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Ask the GreenMan

The GreenMan | Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Editor’s Note: This column is the first of a regular biweekly advice series about environmental issues from the Office of Sustainability. If you would like to submit a question for the GreenMan to answer in the Viewpoint section, please email [email protected]


Dear GreenMan,

This time of year I always find my bank account empty. Between traveling to see family, buying Christmas presents for everyone and supporting my caffeine habit during finals, my budget goes out the window. Although this isn’t a traditional “green” question, can you help me out?

— Broke in Badin


Dear Broke in Badin,

I know just how you feel. Believe it or not, so does the federal government. A few weeks ago, the chairmen of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released a preliminary report of their recommendations for achieving a balanced federal budget by 2015. Their report offers 58 action items that would result in over $200 billion in savings by 2015.

Among these 58 proposals, the report offers specific suggestions like setting copiers to double-side jobs by default, encouraging video conferencing to cut federal travel expenditures, improving the fuel efficiency of the federal fleet, using more energy efficient computer settings and technologies to reduce wasted electricity and completely eliminating the Department of Energy’s research funding for fossil fuels.

These efficiency measures amount to approximately $3 billion in savings by 2015. Clearly, there are differences in scale between your budget and that of the federal government, but you may be able to benefit from some of the same approaches. Saving paper is a good place to start: Try sending e-Christmas cards and opting out of gift wrap.

To more efficiently support that caffeine addiction, make sure to bring your reusable coffee mug and get your discount at campus cafes. While we’re on the reusable topic, a reusable water bottle provides 100 percent savings while hydrating you in an eco-friendly manner.

When you’re ready to head out after finals, find a friend to carpool home with and you can split gas and tolls. If you’re creative, you may even find you can make Christmas presents yourself out of materials you have.

Merry Christmas!

— The GreenMan


Dear GreenMan,

I really want to go to our bowl game this December, but I’m concerned about the environmental impact of traveling. Is it better to drive or to fly?

—Fan in Fisher


Dear Fan in Fisher,

As a diehard fan myself, I admire your devotion to the team as well as your eco-consciousness. Our bowl is expected to be somewhere in one of the southernmost U.S. states, meaning a trip of more than 1,000 miles each way. For short plane rides (under 300 miles), planes are way more energy-intensive than cars because most of the fuel is used for take-off and landing. But taking a plane all the way to the bowl is only a little worse than driving a car there by yourself.

However, if two people share a car, that’s half the emissions. If four people share the car, that’s a quarter the emissions … you get the idea. If you can’t take a bus or a train, carpooling is definitely the best way to reduce your impact.

You might say, “But the plane is flying anyway, so isn’t it better to hop on than to drive?” It turns out that fuel usage in planes is directly correlated with the weight onboard, plus the more people want to fly, the more flights airlines will schedule.

In short, car plus friends is a much better choice than flying.

Go Irish!

—The GreenMan


Have a question about the environment or how to go green in your personal life? Wondering about the ethics of dating someone who drives a Hummer? Curious about eco-friendly purchasing options? The GreenMan will be here every other week to answer your questions: email [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.