Earth Hour and Solar Lamps

earth hour 2012Earth Hour 2012 is coming up on March 31st. Earth Hour is a global event conceived by the WWF to raise awareness of climate change and the need to make more sustainable choices. Those who take part switch off all non-essential lights and appliances for one hour on that day between 8.30 and 9.30pm.

Lighting candles and sitting round the kitchen table chatting with family and friends, instead of watching TV or playing on computers or phones, can be an enjoyable and relaxing way of spending a Saturday evening. It also makes us realise quite how much electricity we use on an average evening without even thinking about it. Once you’ve toured the house switching off lights and lamps, computers, TVs, stereos, dishwashers and all the rest, you are left with just the glow of a candle or lantern and perhaps the hum of the fridge…it’s only the non-essentials we’re switching off after all.

Consol solar jar from South AfricaMoving another step forward towards eco-friendly habits might be to use solar lanterns instead of candles for your illumination during Earth Hour. It was pointed out recently by a true environmental crusader that your average candle emits just as much pollution into the atmosphere as the equivalent electricity for a light bulb, so that burning candles all evening isn’t really doing anything to help the environment however romantic the idea. So unless you have a wonderful supply of natural beeswax or soy oil candles, consider getting a few solar lamps for Earth hour and they will stand you in good stead all year round, providing a safe and clean light source in case of power outage and lovely mood lighting at any time of the year.

Solar lanterns are becoming stylish and innovative – check out these South African solar jars made from Consol canning jars which have been featured in Elle Deco and several other style mags since their launch in January 2012. Or these are the original sun jars designed by Tobias Wong. Or make your own sun jar from Mason jars and solar lids. Get ready for Earth Hour now and saving electricity can become a habit that will really make a difference.

Where to Plant Trees in Winter for Summer Shade

plant trees for summer shadeFebruary with its freezing winds and frosts may not be the time to be worrying about air con bills and saving energy to keep cool. We’re more worried about insulating the house and keeping warm, summer seems eons away.

However winter is the time to plant trees, as soon as the ground is soft enough, so now is the time to be thinking about planting your garden for summer shade.

Shady trees on the south-west (north-west in the southern hemisphere, of course) or west side of the house can make a big difference in summer time. But at the same time you don’t want to block out any winter sun that can help warm your home in the colder months. The secret is to look at the sun’s angles throughout the year.

In winter you’ll notice that the sun sets and rises several degrees to the south of its summer positions. (The further from the equator you are the bigger the difference). Note where it is setting now and consider planting a tree just a few degrees to the west of that point if you have space. Trees planted here will shade out the fierceness of afternoon summer sun when it angles low enough to reach into your windows and turn your west-facing rooms into ovens.

Similarly trees planted slightly to the east of a winter sunrise position will be well located to filter the glare of summer sunrise and keep the morning cool around the home a little longer.

If your garden isn’t large enough to achieve such exact positioning, the answer is to plant deciduous trees for summer shade. Their leaves will filter the sunlight and cool the air in summer, then fall in winter allowing any winter sunshine to penetrate and warm the house. Remember that west facing and east-facing windows are the ones most affected by summer sunshine, when the sun is at a low enough angle to penetrate, while south facing windows can often be adequately shaded by blinds, eaves, a lintel or a shallow porch. Avoid planting evergreen trees directly in front of south facing windows, as you will be blocking out winter as well as summer sun and so losing the benefit of that warmth when you need it.

Remember too to allow for your tree’s mature size when planting. You may have a view that you don’t want to lose, a swimming pool that you don’t want clogged with leaves or solar panels that mustn’t be shaded, so all these factors need to be taken into consideration. Your tree nursery will be able to advise you of height and spread when you are choosing your trees. And for quicker results choose large trees from a specialist tree nursery, which will need proper care but will give you shade sooner.

Have a Green Christmas

green-christmas-treeThe Christmas rush is in full flow. Last minute panic-driven shopping trips have shopping centres crowded, heaving with people spending like there’s no tomorrow, despite the doom and gloom of recession.

However green you live the rest of the year it’s easy to forget all your principles and resolutions in the madness. When do you have time to read the labels when you have a list as long as your arm and a children’s nativity play to get to in under an hour?

So how can you stay green at Christmas, when all around you are throwing money at short-lived plastic toys and yards of non-recyclable gift wrap.

Start off by taking a deep breath! Clear away that panic feeling.

Remember that Christmas isn’t supposed to be about material things. It’s about togetherness, spending time with family and friends. Gifts and all the trappings are just extras, not the be-all and end all of Christmas.

That said we all love to give gifts, so let’s go about it in a way that doesn’t break the budget, doesn’t compromise our green principles and leaves us with enough energy to enjoy the season.

1. Plan
Impulse shopping is the worst thing when you are trying to be both budget conscious and green. Write out a list – think up a few possibilities for each person along with the shops that would be good sources of gifts. Even better do your research online before heading out to the shops. If you are buying books, check out the reviews on Amazon first. If it’s an eco-gadget, research different makes and models. You can even compare prices online so you know exactly where to get the best deal. Knowing exactly where you are going and what you are getting  halves the time spent shopping and makes you less vulnerable to the mistakes of impulse buying.

2. Make
Making cards and gifts from materials you already have or are recycling is a really green way of doing Christmas. It’s even better when you have a tight budget to stretch over a large family. Making a big batch of jam, fudge, toffee, biscuits, marmalade, lemon curd, or whatever else takes your fancy can solve the problem of many gifts at once. People love home-made gifts, especially foods, so don’t feel like you are short-changing them by making rather than buying.

3. Buy online
The last week before Christmas is generally too late to have items delivered in time to go under the tree, but there are still plenty of things you can purchase online – iTunes vouchers would please many a teenager, book tokens and many other vouchers can be bought and printed off almost instantly. Instead of heading into the shopping madness on Christmas Eve, wasting time, petrol and energy, spend some time thinking of what each person would really like to buy themselves and select an appropriate voucher – make your own card to go with it to make it feel more personal and heartfelt.

4. Make a deal to restrict gifts with members of the extended family.
If you have a large extended family make a deal with the adults to limit the amount of gifts you have to buy. Some families put everyone’s name in a hat and you just buy a gift for the one person whose name you pull from the hat. That way you can afford to buy something nicer, cut down on shopping time and a lot of probably unwanted small gifts. Or agree to give gifts of under a certain value or only home-made gifts, or only food items, whatever works for your family.

5. Avoid the plastic sea of toys
Families with young children often feel overwhelmed in a sea of plastic by the end of Christmas Day. However the green the gifts you give your own children, you can’t control what others give them. You could however make suggestions to relatives who you know would like to spoil your child. Put together a list of things you’d be happy for your child to receive –such as craft materials, wooden toys, books and so on and have it ready for family to consult. Specifically ask friends not to buy plastic and then they are likely to ask for suggestions  from your list. It may seem a bit control freakish, but it’s better than having the house filled up with broken plastic toys by New Year!

What other ways have you found to keep living green at  Christmas?

Photo © Tatyana Chernyak |

The Cost of LED Lighting

LED lgiht bulbWhile many businesses have cottoned on to the cost-savings offered by smart LED lighting systems, us would-be green homeowners are taking a while to catch on.

The most common reaction to reading about LEDs is:

”They sound wonderful, but how much do they cost?”

“What???!!!! I could buy ten ordinary light bulbs for that!”

And then they put the idea on the back burner until they win the lottery.

The thing is that businesses have done their research, worked out investment v. return and their sums come out looking good. For a business a 90% saving in energy bills translates to a big reduction in overheads. The initial investment may be substantial but it is far outweighed by the long term savings. Put simply, LEDs make good business practice.

So why are many home-owners still dragging their heels? Partly I suspect because the lighting energy bills of a home are a fraction of what they are in a business. However with the ever rising price of electricity any way of saving energy is starting to look more and more attractive.

So to encourage us purse-strapped greenies along the way to converting to LED lighting, here are a few other things you can buy for the price of an LED light bulb, which as you’ll remember lasts for about ten years, saving you money on your electricity bills all the while and is at the end of its life non-toxic and recyclable.

pizzaA pizza – probably a large pizza with posh toppings, and maybe a glass of wine thrown in, but still – it lasts an evening, makes you feel bloated and you wake up regretting it next morning. No contest here – buy an LED light bulb and eat something healthy at home instead!


ponyTwo Schleich ponies – for my daughters this one would win out every time… but if you think about it, they’ll play with them for perhaps 2-4 years at the outside and after that they’ll just be a piece of plastic clutter that they’ll want to keep to pass on to their own children, who may turn out to prefer Lego or Galactic star-cruisers to ponies anyway!


bookThe latest book you’ve been waiting two years for… this is also going to be a struggle, but when did a book last save you money over a ten year life span? Why not get the Kindle edition and buy an LED light bulb with the money you’ve saved!


Before this turns into my family’s Christmas wish list, I’ll stop with the price comparisons and just say that LED’s really are a great investment.

Even if you can only make room in your monthly shopping budget to buy one each month, do it now. They’ll start saving you money from the very first minute.

You can even give them as Christmas gifts to green-minded friends – just don’t try giving them to your 9 year old daughter instead of the Schleich ponies!

Green Gifts That Won’t Clutter

Brown paper gift bag

© Johann Helgason |

With the Christmas season looming ever closer, it’s time to start dreaming up gifts for all our nearest and dearest. And those of us with a nagging eco-conscience are probably going to be picking out gifts that are green and eco-friendly if we possibly can. Christmas can be a hugely wasteful time of year, unwanted, ill-chosen gifts, swathed in packaging, mounds of plastic toys, non-biodegradable decorations… if we let it, all our energy-saving and eco-friendly choices of the past year can be blown away in just one day of excess!

So here are just a few suggestions for green gifts and I’m sure that you will think of many more. With the current trend for de-cluttering, the answer isn’t to buy a decorative item that will just gather dust until it succumbs to the de-cluttering bug, however green it is and however many recycled, biodegradable materials have gone into its making. A truly green gift is something that will be used and enjoyed by the recipient.

Some of the best gifts for adults are consumables – delicious organic food treats and chocolate, luxury cosmetics made of natural materials, recycled paper notebooks and journals – but these are only going to work if you know that the person you are giving to will actually enjoy and use them. Waste is never green!

Other green gifts to consider:

Live trees – indigenous species that you know will grow well in their garden. These can be small saplings, or large trees, which make a great gift as long as you know that they want them (nothing worse than an unwanted large tree to find a home for after Christmas… except perhaps an unwanted puppy!).
Heirloom seeds – perfect for the green fingered and they can keep them until the right planting season.

Craft materials – for the dedicated crafter or for kids. Don’t get a craft kit – they just add additional packaging and cost to a few basic materials. Rather go and buy, for example, a stack of natural felt in a rainbow of colours, some embroidery silks and needles, then add  a url of a website with plenty of craft ideas and instructions. Or buy kids a blank canvas and a selection of paints and brushes.

Here are some more green gift ideas

The greenest gift is the one that best matches the recipient and that you know they will love, so that it will get years of use (or provide hours of enjoyment in the case of consumables!).

How to Live Green In Baby Steps

taking-green-baby-stepsGoing green can be an intimidating process for many of us. There is so far to go from the average city lifestyle to get anywhere close to a green living idyll. We hear stories of people who have managed to go off-grid, grow all their own vegetables, compost everything and still have time to home-school, knit, weave and all the rest. We give up the idea and try to ease our consciences with a donation to an environmental charity.

If this sounds anything like you, I’d like to encourage you not to give up before you’ve begun. There are many ways to make our lives greener, even while still living a city lifestyle, even if you don’t compost a thing, and even if knitting and weaving is never going to be your cup of green tea.

Sustainable living can be achieved and the most sustainable way to get there, as with any change of habit, is in small steps. Baby steps are more likely to become lasting in your life.

Aim to adopt one small green habit in your life this month. Next month add another. When those two have become a normal way of life to you, pick another green habit to adopt. Little by little you will find yourself shifting towards a green lifestyle.

Only ever take on what you can cope with at any one time.

How to Live Green will feature lots of green ideas to choose from as your next baby step in our next posts. Pick whichever one appeals to you in the moment. Some you may find that you are already doing without even thinking about it. Living green is a journey. There is always another step to take. Enjoy the process!

Check out which of these green living baby steps you’ve already taken. Choose one new one to adopt this month.

Recycling plastic
Recycling glass
Recycling paper
Re-usable grocery bags (and remembering to take them with you!)
Walking instead of driving on short trips.
Planting a tree

Energy saving light bulbs (look at LED lighting as well as CFLs)
Switching off the tap when brushing teeth
Buying organic fruit and veg
Taking a reusable coffee cup to Starbucks
Green cleaning alternatives

There are loads more but we want to get into this gently , And remember just pick one at a time and make it a habit!

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