Thursday, September 29, 2011

Smart Ways to Save Money with Alternative Energy

Millions of people are already taking more than just a passive interest in adopting alternative
energy sources and green applications to help them energize everything from their alarm clock
to their automobile. As time marches on and as researchers continue to improve the output
capacities of an ever widening selection of alternative energy sources, innovators and early
adapters continue to pave the way for alternative energy applications for the rest of mankind.

Now demanding more and more attention as oil prices skyrocket, the negative impacts that
burning coal has on our environment becoming ever more apparent, and the dangers of nuclear
energy again brought to light with the recent devastating tsunami in Japan, people are re-
focusing on safe and renewable sources for their energy. Many hope to be able to separate
themselves from reliance on nuclear or fossil fuels by turning to the following alternative energy
  • Solar
  • Geothermal
  • Wind
  • Water
  • Biomass technologies
Always at the heart of the matter, personal economics will continue to play a huge roll in just
how fast the world can transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Slowly the tide
is turning as advances in the technologies listed above become more and more economically
viable. In some ways this is as much as a reflection of basic supply and demand as it is political
and social pressure being brought to bear in an attempt to push a psychic change in the way we
view energy consumption. In another vein, education is playing a key role as well as more people
are becoming aware of alternative energy sources through government programs, commercial
advertising, and the efforts of green advocates from across the planet.

Three things that are definitely working in favor of continuing a successful transition to
green technologies and the development of more and more practical applications and uses of
alternative energies are:
  1. Ever rising costs for traditional fossil fuels
  2. Continuously reduced comparative costs for alternative sources
  3. Reduced payback models and more favorable cost/benefit analysis results
The fact that fossil fuels have a finite supply is not news anymore. In fact, with dwindling
supplies and more expensive extraction efforts being needed to obtain these resources, these
two cost drivers are constantly putting upward pressure on their commodity prices in the market
place. Increased prices for oil and coal equates to increased prices for the electricity that is
produced when using these energy sources in the power plants.

At its simplest level, this could mean that the cost of powering your electric tooth brush has
gone from 20 cents a month to 40 cents a month. One can always go back to brushing their teeth
manually, they can accept the additional costs associated with the increase in their utility bill, or
they can seek out a cost effective alternative. The beauty of competition is that it creates options
where options were not available before, and alternative energy sources are currently being
developed to fill this void.

Many people start out thinking small. By installing a single solar panel, they may be able to
supply power to charge that electric toothbrush, operate their coffee pot and their alarm clock,
and with a battery backup system, be able to turn on the light on the nightstand when they wake
up in the morning. One solar panel with an energy collection device like a rechargeable battery
may be able to support one's whole "wake-up" package for the morning saving somewhere in the
neighborhood of $5.00 a month.

Comparative costs are falling for installing alternative energy devices
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the facts that as technologies advance in alternative
energy sources, economies of scale and the economies of scope begin to come into play. As
demand for alternative energy sources increases, the cost per kilowatt begins to drop as well. As
manufacturers see more and more demand for alternative energy sources, they are responding
by developing improved products like more efficient solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal
devices, etc.

Basic laws of supply and demand are moving in the direction of making alternative energy
an increasingly viable option. As mentioned earlier, many innovators and early adapters have
already taken the plunge to invest in alternative energy sources to reduce or eliminate their
dependence on traditional utility generated electricity. With more options becoming available
every day, many new home construction projects are including the installation of alternative
energy devices as part of the original package and bundling the cost into the overall financing
package. Additionally, with certain tax benefits available for making this type of investment,
the reduced tax liabilities in combination with utility saving can often dramatically improve the
payback period for this investment.

Payback analysis
Going back to our "wake-up" package with an estimated saving on the utility bill of $5.00 a
month, one should ask the question, "If I can build and install a solar panel with a rechargeable
battery system by myself for about $300, how long will it take to payback this $300 investment?"
Simple math would indicate that the payback period would be ($300/$5.00 a month) = 60
months, or a period of 5 years. A 5 year payback in light of a 30 year mortgage seems pretty
reasonable doesn't it? (Note - this payback does not factoring in any benefit that may be derived
through any favorable tax treatments from making the investment).

In addition, one should never forget what happens after the payback period has been achieved
- this $5.00 a month in savings starts going right into your own pocket! Once the sunk cost
has been recovered, it is all direct savings for you. One is then free to reinvest in their next
alternative energy project, or to simply enjoy the savings. One last consideration to make is the
nature of rising energy costs as well. More likely than not, 5 years from now, your $5.00 a month
savings could easily be $6.00 or $7.00 with the pace that energy costs are rising today. Higher
energy costs will help to reduce the payback period significantly.

H.M is highly involved in alternative energy discussions and he also run a site, Alternative Energy Geek, where he enjoys teaching people how to make our world greener.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

10 Ways to Make This the Greenest School Year Yet!

Kids are back in school and happily, more schools are aiming to make their environments healthier for students and the planet.

You and your children can help. Below are some simple things you can to to encourage sustainability in schools.

Before you leap in though, be sure to get support, buy in and permission from the principal (for any ideas below that would require it), and anyone else you might need it from. Nothing will quash a program more quickly than a loud, "No!" after the fact.

1. Pack a no-waste lunch. Pack a lunch with no leftovers in food or packaging. Why use paper or plastic bags when you can substitute sustainable packaging like reusable cloth bags, stainless steel and yes, even glass containers, cloth napkins and reusable tableware. Be sure to talk with your child about the no waste goal and encourage her to bring home anything she doesn't eat to snack on later in the day. (Include a cold pack in her lunch bag.)

2. Provide a party package. Offer teachers a box filled with reusable items for parties. Include napkins, plates, bowls, cups and flatware. If you're especially creative, you can even include decor items. Let the teacher know that you're willing to pick up everything after each party, take it home, clean and return. Donate extras you have at home or purchase items inexpensively at a thrift store or ask each child's family to contribute one place setting.

3. Send reusable water bottles. Avoid buying bottled water and sending children to school with it. Instead, fill a metal bottle with filtered water each night then put it in the freezer so your child has cold water to drink throughout the day.

4. Motivate your child's school to become a "green school." There are many green schools initiatives across the country. Some may involve grants to schools that make changes like saving energy or creating and integrating sustainable curriculum. Talk to your school's parent-teacher group and the principal about the importance of this type of program to the students. You can learn more at any of these sites:
Or how about nominating your school for a green makeover? Enter here.

5. Set up cap recycling program. You might be shocked if you counted how many lids/caps you toss every year-twist tops and flip tops of all kinds. Unfortunately these often are not accepted in municipal recycling programs. But you can send or take them to Aveda or send them to the Caps Can Do program via Recycling is Cool. Set out a collection box, inform kids and parents and you'll be on your way to keeping thousands of plastic caps out of landfills.

6. Volunteer to help start a garden. School gardens are catching on and for good reason. Kids tend to eat what they grow, cutting down on waste in lunchrooms and leading children down the path to healthier eating. Start small, with one class planting something that's easy to grow like lettuce. You could even grow it in pots if the school isn't willing to give up land (at first) for the project.

7. Set up a worm bin. Kids love worms. Worms love turning food waste into gorgeously perfect compost. It's a marriage made in heaven. Get instructions on the internet and maybe approach the science teacher first with this idea. Worm castings fetch a pretty penny so this green project could be turned into a money maker for the school!

8. Talk to schools about using green cleaning products and limiting the use of pesticides. When you walk into a building and can smell chlorine, that's not a good sign. There are so many strong cleaning products that do not contain harmful chemicals and that are not necessarily more expensive. Many school faculty just aren't aware of the issues with chemically laden products used inside and out. Educate them!

9. Volunteer to do art projects using junk. So many elementary schools have lost their art instructors and teachers may be intimidated by the thought of teaching this subject. You can step in and offer to show kids how to make things from everyday objects that usually are tossed from plastic bags to bottles and cans, paper, fabric, wire, wood, styrofoam. Even if you're not crafty yourself, the internet is paradise when it comes to sparking ideas. 

10. Ask the school to use low-odor dry erase markers and dust free chalk. Offer to purchase them for your children's teachers if cost is an issue.

Run with one or two of these ideas to help your kids and their school on the path to sustainability.

This guest post was brought to you by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson who are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who Do You Think Are the Most Socially Responsible Companies?

When you're shopping or using a company's services, do you ever give a thought to whether or not they are a socially responsible organization? recently came out with a list of the top 40 socially responsible companies, and I think you may be surprised at some of the organizations that made the cut.

From Amazon putting its weight behind frustration-free packaging (they ban clamshell casings, wire ties and plastic bindings) to Zappos, who offers free lunches, life coaching, and no-charge vending machines to their employees, these are companies you can work for and shop from, guilt free. 

I was personally surprised to see Costco on the list, which has a unique focus on employee benefits. In the U.S., 85% of Costco employees enjoy health coverage, putting to shame the average of less than 50% covered at Target and Walmart.

Check out these 40 Socially Responsible Companies and tell me which ones you could've predicted...and which ones sort of shocked you.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Enter to Win a $75 Target Gift Card From

What is It's a great site where you can buy, sell or exchange gift cards. I love this concept! How many times have you received a gift cards to a retailer or establishment that you either don't frequent or you don't have one located near you? Instead of feeling guilty about letting a gift card go to waste, visit

Think of as the "Google of Gift Cards."  There are so many different gift card brokers on the internet that it's mind boggling and impossible to find your way around without a tool. That’s where Gift Card Granny comes in -- a discount gift card shopping search engine.

Gift Card Granny saves you both time and money. The site directs you to the most reliable places with the very best deals - which saves you time. Plus you can contrast and compare the different deals by a number of criteria - so you save money.

Best of all, our friends at are helping us to give away a $75 gift card to Target.

Enter to Win Now
Here's what you need to do to enter:

1. Create a gift card alert at
2. Follow GiftCardGranny on Twitter and send a tweet tagged @GiftCardGranny and @yoursite
3. Google +1 your favorite brand page on

Once you've completed these three tasks, leave a comment for me letting me know which requirements you've fulfilled, with links included where applicable. 

Hurry -- this contest runs now through Oct. 15!

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