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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Our Steps Toward Sustainability: Ways to Reduce Electricity

Let's find out what electricity does, by mucus*plug on Flickr


I’ve been writing a lot about gardening and food lately.  So I wanted to touch on some other subjects.  For the last several years, Matt and I have been working toward a sustainable lifestyle in numerous ways – and growing our own food is only one of many things we’ve been doing.

Those of you who have been following our story for a while now, know that back on November 2, 2007, Matt and I joined the Riot For Austerity.  Like many challenges we have taken, this was for us a good motivator to make quite a few lifestyle changes we’d been thinking about.  Sort of a kick in the behind, shall we say?  Basically by joining the Riot For Austerity, we agreed to attempt to reduce our CO2 emissions and natural resource usage to just 10% of what an average American uses.

We achieved our goal of a 90% reduction back on September 24, 2008, and we’re still there! I don’t write about the Riot For Austerity much, because it has become a way of life now, and I don’t think about it much anymore. We have redefined normal.

But not all of us are as far along in our journey toward sustainability.  Some of you may not even be on that trajectory, and that is ok.  The things we’re doing have also decreased our spending considerably.  And not only that, they have made us much healthier, happier people.  Those are two great reasons to make some changes!


So I thought I’d just list some of the things we’ve done, to see if it helps any of you find some changes you haven’t thought of before.  Please share other things you’ve done in the comments!


Ways to Reduce Electricity Use


  1. Give away microwave on Freecycle.
  2. Use very few electric appliances, doing everything we can by hand.
  3. Consolidate oven cooking, so we cook several things while the oven is hot.
  4. Use toaster oven in place of regular oven whenever possible.
  5. Turn fridge to low setting that just keeps things at the right temperature (40F), no colder (when we lived in Geyserville, we were able to use our own tiny energy efficient fridge, but unfortunately this apartment came with a fridge).
  6. Remove window A/C.
  7. Turn off wall heaters from the electric box.  Instead, use energy efficient space heaters on low heat, only in rooms where we need the heat.
  8. Turn off computer monitor whenever we step away from the computer.
  9. Stop watching television except on special nights when we rent a dvd. Turn off at power strip when not using.
  10. When our old tv died, we purchased an energy efficient LCD tv.
  11. Replace all light bulbs with CFLs.
  12. Turn off any lights when not in use.
  13. Shower in warm water, not hot.  And shower fewer minutes, and less often.
  14. Wash dishes in the dishwasher, on cold, using energy saver, and without rinsing dishes first.
  15. Wash clothing in cold water.
  16. Use a light spray water mister to unwrinkle clothing, rather than an iron.
  17. Lower water heater temperature.
  18. Turn off computer at power strip at night.
  19. Use laptop while working at home as much as possible.
  20. Live in a small apartment – making heating, cooling, and lighting more efficient.


This isn’t really that much – it’s mostly simple things that just add up.  I encourage you to try a new way to reduce your energy bill, and begin living more sustainably this week!


Please Share – What Do You Do To Reduce Electricity?

How Much Energy Does It Take To Store An Email?

Email Envelope

I’m going to guess that I’m not alone when I nonchalantly hit the “Archive” button instead of the “Delete” button to remove a good portion of my emails from my Inbox.  Am I right?  

I know, deep down within my being, that maybe that’s not the right course of action for the planet.  I’ve heard that there are enormous Googleplexes in the middle of nowhere, secretly sucking up megatons of power.  I understand that the “Archive” neverland is actually a real place on a hard drive somewhere within that Googleplex.

So this morning I set out on a (LONG) quest to find out how much energy it takes to store an email message.  I must say, I searched and searched and did not find a solid answer.

I found an interesting article about Google storage in Harper’s, which states:

“Velcroed together, stacked in racks, and lined up in back-to-back rows, the servers require a half-watt in cooling for every watt they use in processing, and Google leads the field in squeezing more servers into less space. Based on a projected industry standard of 500 watts per square foot in 2011, the Dalles plant can be expected to demand about 103 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city the size of Tacoma, Washington.”

The article goes on to write about the Dalles Dam specifically, which utilizes power from a “clean” hydroelectric power plant that has obliterated salmon populations, beautiful waterfalls, and the area economy.

The Dalles Dam

Which is when it dawned on me that of course there is more to this issue. Isn’t there always?

When we Archive an email, it gets stored on a hard drive somewhere.  Not only are we utilizing the energy it takes to run the hard drive, we are also using the energy it took to mine the raw materials and manufacture that hard drive, the energy it took to ship that hard drive, the materials to create the place where that hard drive is housed, the energy used to keep that hard drive cool, the multiple cabling used to connect that hard drive to power and other equipment, the materials and energy it took to generate the power that drives it… and that’s just the part I thought up on the spot.

A simple email with text is very small, maybe a couple of kilobytes.  But 10,000 very small emails become 20,000 kilobytes (20 megabytes).  Google tells me I’m storing about 3 gigabytes of emails.  Multiply that by the number of people who are storing a similar amount, and that number becomes pretty darn BIG!

Now include all the many photos we’ve all uploaded to Flickr, Picassa, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook, etc – each of which are between 100 kilobytes and several megabytes – and suddenly we have a whole lot of data being stored out there.  With a lot of resources used to store it.

Googleplex Being Built

Finished Googleplex

Google’s complex at The Dalles includes three 68,680 square foot data centers, an administration building, a dormitory, and an 18,000 square foot facility that houses its cooling towers.  I don’t mean to pick on Google here, nor this particular site.  Google has several such sites, but think about all the other companies that have them!

So whatever the number is for individual email storage seems like it doesn’t matter too terribly much.  It’s small.  Just as my vote in a national election is small.  But they all add up, and together they make a large impact.

I’m going to go delete my unneeded emails now.  And duplicate photos I don’t need (maybe some bad ones, too!).  And I’ll start hitting that Delete button a whole lot more.

90% Reduction Achieved

My new favorite type of tomato: The Japanese Black Trifele


I don’t write about the Riot For Austerity very much here. Maybe it’s because I cringe every time I write out the name (it’s a little strange), maybe it’s because I know that some of you might think I’m insane for taking on such a project, or maybe it’s because I’m largely focused on Community Building of late. I will admit that I am not as active member of the group as I was, but I still think it’s a noble ambition and we do continue to reduce our household emissions.


What’s This Riot?

If this group is new to you, here’s the gist of it. George Monbiot writes:

If we’re to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures from rising by 2C (3.6F) above preindustrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030.

We have seen the maps of CO2 emissions, we know who we are: the US, Canada, Norway, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kazakhstan, Finland, Russia, Japan, Libya, UK, Germany, South Africa, Korea… these are the world’s highest CO2 producers per capita.

Monbiot continues:

Climate change is not just a moral question: it is the moral question of the 21st century. There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it’s happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it.

Members of the Riot for Austerity have decided to take those measures into our own hands. We are changing our lifestyles and reducing our CO2 emissions by 90% of the American average. With our successful actions we hope to motivate others to do the same, and we hope to show our governments that we can and will make these drastic changes voluntarily. And happily.


Our Family’s Changes

Last year Matt and I considerably reduced our usage of water, electricity, heating and cooking fuel, garbage, and consumer goods. We have been changing our lifestyles for many years, so our starting point last year was at about 40% less than the average American household. But by the time we left Geyserville, we were close to 90% reduction in every arena excepting transportation.

Gasoline. Car driving. That was over the American average. By a lot.

So when we were looking for a new home town earlier this year, we looked for a place where we could reduce our driving. We found a dense, walkable urban neighborhood in the heart of Seattle. And when we were looking for jobs, we looked near our home. I am lucky to be able to work from home most of the time. Matt walks less than a mile to work. We walk to our doctors, dentists, grocery stores, library, gym, pet store, farmer’s market, neighborhood sustainability meetings, and nearly everything we need. I walk on average 2 miles per day!

Plus we live right on a bus line that takes me to our family allotment and many other areas of town.


Did Our Latest Changes Make A Difference?

Well, after four months of living here, I have been able to tally our CO2 emissions using this handy dandy Riot For Austerity calculator. The drum roll please…

The Riot For Austerity divides our usage into 7 categories. Here are our results for each category:

1. Electricity. 90% reduction.

2. Heating & Cooking Fuel. 100% reduction (we don’t use either).

3. Garbage. 94% reduction.

4. Water. 90% reduction.

5. Consumer Goods. 97% reduction (we haven’t bought anything new in a while!).

6. Food. 90-95% reduction. (The Riot calculates this differently, but we are on target).

7. Transportation. 88% reduction.

Yeehaw! Ok, 88% isn’t 90%, but considering that we’re 100% in other areas, I think it’s pretty darn fine.

So there you have it, folks. Since we left Los Angeles a little over a year ago, we have dropped our CO2 emissions by about 50%. You can do it, too!

I know it sounds difficult to some of you, but just remember to do the best you can and keep working at it. It is important. We are changing the world, whether we like it or not. So let’s change it in a positive direction. We can make a difference with our actions. One step at a time!!

What Is Your Walk Score?

Everyone finds home in different ways, we all feel at home in different places. But one big thing we were looking for when we moved to Seattle, was to drive less and walk more. The cost to the environment and our budget was getting pretty steep in Geyserville, where we had to drive many miles to get just about anywhere. We were hoping it would be different here in Seattle…


Originally I found this link from Patti’s Foodshed Planet, quite a while ago. I was totally bummed, when I learned our score back in Geyserville. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize how bad. Ready? Here was our walking score in Geyserville:

Geyserville Walk Score


ZERO. Sad isn’t it? Our little house, all alone in the middle of nowhere… Sigh.

So then recently Cheap Like Me featured the same site, and I was excited to check out how our new place compared. We really searched for a city that was sustainable, and a neighborhood within the city that was as sustainable as we could get. So… ready? Here it is:

92. It’s hard to believe that the two maps contain the same distance, isn’t it? Seattle is actually featured on the site – I’m not sure why – maybe it’s from here? Anyway, you can take a look at Seattle’s overall walkability: 72. Our neighborhood comes in 12th on the list of top walkable neighborhoods in Seattle. That’s because it’s a huge neighborhood. But we’re 2 blocks from downtown, #2, and 3 blocks from First Hill, #3, so I think we fit more there. (We live almost dead center in that green circle in the middle of the map.)

City Walkability

Is It Accurate?

Well, I’m sure it doesn’t take everything into account, and everyone wants to walk to different types of businesses. But we haven’t used the car in a week! Matt walks to work downtown, we shop within walking distance (except we do go to the Ballard Farmer’s Market about every other week because it’s so big in comparison to ours), and I can take the bus to our garden…

Since we moved here 10 weeks ago, we’ve driven 200 miles or so. That includes going all the way to pick up compost three times! By comparison, we were driving 100-200 miles per week in Geyserville!

So I’d say the difference in scores between Geyserville and Seattle is pretty accurate.

So, What’s Yours?

What’s your walkability score? Does the score has any relevance for you and your lifestyle? Or am I just full of myself, thinking we’ve solved this piece of the puzzle?