too little
We're often told that we should be willing to pay more for something to go green. Most of the time, however, you
should be able to save the Earth and your money at the same time. That's because the more something costs, the
more total energy it probably took to produce it and get it to you.
Take solar panels, for example. A complete solar energy kit still runs around $15,000 or more. How much energy
do you have to save to make up for the energy used to manufacture something that sells for $15,000? Will the
panels last that long? Yes, you can get tax credits to offset your cost. But from a total energy standpoint, if an
energy source doesn't work without government subsidies, it doesn't work. Perhaps it will work in the future. But
for most of us, solar panels don't make sense yet. Greely recommends simple, cheap, less sexy steps such as air
sealing first.
Continued: Making fuel efficiency inefficient
Another example is buying a new car to get better gas mileage. The most environmentally friendly car you can
drive is probably the one in your garage, assuming it's in good repair. Say your car gets 20 miles per gallon. You'd
like to trade it in on a car that gets 35 mpg. The new car costs $15,000 more. At $3 per gallon, you'll save about 6
cents per mile on gas. You'll have to drive more than 200,000 miles before you break even.
At least you're saving energy, right? Remember, if you're not saving money, you're probably not saving energy. It
took a lot of energy to manufacture that new car. If you buy a car, choose a fuel-efficient one. But don't think
you're saving the environment by buying a new vehicle just because it burns less fuel.
Recycling the wrong way -- or for wrong reasons
We've all heard: Recycle paper and save the trees. But according to James Wetzel, a professor of environmental
economics at Virginia Commonwealth University, the end result of all that recycling is fewer acres of timberland,
not more. More than one-third of paper pulp now comes from recycled sources.
"Alas, one result is a decrease in demand for pulpwood -- thus the price of timberland falls," Wetzel says. If timber
companies sell fewer trees for paper, they find more-profitable things to do with the land, like sell it to developers.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Wetzel says. "If you want people to plant more trees, they need
a reason. In 30 to 50 years, they will harvest those trees."
Shredded paper may not make it into recycled paper, anyway. Anca Novacovici, founder of Eco-Coach, says,
"Shredded paper cannot be recycled with regular paper because the fibers are cut short. Therefore it is demoted
to a lower-grade material."
So what should you do with used paper? If you're worried about carbon, it's best to have it buried in a landfill.
Wetzel says: "Buried is better than mulched. If it's buried, it deteriorates underground, and the carbon stays put.
If it either decays in the forest or it's mulched, the carbon gets released back into the atmosphere."
Recycling aluminum cans is also supposed to save energy and water. According to Wetzel: "The problem is, we
are supposed to rinse the cans first. If we rinse the cans, we can use more water and energy than we would if we
tossed them. The question becomes how much energy we use in that process versus the saving at the
manufacturing level. The question is also more complex since aluminum cans now use less material than 10 to 15
years ago."
It takes a lot of water and energy now to recycle a ton of aluminum.
No one is suggesting that we waste paper or other products. But we need to think about what we are doing and
unintended consequences of our habits.
Buying carbon offsets to get off the hook
Say you're too busy to change your lifestyle, and it's all too confusing anyway. Why not just buy carbon offsets
and forget the whole thing?
Buying carbon offsets may give you something to talk about at your next party, but buying them in lieu of being
environmentally responsible is throwing away your money. Kyle Cahill, the manager in corporate partnerships at
Environmental Defense, recommends consumers make lifestyle reductions first.
"There are many lifestyle changes that are economically feasible, if not economically preferential, (that) consumers
can make in everyday lives that can have a significant impact," he says.
Video on MSN Money




  Is solar energy worth the cost?
State incentives are making it attractive to go solar in California, where wineries are putting it to good use. But not
everyone is convinced solar is the way to go.
Cahill says consumers should first look at the type of vehicles they drive and utilize car pools and public
transportation. Then they should look within their homes: For instance, are they purchasing compact fluorescent
light bulbs? Each step alone, Cahill says, "may seem simple or insignificant, but when you add them up, they
absolutely have a substantial impact."
No matter how much we conserve, however, we're not going to get our environmental impact down to zero. "So
then, a consumer could say, 'I do want to get down to zero.' The best way to do that is to look at quality carbon
offset. It's not paying for your sins. You've taken the steps individually to reduce your emission, and you would
like to offset what's remaining," Cahill says.
Investing green and losing diversification
As investors, we can have an impact by investing in companies that share our values. Some investors are
exclusionary; they avoid investing in companies that do animal testing or are in the alcohol, gambling or tobacco
industry. Green investors are often inclusionary -- investors look for biofuels, renewable energy, organic foods and
green building.
Nancy Johnson, the senior investment officer and head of trust services at Borel Private Bank & Trust, says socially
responsible investing is one of the company's investment objectives. It cannot be the only objective, however.
"People would like to do socially responsible investing. However, it limits the diversification of their portfolios,"
Johnson says. These stocks tend to have high P/E's (price-earnings ratios), and they tend to be newish companies
as opposed to more-mature companies."
Do your research and invest in companies you can support. But don't limit yourself to a narrow area, or your
portfolio may suffer. "The major tenet of a good portfolio is diversification," Johnson says. "Social responsibility
should not be to the exclusion of a diversified portfolio."
Published Jan. 11, 2008

								
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