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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Breathe Easier by Idling Less

By Jeanne Murphy, Wildlife Biologist/Pinellas County Extension Education Coordinator

Scuttling along in traffic, my momentum was interrupted as the bridge lifted its arms to allow boat travel. I stopped my zippy little car, put down the windows that had been reducing traffic noises and I turned off the engine. The hum of the wind reaching through the windows and the gulls’ laughter made me think once again why we are so fortunate to live in this beautiful area.

Then the fumes came…
Then the fumes came sneaking through my open windows. My bridge neighbor’s had left their vehicles idling; billowing venomous emissions. Ick. What a way to dissolve a lovely spring moment.

Idling wastes gas—idling wastes your money.
Often we don’t even realize we are doing this dreadful deed of wasting gas and our money.

  • We turn the ignition key and idle while fidgeting in the vehicle. Instead, we should get our fidgeting done before we turn the key.

  • We sit like lumps in our idling vehicles while waiting for fast-food drive-through lines that wrap around the building. Instead, we should pull into a parking space, turn off the idling monster and enter the restaurant to place our food order. Not only would we reduce the greenhouse gases sifting into the atmosphere, but we might also ensure that our orders are correct too.

Of course, when waiting for the bridge to lower its arms so that we may continue our forward momentum, we need to remember to flick our wrists and turn off the idling ogres. Also, we could each drop our windows, breathe the salt-misted air and smile at our other non-idling bridge neighbors who are enjoying the same air as we are.

Friday, April 25, 2008

One Thing LEEDs to Another

By James Stevenson, Urban Sustainability Educator, Pinellas County Extension

The acronym LEED keeps popping up in the newspaper. In fact, LOTS of acronyms keep popping up in the newspaper. Our glossary can help translate what they stand for. Meanwhile, with several development and re-development projects being discussed locally, LEED might do with a closer look. What follows is a conversation between me and my other personality, exploring this. We hope it helps:

Colin: LEED, what is it?

James: Well, it stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and it has to do with the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED certified buildings have been put through an evaluation system as outlined by the United States Green Building Council (also known as USGBC, but that’s another blog!). This gives a renter or buyer some sort of yardstick to measure the “greenness” of a home or apartment. This is also very useful for the building industry, as a frame of reference in building or RE-building green. There is also a Florida branch called, fittingly, the Florida Green Building Coalition. This group helps Florida builders navigate through the greening process.

C: How does it work?

J: According to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), North America’s buildings cause the annual release of more than 2,200 megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, about 35 percent of the continent’s total. LEED buildings - which take into account the site, water, energy, resources, and indoor environmental quality - reduce CO2 production by 30%-40%.

C: Isn’t green construction more expensive?

J: According to a study conducted by the CA Sustainable Building Task Force, green buildings typically cost 2% more initially, but you'll recoup 20% of building costs over 20 years, thanks to lower utility bills.

C: What about existing homes?

J: The USGBC has an excellent Green Home Guide with loads of tips and resources. There is a handy checklist to help home-occupiers rate the greenness of their humble abode.

C: Thank you very much for the information.

J: Just doing my job. Now leave me alone and let me get back to work.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just One Day?

Happy Earth Day everyone!

Today we celebrate the Earth and look at ways of living a little lighter on the planet (we’ve only got one, you know!). Today, there are headlines in newspapers, specials on the television, celebrations in communities, and lots of Earth-friendly advice being shared.

But why just one day?

We hope you will join us in making habits of sustainable practices and we are here to help guide you toward that goal. Reducing energy use, eliminating pollution, existing peacefully with our wildlife, and building stronger communities are what we do here at Extension; and the advice is all free.

Whether it is landscape advice, energy conservation, health and nutrition, family living, youth development, or wildlife issues, our University of Florida faculty provide research-based information available every day at

Make every day an Earth Day and celebrate our wonderful planet year-round!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Now THIS is Edgy!

By James Stevenson, Urban Sustainability Educator, Pinellas County Extension

A one-woman campaign has been taking hold throughout the country. Tamara Krinsky has devised an elegantly simple campaign that should warm the heart of anyone trying to promote sustainable living: reduce the default margin setting on your word-processing program.

A 22 page, single-spaced document containing 9,500 words was reduced to a 17 page document, by changing from the default margin settings to 0.5” margins all around the page. That is a TWENTY PERCENT savings, which, in theory, means a 20% reduction in paper.

Watch Your Backside

Now, if that same document were printed 2-sided, only nine sheets of paper would be used, a further FIFTY percent savings.

To change the default settings of margins (PC version):
While in Word, go to File, Page Setup…, and chose Margins from the Margins, Paper or Layout tabs. Use the arrows next to the margin settings to reduce the default size to a size you are comfortable with. I find 0.5” all around to be just fine, but you can customize to suit your needs. Then you may select “Default” in the lower left pane of the window, and Word will ask if you are REALLY sure about making this decision. Click “Yes” and you are set! Now every time you go to create a new document, the margins will be as your new settings. Old documents, however, will not be changed automatically.

If you’d like to read more about Tamara’s campaign, visit:

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Watch Your Child’s Wasteline at Lunch

Did you know that on average, one school-age child packing a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year? In fact, just one average-sized elementary school of 280 children produces 18,760 pounds or over 9 tons of lunch waste in one school year ( .

Amazingly, almost all of this waste can be prevented AND save you and your child's school money. According to the EPA, a child taking a prepackaged lunch to school spends an average of $4.02 a day or $723.60 per school year compared to $2.65 a day ($477.00 per school year) for a child who packs a waste-free lunch--a difference of $246.60 per person per year! And that's not all. When families pack disposable lunches, schools pay higher waste removal fees. Packing a waste-free lunch reduces the volume of trash and thus helps schools save money.

Here at Pinellas County Extension, we offer a program called the Waste-Free Lunch Challenge. This program is usually conducted following a school visit to our Outdoor Classroom. The idea is for visiting students to have their lunch in the gardens while one of our educators takes them on a tour of their lunchboxes. Concepts of food miles, organic farming, fair trade, recycling, reusing and composting are all addressed over lunch. The challenge for the students is to leave as little waste behind, and to try to have at least one waste-free lunch within the month.