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April 15, 2010 

Science Group Offers Green Consumer Advice for Earth Day

Americans Should Focus on Largest Pollution Sources, Scientists Say

WASHINGTON (April 15, 2010) – April 22 is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and for many Americans it will be a day to rededicate themselves to living sustainably and responsibly. To that end, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) wants to remind consumers that the best way to go green is by focusing on the largest parts of their environmental footprints.

According to the UCS book “The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices,” the bulk of pollution from individual households comes from gasoline, electricity and food consumption. The guide looks at the impact of individual consumer choices on air, water and natural habitats, and makes specific recommendations to help consumers reduce their environmental footprints. Those suggestions include:

TRANSPORTATION
• Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive.
• When you purchase your next car, consider the most fuel-efficient option that fits your everyday needs. In many cases, that will be a hybrid. The UCS Hybrid Scorecard rates automakers on how effectively they are deploying hybrid technology.
• Choose your vacation travel plans wisely. In its “Getting There Greener” travel report, UCS found that first-class air travel can produce as much emissions as a year’s worth of commuting. Buses, trains and cars often can be a better option. But sometimes a plane is actually a greener choice than a car.
• When practical, walk, bike, carpool, take public transportation or work remotely from home.

HOME ENERGY USE
• Make your home more energy efficient by adding insulation and sealing air leaks. These home improvements quickly pay for themselves through lower heating and cooling costs, while reducing energy-related global warming emissions and making your home more comfortable.
• Install energy-efficient appliances and lighting. The biggest sources of electricity use in the home are refrigerators, swimming pool pumps, stand-alone freezers and lighting. Look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star label when purchasing new appliances an electronics.
• Investing in a programmable thermostat and efficient heating and air conditioning systems will reduce your energy costs even more. Many utilities offer a free home energy audit to identify areas for efficiency improvement.
• Consider replacing energy-hungry incandescent lightbulbs with more efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). While these alternatives cost more up front than incandescents, they last longer and use less electricity. If every U.S. household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a CFL, we would reduce global warming pollution by an amount equivalent to taking more than 800,000 cars off the road, according to EPA estimates.
Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are even more efficient than CFLs but are still relatively expensive. However, prices are expected to decrease as the technology improves.
• Choose an electric utility that offers renewable energy from wind, solar and other sources. If your utility does not offer this option, consider purchasing renewable energy credits that support the development of new clean power sources.
• When it comes time to purchase a home, choose one that fits you and your family. An unnecessarily large home can cost you in the long run with excessive heating and air conditioning costs.

FOOD
• Avoid buying meat and milk from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). While CAFOs produce most of the meat and milk in the United States, they are responsible for a large amount of air and water pollution as well as and other public health and environmental problems.
• When buying meat in the grocery store, look for a label indicating that the meat was produced without antibiotics. Organic-certified producers never use antibiotics. UCS estimates that 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are added to the feed and water of animals that are not sick. This practice causes bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant. When those bacteria migrate to human populations, they produce infections that can be very difficult to treat.
• Buy food from farmers’ markets or join a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. This allows you to purchase food directly from farmers who have a commitment to agricultural practices that protect human and environmental health.
• Eat less meat. When you do eat meat, choose meat from producers who raise animals on grass or pasture. UCS analysis found that beef from cattle raised on pasture is better for the environment than conventionally produced beef and generally contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
• Think of meat as a side dish rather than a main dish. Eat more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
• Buy organic produce grown without conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetic engineering.

What about the everyday dilemmas of paper versus plastic bags at the supermarket, or cloth versus disposable diapers? UCS found that consumer goods and services, yard care and other consumer choices have a relatively insignificant impact at the household level compared with the areas listed above.

For more consumer tips, read the UCS monthly newsletter Greentips, which offers tips for reducing the environmental impact of everyday activities, from buying beer to avoiding bottled water, to choosing the right batteries for your gadgets. Greentips also offers tips for going green on a budget

Finally, UCS recognizes that the environmental problems we face are bigger than any one person or one household. That’s why UCS supports legislation to boost clean energy production, reduce heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming, and reduce lung-damaging pollution from vehicles and coal-fired power plants. The UCS Action Center gives citizens the tools they need to make sure policy makers make wise decisions about our transportation and electricity systems to ensure that we leave our children and grandchildren with a healthier, safer, cleaner planet.

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The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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