Hope for the American Energy Crisis

In an op-ed published this month in the New York Times, Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, declares that our energy productivity and energy security are the best they’ve been since the 70’s. This opinion finds itself in stark contrast of those who think we need to construct the massive Keystone XL pipeline, or create a surge of oil and gas drilling, or start a nuclear power renaissance. Keep reading to learn more about Cavanagh’s article.

Cavanagh says that we have President Obama’s climate action plan to thank for the new-found positivity surrounding our nation’s energy news. Obama’s climate action plan gives top priority to the most productive and lowest-cost options for energy, which includes the “energy efficient resources” that come from getting more out of oil, natural gas and electricity with efficient equipment and vehicles that are used more carefully.

According to government data, energy-saving efforts in the U.S. have resulted in a steady decline in energy use since 2007. In 2012, energy use was lower than it had been in 1999, despite the 25 percent growth spurt the economy experienced since then. Cavanagh states that this trend is the result of factories and businesses producing more products and value with less energy, the main goal Obama’s climate action plan.

American oil use is also in decline, down 14 percent compared to a peak in 2005. The U.S. used less oil last year than in 1973, even though the economy is now 3 times as large as it was back then! This is thanks to better mileage from our vehicles and driving those vehicles less. Greenhouse gas emission, energy costs, and gasoline use have also declined; saving billions of dollars and helping the American economy compete in a global market whilst helping to make the U.S. more secure.

To continue this progress, Cavanagh says that the federal and state governments must keep increasing efficiency standards for buildings, equipment, and vehicles. And the Environmental Protection Agency must reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by implementing standards that focus on energy efficiency to reduce pollution. He also states that utility companies should be rewarded by state regulators for helping customers utilize energy efficiently instead of penalizing those companies for not increasing their sales. Annual rate adjustments should be instituted by regulators to allow for unexpected changes in energy utility sales.

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has found many innovative ways to save energy; we have more than doubled the economic productivity of our oil, natural gas and electricity. America’s most productive energy resource has been efficiency all along and it starts with the everyday decisions we make at home and at work. By simply trading out our old light bulbs for energy saving bulbs and updating our homes and buildings with energy-saving products and appliances, we will continue to see our energy productivity and energy security increase in America. If we focus on achieving more energy savings, we will also reduce costs and pollution. It seems the future of energy is not as dark as it once seemed.

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Let There be Light: A guide to eco-friendly lighting options

As summer draws to an end and the days get shorter, that means less daylight — which, in turn, means more electricity used to illuminate your house. Given that lighting makes up a huge percentage of a home’s electricity bill (somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter of usage), looking at ways to save energy and money through your light bulbs makes good sense.

It’s been a long time since 1879, when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, forever changing life for Americans. And like any invention, the ensuing 134 years have brought modifications and improvements — many that save you resources and money. With lighting constituting up to 25 percent of the average home energy budget, it’s a great place to look for reductions in energy usage.

Here’s a look at some eco-friendly lighting options:

CFLs
According to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program, CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer, plus they save approximately $30 in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime. CFLs should be left on at least 15 minutes at a time in order to keep their lifespan at its peak potential.

Although CFLs used to give off harsh lighting, the color is improved and warmer now, making them a good option for everything from track lighting to porch lights to table lamps. Because they can sometimes take time to warm up to full power, they may not be the best choice for timed lighting. However, CFLs are definitely faster to light fully than in the recent past.

One of the turnoffs to buying these bulbs is a higher initial cost than incandescents. In the long run, though, you can save money — as an example, an 18-watt CFL used in place of a 75-watt incandescent will save about 570 kilowatt-hours over its lifetime, equating to a $45 savings (assuming 8 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Likely the biggest concern about CFLs is that they contain small amounts of mercury, which can be harmful if the bulb breaks. In case of a spill, the EPA provides guidelines for cleanup here.

More than 50 American Lighting Association showrooms across the country currently offer CFL recycling, as do many retail stories such as Home Depot and IKEA.

LEDs
When the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, replaced all downtown street lights with LEDs, they reaped an estimated savings of $100,000 annually in energy costs — or the equivalent of taking 400 cars off the road per year.

While these energy-efficient bulbs have been restricted to small usages in the past, like Christmas lights, pen lights, and in TV remote controls, more household applications are being developed every day. One barrier to their widespread adoption is that they are currently much more expensive than both incandescents and CFLs, but researchers have been working to develop less-expensive methods of producing the lights, which will bring down the price for consumers.

LEDs last about 10 times longer than CFLs, making them the most energy-efficient option out there right now. They don’t get hot like incandescents, and they don’t break as easily as other light bulbs. Many cities and electric companies offer rebates for LED lighting, so check with your provider to see what options you have.

According to Cree LED Lighting, the average price in the U.S. of running a 65-watt light for 50,000 hours would cost $325 in electricity. By using a 12-watt LED bulb, running the light for 50,000 hours would cost only $60, plus the lights are replaced much less frequently.

Energy Star Lighting
Energy Star has long been known for its appliances, but the program has also certified lighting fixtures for more than a decade, and now has around 20,000 offerings. While screw-based CFLs (those that you substitute for an incandescent bulb) are great at conserving energy, Energy Star fixtures outfitted with CFLs are even better.

If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, save more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars, according to a segment on CBS.

Looking forward, Energy Star is working on labeling solid-state light fixtures — those that employ LEDs as the light source — and you can expect to see more Energy Star qualified lighting products hitting the market. They also feature a buyer’s guide that can help you figure out what kind of bulb you need in different fixtures, based on what kind of light you want.

For a side-by-side comparison of incandescents, CFLs, and LEDs on issues of lighting quality and cost, read this article from financial blog The Simple Dollar.

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Sea Otters Saving the Coastlines

According to a recently published study from the University of California, Santa Cruz, endangered sea otters are playing an important role in protecting many vital aspects of the marine ecosystem. Sea otters feed on crabs, crabs who would otherwise eat the marine animals that clean sea grass of algae caused by agricultural run-off from farm pollution.

Thanks to the sea otters, those sea grass cleaning animals stay hard at work counteracting the harmful agricultural run-off affecting the health of costal ecosystems. The otters keep the crab numbers low allowing the sea grass to thrive, according to the UC Santa Cruz researchers. Species like herring, cod, and salmon use sea grass as nurseries, therefore the more sea grass they have access to the more their numbers will thrive.

The appetite of the sea otter is also helping to keep sea urchin numbers low. Sea urchins prey on giant kelp, but since the giant kelp has been able to grow, it is able to act as a shelter to many marine species and also help combat global warming by absorbing 12 times more carbon dioxide than if it was not being protected from sea urchins.

Southern sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction from the 18th to early 20th century when they were sought after for their thick fur. A small population survived in the Big Sur area of California and now their numbers have slowly recovered to approximately 2,800 in the area. Sea otters are just one of the many vital aspects of our marine ecosystem and one more reason it is so important to protect our endangered animals and assist in their recovery with federal protections and activism.

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Green Eating for a Healthy Home

Creating eco-friendly meals for your family doesn’t have to involve expensive organic produce and pricey fair-trade ingredients. Just by buying local fruits and vegetables, reducing your family’s consumption of meat, and choosing sustainable seafood can help to reduce pollution, carbon emissions, and the strain on our Earth’s natural resources. Dolphin Blue has gathered some great vegetarian recipes to help you green your eating habits. You’ll probably find that what is good for the planet is also delicious!

Veggie Stuffed Shells

Portobello Pizzas

Turkey, Tomato and Emmentaler Breakfast Sandwiches

Responsible eating can start before your meal preparation begins and last after dinner has been enjoyed. Keep reading for some more ideas on how to keep your cooking and kitchen eco-friendly. And don’t forget to try out Dolphin Blue’s environmentally friendly Preserve Kitchenware and Tableware.

  • Research sustainable seafood to ensure the ecological health of the oceans. Read labels or speak to your grocer to see which species are caught and farmed responsibly to make sure you’re buying responsibly
  • Cut more and cook less. The more you are able to cut your food into smaller pieces, the less time it will take to cook and therefore the less energy you will use
  • Put a lid on it. When boiling or simmering, put a lid on your pot and turn of your burner. This will enable your food to cook while also saving energy
  • Try to use all edible parts of your food. Leave the skins on your produce (after your scrub it clean) and eat all parts of your fruits and vegetables if you’re able to
  • Grow your own food! Learn more about sustainable practices by growing your own food and teaching your family how to grow their own food. The distance from your garden to your table is very eco-friendly!

Keep checking the Dolphin Blue blog every week for more eco-friendly tips for your home and garden.

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Infographic Friday: Sometimes Less Is More

Lao Tzu, or Laozi, is generally considered the founder of philosophical Taoism. Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with everything that exists. His quote reminds us that sometimes less is more and the things that we need are already within our reach.

Find eco-friendly inspiration every Friday on the Dolphin Blue blog!

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Infographic Friday: A Sea of Plastic

Captain Charles Moore was taking part in a yachting competition across the Pacific when he accidentally discovered what some have called the world’s largest “landfill” – an endless floating waste patch of plastic garbage known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Double the size of Texas, the water-bound swath of floating trash is trapped in a slow whirlpool called the Pacific Gyre, outweighing the surface water’s biomass by as much as six-to-one in some areas.

Since his discovery, Captain Moore has become dedicated to analyzing the huge litter patch and the harmful effects it has on ocean life. He founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and captains his research vessel, the Alguita, as he documents the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Through his research, he hopes to raise awareness about the plastic litter problem in our oceans and help to find ways to reduce it.

Follow this link to learn more about Captain Charles Moore and how he’s working toward a plastic pollution-free world!

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How To Start Your Own Compost Pile

If you’re planning your fall garden this month why not add a compost pile to the mix? Composting is a natural way to dispose of organic waste by breaking down organic material and transforming it into a nutrient rich soil additive, known as compost. Compost is a great, eco-friendly fertilizer for your garden. It loosens heavy clay so plants can thrive and helps sandy soil hold onto nutrients and moisture. Compost also encourages beneficial microorganisms that help your plants grow strong and healthy.

Getting your compost pile started is easy. Dolphin Blue has put together an easy to follow guide to help you take your fall garden to the next level!

Choose a spot. Select a warm, sunny spot for your compost. The composting material you put in will break down more quickly if the compost pile is warm and higher temperatures will help kill off any weeds that try to grow.  The microorganisms at work in your compost breaking down organic materials prefer warm temperatures as well.

Build your compost bin. You can create a successful compost pile directly on the ground but many people choose to keep a compost bin because it looks neater, can discourage animals from getting into food scraps, and also helps to regulate moisture and temperature. Your compost pile or bin should be at least 3 x 3 x 3 feet. A pile this size will have enough mass to decompose whether in a bin or on the ground.

Gather your composting material. Start by gathering two shovel-fulls of garden soil to help introduce the correct bacteria to start the compost cycle. Then collect a balanced mixture of “green stuff” and “brown stuff” for your compost pile.

  • Green stuff is high in nitrogen and helps to activate the heat process in your compost. These materials include young weeds, barnyard animal manure, grass cuttings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, teas leaves, and plants.
  • Brown stuff is high in carbon and helps to serve as the fiber for your compost. These materials include autumn leaves, dead plants and weeds, sawdust, cardboard, dried flowers/straw/hay, and animal bedding.

Fill your compost pile.
Start by spreading a layer several inches thick of dry brown stuff, like straw or leaves, where you want to build your pile. Add a layer of several inches of green stuff on top. Then add a thin layer of garden soil and another layer of brown stuff. Moisten the layers with water. Continue layering green stuff and brown stuff with a little garden soil mixed in until the pile is 3 feet high. Aim for a mixture of anywhere from 3 parts brown stuff to 1 part green stuff to half and half, depending on what composting materials you have.

(Click here for a list of things you can and cannot compost.)

Turn your compost pile every week or two. The goal of turning your compost is to keep air flowing inside the pile which encourages aerobic bacteria and decomposition. Anaerobic decomposition will smell very sour (like vinegar) and decomposes materials more slowly than aerobic bacteria. Turning the pile helps to encourage the growth of the right kind of bacteria and makes for a nice, sweet-smelling pile that will decompose faster.

  • Move your composting material from inside to outside and from top to bottom. Break up any clumps. Add water or wet, green materials if it seems too dry. Add dry, brown materials if your pile seems too wet.
  • Take the opportunity while you turn your pile to introduce new composting matter and mix it well with the older matter.

When you first turn your pile, you may see steam rising from it. This is a sign that the pile is heating up as a result of the materials in it decomposing. If you turn the pile every couple of weeks and keep it moist, the center of the pile will turn into black, crumbly, sweet-smelling “black gold”. When you have enough finished compost in your pile to use in your garden, shovel out the fertilizer you have created and start your next compost pile with any material that hadn’t fully decomposed in the previous one.

Composting Tips:

  • For faster break-down, shred leaves or clippings and crush egg shells
  • Add some red worms to your compost pile to aid in the decomposition process
  • Keep a mini compost bin indoors near your meal preparation area that is easy to fill up, transport daily to the compost bin, and keep clean
  • Collect the grass trimmings when you mow your yard to compost, unless you have a mulching mower
  • Cover your compost pile with a black garden cloth to help raise the temperature. If you live in town, this keeps the area looking tidier while still allowing the necessary airflow
  • Don’t add materials to the compost pile that are marked as “never compost”
  • Add more garden soil to help reduce any smells coming from the compost pile
  • Keep your compost heap moist, but not soggy or wet. The precious microorganisms can die if they dry up and the composting process will slow down

For eco-friendly gardening products such as organic fertilizers and seeds, be sure to check out the lawn and garden section of DolphinBlue.com!

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D is for Donate, F is for Food

It’s that time of year again; back to school time! And whether you’re a student, teacher, or parent, you’re busy getting ready to have a great school year. You may have already bought the school supplies that you need from Dolphin Blue, but before you present your new teacher with a shiny apple on the first day of school, chew on this food for thought.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently released a report revealing that 40% of food in the U.S. goes uneaten. Americans throw away about $165 billion worth of food each year, filling up landfills with food waste that accounts for a quarter of harmful U.S. methane emissions. But even though we waste a mind-boggling amount of food, one out of every six Americans is food insecure, meaning they aren’t sure where they will get their next meal or if they will get one at all. Luckily, you and your school can help make a difference this year.

Schools all over the country are implementing food donation programs to help offset American food waste and food insecurity issues. Thanks to recent legislation and the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, public schools and food donors can donate unused food items without liability or risk. Elementary schools are donating unopened cafeteria food to local shelters and food banks. Colleges and universities are implementing new donation programs fueled by student volunteer groups who pick up unused food from campus dining halls and deliver it to local soup kitchens.

Reducing food waste by 15 percent could save enough food to feed more than 25 million people each year. Limiting food waste also saves energy and precious resources like land and water. So, after you get your lunch packed and your notebook ready, take a lesson from thoughtful students around the country and learn how you can start a food donation program at your school. Call your local food bank to learn more about how you can help reduce food waste and start making green waves today!

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Green Toys are Safe Toys for Kids

Green Toys Recycling TruckWhen it comes to buying toys for your children or grandchildren you have millions of options. Toys are one of the most cherished aspects of childhood, yet each year many children are rushed to emergency rooms due to toy-related injuries So, how do you successfully browse the toy aisle to find a fun and safe toy for your child?

Dolphin Blue has compiled a short guide to help you find the right toy for your tot:

  • Paint on toys should always be lead-free
  • Toys should be made of non-toxic materials in case they are accidentally ingested
  • Fabric on toys should be flame resistant or flame retardant
  • Toys should be washable in case they become soiled during play
  • Check that noisy toys are not noisy enough to cause hearing damage to your child
  • Toys should not have small parts or strings that could be dangerous to a child if they break or come loose
  • Make sure a toy is intended for your child’s age group by checking the packaging or label
  • Be cautious of older toys or hand-me-down toys as they may not have been subject to current safety standards and could contain parts or paint that is dangerous to your child

Dolphin Blue took all of these guidelines into account when choosing the toys that we carry in our store. Green Toys are made from 100% recycled milk jugs and re-processed into HDPE, one of the safest plastics around. They are designed without any external coatings to eliminate the danger of lead paint and contain no traceable amounts of phthalates or BPA.

Green Toys are not only safe for your children, they’re also safe for the environment. Every Green Toy is sustainably made in the U.S.A. and completely recyclable. On average, every pound of recycled milk jugs used to make Green Toys saves enough electricity to power a laptop for a whole month!

Check out the Green Toys YouTube channel to see their toys in action and visit our online store to purchase your next children’s toy.

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Infographic Friday: Chief Seattle’s Inspiring Words

Former Vice President Al Gore’s book, Earth in Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, quotes an inspirational speech from Chief Seattle of the Squamish tribe. In 1854, Chief Seattle delivered his now famous speech to Isaac Williams, then Governor of Washington, while negotiating the sale of land that would some day become the city of Seattle, later named in the chief’s honor. Chief Seattle’s speech is revered by many for its heartfelt message and focus on respect and preservation of the environment.

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