2016-02-05 / Community

Sustainable SoPo

‘Sustainable’ can be applied to many areas

Sustainability and sustainable practices have received a great deal of press in the past few years. Simply put, a sustainable practice is one that does not deplete the raw materials required for the process nor create waste that cannot be either recycled or absorbed into environment.

Sustainability is a concept and sustainable practices are the actions we take to implement the concept. Sustainability can be applied to economic practices, where an economy is based on interactions that do not deplete resources or create a waste stream that builds faster than it can be absorbed.

Our current reliance on fossil fuels as a large driver of our economy is an example of an unsustainable economy. It is unsustainable because it relies on a finite resource (oil and natural gas stores) and it creates both a waste stream, primarily carbon dioxide (CO

2), and pollution (hydrocarbon waste and methane (CH

4) leaks) that accumulate at a rate far greater than what the natural environment can absorb. Whether you believe that the stores of oil and gas can last another 10 years or another 100 years, the amount available is finite and the closer we get to the end of the resource, the greater the expense to extract the resource. Similarly, while there are still people who argue as to the effect of the burning of fossil fuels on our environment, the overwhelming scientific evidence is that the continued increase of greenhouse gases, primarily CO

2 and CH

4, is leading to rising temperatures and sea levels as well as an increase in severe weather (storms, droughts and flooding) that is detrimental to our existence.

All of this sounds very stark and often results in people either feeling overwhelmed and powerless or they refuse to recognize the problem. There are, however, concrete and important steps we can all take to make our lives and our economy more sustainable. As a child of the 1960s and 1970s, I was taught ways to reduce pollution as well as ways to reduce energy usage. Almost half a century later, technology has advanced so that many of the low pollution/low energy options we have don’t require the same compromises they did in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or even the 1990s. Here are a few actions, some simple, some more involved, that we can take to reduce our carbon footprint and make our lifestyles and economy more sustainable:

• Select an energy provider that uses a high percentage of renewal energy (wind, solar, hydro, biomass).

• Car pool. Simple, but if you commute to work in a car pool with three other people, you can reduce your gas consumption by up to 25 percent (depending on the amount of commuting you do as a percentage of total driving). Don’t forget, each person in the car pool also reduces his or her gas consumption.

 Commit to taking mass transit (buses, trains) more often. The rational is similar to car-pooling, just on a larger scale. The gas consumption reduction can be more, but as you need to pay for a ticket, the economic benefit may be slightly less.

 Recycle. While recycling does require energy to renew material, it cuts down on the need for new raw materials. In the case of paper products, recycling cuts down on the number of trees needed and gives forests more time to recover between harvests.

 Buy locally grown food and locally produced products. Buying local cuts down on the transportation energy costs – it also is a great way to support the local economy and contribute to the standard of living in your neighborhood/ city/state.

 In your home, replace incandescent and CFL bulbs with LED lighting. When needed, replace old appliances with Energy Star certified appliances to reduce electrical consumption. Install low flow shower heads and dual flow toilet valves to reduce water consumption (and therefore reduce the energy required to process wastewater back into potable water).

 Convert your heating system to a high efficiency boiler (90 to 98 percent for natural gas or propane, 85 to 90 percent for oil) or a wood/pellet boiler or stove for primary or supplemental heat.

 Solar hot water can be used for both domestic hot water

supply as well as forced hot water heating of the home. In most instances, both these systems will require a traditional backup and usually solar water heaters for forced hot water heat systems are a supplement to gas- or oil-fired boilers. Solar collectors and associated tanks and plumbing usually run from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on capacity.

 Install a solar panel system for your electrical requirements. Typical systems range from $15,000 to $30,000 and are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit. Typical payback periods (assuming you pay cash for the system) are about 10 to 12 years.

 Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle. Many of the more efficient gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles equal or exceed the miles per gallon of hybrids. Hybrid vehicles offer significantly better gas mileage, often without compromising performance. Electric cars are completely gas-free and are great for in-town and short commutes. Extra points if you charge it with solar or other renewable source.

The transition off non-renewable and highly polluting energy sources is happening. The technology for renewable power is improving. As the demand for renewables increases, there is more incentive for investment in renewable power sources and technology. Reducing our consumption of nonrenewable energy and choosing renewable sources when we can is one way to ease the transition to a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable economy.

The South Portland Energy and Recycling Committee meets the third Wednesday of each month at the South Portland Community Center. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and are open to the public.

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