Everybody's doing it - coming up with lists of ways to reduce your carbon footprint. But many of these, we've noticed, include things you've already heard umpteen times (switch to compact fluorescent bulbs) as well as things that probably won't make much difference (unplug your coffee maker when it's not in use). Here's our list of suggestions, minus the most obvious and onerous.
Plant a tree. Trees take CO2, a gas that causes greenhouse warming, out of the atmosphere and turn it into oxygen; a mature tree, it's been estimated, absorbs 48 pounds of CO2 a year. Trees also help absorb runoff and reduce ozone, and their shade makes homes cooler in the summer.
Plant a small garden to grow your own vegetables. This reduces food miles and other energy costs associated with big farming, especially for processed food of any kind. Oh, and fresh veggies are healthier for you, too.
Go vegetarian a few meals a week. According to GoVeg.com, it takes about 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. And a single five-ounce portion of meat takes an estimated 53 gallons of water and creates 11 pounds of greenhouse pollution.
Pay bills online/sign up for e-statements. Saves paper. Saves transportation costs. The only pain is actually paying the bill.
Bring your own cloth shopping bags to the grocery store. Saves paper. Less plastic. No more ripped bags in the parking lot. No-brainer.
Carpool or bike or walk or bus to work. Keeping another car off the road saves on emissions, but also reduces traffic overall, which reduces the need for new roads. And so on.
Dress appropriately for the weather. That way you can save on air conditioning in the summer and set the thermostat a few degrees lower in winter.
Run dishwasher only with a full load. This saves on water and energy. According to the "Water, Use It Wisely" campaign, this can save up to 1,000 gallons of water a month. Also recommended: Skip the heated dry.
Wash clothes as full loads in cold water. Again, this is a water/energy win-win. And don't wash your clothes after just one wearing if they're not really dirty.
Dry clothes on the clothesline. The dryer is generally dinged as the third-largest energy-consuming appliance - and the least necessary. And hanging clothes outside makes them smell nice. Amazingly, though, some communities frown on this, and some subdivisions forbid it. The nascent "Right to Dry" movement should appeal to Madison's libertarian side.
Install a ceiling fan. Fans dissipate heat in the summer and circulate hot air in winter, for far less energy cost than air conditioning or heating.
Install an attic fan. These can bring attic temps down dramatically, so your air-conditioning needn't work as hard.
Caulk and weatherstrip your home. This is perhaps the cheapest and most effective way to keep in warm air during winter and cool air during summer. Simple self-adhesive starts at about $2 a roll.
Hang energy-conscious window coverings. Pulling your shades or blinds when the sun comes in will help keep your place cooler in summer. White window coverings will reflect the heat. "Honeycomb" shades create insulated pockets that keep rooms warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Exterior awnings also help deflect sun.
Install low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. Depending on what's installed currently in your home, a low-flow shower head can cut your water usage in half, and the cost of heating the water almost as much. Ditto with your faucets.
Mow your lawn with a push mower. Good exercise. Good for the environment. Doesn't use gas. (It's been estimated that mowing for one hour produces as much pollution as driving 200 miles.) And you don't have to give yourself a heart attack trying to start the engine.
Choose low-impact packaging. Ask yourself: Does it have too much packaging? Can the packaging it comes in be recycled? Can you buy it some other way, like from bulk bins?
Switch to a fountain pen. Disposable plastic pens range from cheap to free. But they're made from plastic that's not effective to recycle. Use a fountain pen or something that biodegrades, like cornstarch pens from Green Earth Office Supply or seaweed and recycled paper pens from archwaybay.com.
Use a recyclable toothbrush and refillable razors. Brush with a model that has a handle that can be recycled or reused, with only the heads being replaced. And, yes, you can still buy razors with replaceable blades.
Cook with the microwave instead of the stove or oven. Microwaves are about 75% more energy-efficient than electric ovens. Whenever possible, use smaller kitchen cooking appliances like a crock pot or toaster oven.
Turn off your computer. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it makes sense to turn off your monitor when you're gone for more than 20 minutes and the whole computer when you leave for more than two hours.
Use a smart-strip surge protector that stops power drain. TVs, VCR and DVD players, adapters for rechargeable battery-powered phones, cell phones, power tools and other electronic devices all drain power when not in use. These "smart" surge protectors will cut off the phantom current. Not just any surge protector does this; look for keywords like "energy saving" or "auto switching."
Skip your shower. Are you really so stinky? If you're just hopping in the shower to wake up in the morning, you could do a little tidy-up with a washcloth and shower every other day. The average 10-minute shower uses up to 50 gallons of water.
Unsubscribe to unwanted catalogs you get in the mail. Usually it's a matter of calling an 800 number or contacting the source via its website.
Turn off your dehumidifier. These appliances use a lot of electricity. But running either a heater or air conditioner also removes moisture from the air. Save the dehumidifier for those in-between times.
Sell, donate, recycle. The best way to keep something out of the landfill is to put it to a good use. Be creative.