Sunday, 12 September 2010

My "No Impact Week" Experiment (Part 2)

(Continued from previous post)

Day 5: Energy
(Thursday, 2nd September 2010)

Energy Efficiency: For a cleaner, safer future!

I participated in CETDEM's Home Energy Audit project years ago, and continue to carry with me many of the lessons I learned during the project duration, and have since conducted energy audit for various other organisations.

Our energy use at the bachelor pad is slightly below average at RM50.00 - 60.00 a month (less than 400 KWH) for the 3 of us. The housemates watch about 1 -2 hours of television or use their computer for about 1-2 hours a day (not that it is something within my control), while I don't watch TV and use my HP Mini for about 1-2 hours a day if there is any non-profit volunteer work (drafting/reviewing/correspondence) or paid freelance work (editing/drafting/translating) to be done. The housemates and I practice using a common area (the dining/study area) for watching vids, using the computer, reading, socialising and napping, so only one light and one fan needs to be switched on at any given time. Also, we purchase only reputable brands of electrical appliances with energy star ratings, do not buy unnecessary electrical appliances and gadgets, maintain appliances in good working order (especially important for fans and refrigerators) and switch off appliances after use. Therefore, the most energy-consuming appliance in the house right now is our refrigerator.

The pre-Falklands War refrigerator unit we used to have at our bachelor pad had a rubber seal so leaky that we probably ended up refrigerating the whole street. When we finally replaced it, our electricity bill went down by a whopping 30-40%!

Now we keep the current appropriately-sized, energy-saving one running smoothly by:
1. Not refrigerating hot foods or exposed liquids (both of which will make the condenser work harder);
2. Keeping the cooling coils clean and dust-free;
3. Positioning the refrigerator away from heat sources and direct sunlight;
4. Keeping the freezer stocked with bottles of water (which can be used as ice packs and impromptu air-conditioners -- stand two bottles up and let a table fan blow air in between the cold bottles.) Filling the freezer helps maintain the temperature as there will be less empty space and circulating air to be chilled;
5. Removing frost from the freezer manually, as the auto-defrost function consumes a lot of energy;
6. Keeping the fridge clean and not overstocked to the point that the door seal cannot close tightly;
7. Opening the fridge door with care (i.e. one hand on the door handle and the other hand on the fridge unit itself) to reduce wear-and-tear on the rubber seal, which was what did the old fridge in.

Upon evaluation, my highest energy use appears to be at the office, not at home. Therefore, in order to reduce the amount of time I spend on the computer at work and hence reduce energy consumption and carbon emission, I made a resolution a month ago to increase productivity at work so that I can leave earlier. Here are the steps I took to reduce computer and energy use at work:
1. Reset the monitor to go into sleep mode after 3 minutes of inactivity.
2. Shut down entirely if leaving my desk for over 1 hour.
3. Refrain from internet use during work hours.
4. Limit myself to only 2 hours of absolutely necessary internet use (for research) at work.
5. Stay focused and complete my daily work on time.

I have so far managed to reduce the number of hours I spend at work from 12 hours a day to 10 hours a day. My future goal would be to clear my backlog so I can further reduce my work hours to 8 hours a day.

I do my personal work on my HP Mini Netbook instead, as it is far more energy efficient than a desktop unit.
(Average watts per hour: Off - 0.57. Sleep - 0.69. Idle - 6.93. Load - 13.57. Raw kWh, 24.72.)

My future plans to further reduce home energy use would be to install solar outdoor lights so we won't have to leave the porch light on after dark.

Day 6: Water
(Friday, 3rd September 2010)

My housemates and I haven't had to pay anything for our home water use since the March 2008 General Elections, since we use less than 20 cubic metres (2,000 litres) of water a month and are therefore subsidised by the Selangor State Government.

For someone who is as fastidious about cleanliness as I am, how did I keep our water use so low? Here is an overview of my water footprint:

1. Each shower on average uses only 2.5 litres of water! I found out by standing in a pail and collecting the water used during a 5-minute shower. 3 showers a day x 2.5 litres = Only 7.5 litres a day, which is less than what an average bathroom cistern would use in a single flush.

2. I filled empty glass coffee jars (we don't have many plastic bottles lying around the house) with pebbles and water and used them as bathroom cistern water displacement devices, so that each flush uses 600-700g less water than it would have.

3. "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" is just too disgusting for words. Instead, I collect the soapy water from cleaning the house, washing sneakers/rugs/whatever and showering and use it for flushing the toilet with. No odours, no unsightly stains in the toilet, and no compromise on toilet hygiene.

4. The aforementioned soapy water collected from previous uses is also used for cleaning cat litter trays, the driveway and the drains. Clean water is only used for rinsing if necessary. Using clean water to flush toilets and drains seems such a waste, especially since so many countries are experiencing freshwater shortage.

5. Rainwater is collected and reused for outdoor cleaning, watering the plants and washing the Battletank.

6. I use only biodegradable and phosphate-free soap and cleaning agents. This means less water is needed for rinsing, as there is less toxic residue.

7. I have to do my laundry only once in 8-10 days, as I opt for clothes made of lighter materials. In addition, I use only biodegradable and phosphate & branched alkyl-benzene sulphanate-free laundry detergent, and further reduce the amount of detergent needed by using a laundry eco-ball, so less harm is caused to our waterways and groundwater supply. I make my own laundry spray using colourless eco-friendly dishwashing liquid and a few drops of tea tree oil. The eco-ball also eliminates the need for fabric softener, thus reducing consumption, packaging and waste.

8. When cleaning the house, I sweep up and dump the sweepings in the compost heap before mopping the floor or cleaning the driveway. This reduces the amount of water and cleaning solution needed in the cleaning process. It might be a little cumbersome, but one gets used to it quickly, and it's good cardio exercise.

9. Outside of the home, when I am bathing the dogs at the SPCA, I turn the water on only for rinsing; use a sponge, spray bottle or a dipping pail when applying tickwash (to prevent toxic runoffs); and sweep up and dispose of waste before cleaning the kennels. I advise all the other volunteers never to use a stream of running water from the hose to 'sweep' the floor -- always use a broom and dustpan instead, then swab all areas using a mop and pail of soap and disinfectant, and use a plastic broom to sweep away the water when rinsing/hosing down to speed up the process and avoid water wastage.

My home water conservation plans for the future would be to install a proper rainwater harvesting system and to replace the old washing machine with an energy-efficient, water-saving model.

Day 7: Giving Back
(Saturday, 4th September 2010)

The "No Impact Week" participants' manual urges us to assess where we are on this ladder, the highest rung of which has the highest impact on society and the environment, in descending order:

Where are you on this pyramid?

Career: Work for a non-profit.

Leader: Run an ongoing project.

Weekly: Donate time to more than one project.

Monthly: Volunteer.

Annually: Write a cheque.

I am on rungs 1, 2 and 3.

Career: I left a career in legal practice to work full-time for a humanitarian organisation and have never been happier.

Leader: I am currently the Vice-Chair of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor Branch and Senior Volunteer/Volunteer Coordinator of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Selangor. I also continue to coordinate most of the activities for Green Living and Eco Kids, including environmental outreach programmes for underprivileged children. Also, I set up and run Project Second Chance, a personal initiative to rescue, rehabilitate, vaccinate, neuter and rehome stray and vulnerable animals.

Weekly: I volunteer with the SPCA animal shelter for a minimum of 4 hours almost every weekend and assist in supervising and training new volunteers. I also volunteer with the Malaysian Nature Society on an as-needed basis, usually 2-3 times a month. I assist other organisations such as CETDEM, Waterfall Survivors and Bentong Farm Sanctuary on an as-needed basis and am also looking into volunteering with the Global Environment Centre and a community recycling programme on a monthly basis.

Day 8: Eco-Sabbath
(Sunday, 5th September 2010)

For the No Impact Week Experiment, we are encouraged to plan our day of rest in such a way that we don't use any of our appliances, electronics, motorized transport, or money. This is a rather difficult challenge for me as my weekend routine is that I go back to the parental home every Saturday night and spend Sunday cleaning my parents' house, doing yard work and bathing our dogs, Amber and Chocky.

I am not sure if my efforts to cook simple, healthy meals at home instead of taking my parents out to eat will be appreciated as I am vegetarian and they are not, therefore I will just endeavour to use as little electricity as possible and avoid driving on Sundays.

While personal action may not always equal political change, it does have value. Personal action completes and complements political and public action. When there are enough people taking personal action, it sends out a clear message against exploitative and destructive systems, and lets lawmakers, businesses and service providers know what we want. Also, the idea behind a low-carbon, low-impact lifestyle is not that the world is better off without us, or that living an environmentally responsible lifestyle would necessarily entail many sacrifices, but that our act of choosing a lower-impact lifestyle and products is also a form of voting -- with our money, our time and our resources.

"No Impact Week" is not about giving participants a false sense of moral superiority. It's not about doing 'too little, too late' when the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It is about exploring and experiencing choices and possible solutions. It is about reclaiming our quality of life and mitigating our sense of helplessness in the face of environmental problems. It is about integrity. It is about making sure one's actions and decisions reflect one's environmental values. It's about doing what you know to be the right thing, whether or not someone else is watching or keeping count, whether or not the other 99.99% of the population is following suit.

We may be calling it "No Impact Week", but it is a week with great impact indeed.


Cat-from-Sydney said...

From little things big things grow...we salute your energy and commitment, mate! purrr....meow!

Unknown said...

WOW! A GREAT impact week indeed! You've shown us so many ways to be eco-friendly.It goes to show everyone can play their part.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you, dear Kitties-In-Sydney! You've captured the spirit of No Impact Week perfectly -- from little acorns, mighty oaks grow, no?

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you, dear Keats! "No Impact Week" has prevented me from becoming complacent and has challenged me to try out new things! Don't be surprised if I start cycling to work!

Pat said...

You've had a brilliant week! I am so impressed by what can be done, and that it needn't kill us to do it. Some of what you do we already practice - seeing as how we're retired, and trying to live as wisely as we can.

I'm also so interested in your baju-washing soap! I have eczema on my hands, and although it is now down to my pointer and thumbs (at its height, it covered my whole palm and fingers), I am careful about touching soap, and only wash my hands and face with Cetaphil. But, dishwash, and baju-wash will find its way to my fingers now and again. I'm going to go check out your soap now!!!

Thanks :)

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Hi, Pat! Thanks for stopping by! Sorry to hear about your eczema. What a pain! I can buy the Eco-Ball and laundry detergent for you, and meet up with you sometime to hand it over?