Live well with a lower impact
Get advice from an environmental professional on “going green.”
Jen McLaughlin lives in southern Ontario with her husband Joey and their four-year-old son, and works as an environmental manager for a large Canadian corporation. Her popular blog, Jen and Joey Go Green, offers practical tips for living a lower-impact, green lifestyle.
EL: What sparked your interest in environmental issues?
JM: My appreciation for nature started as a toddler, as we spent most of the summer camping and hiking. I loved it, and wanted to do what I could to protect nature for future generations. In high school I was sitting down by the river counting purple loosestrife plants for a science class project when I stopped to admire the scenery around me. Something inside just clicked and I knew that I wanted to go into the environmental field. In university I learned more about how interconnected everything is in ecosystems, and that one small act could make a difference, positive or negative. I chose the path of living a lighter life full of thousands of small acts, in hopes that overall the impact will be great.
Friends, family and coworkers noticed and were constantly asking me for advice on how they too could go green. From there my blog was born.
EL: How do you approach planning for green projects around your home?
JM: We start a project by looking at the overall environmental impact and brainstorming ideas to turn negative impacts into positive impacts. During our salt-water pool project, for instance, we had several opportunities to reduce the pool’s energy use. We installed a variable-speed pump that does not run as often as a traditional pump; it’s also Energy Star rated and only uses the energy it needs based on the settings we choose. Instead of a gas heater, we installed solar panels that allow our variable-speed pump to push water into tubes on the roof, where the sun heats it up.
The water then circulates back into the pool and shuts off when it reaches the temperature that we have pre-programmed. This approach reduces our overall energy consumption from running the pool and saves roughly $400 a month when the pool is open.
EL: What have you and your family done to save energy?
JM: It is often more about changing habits than spending money. Putting on sweaters, socks or a blanket in the winter, keeping our home at a more consistent temperature, using ceiling fans, turning lights and electronics off when not in use, turning down the temperature on our water heater and line drying our laundry are all simple habits that reduce the amount of energy we use. We also have a programmable thermostat, and blackout curtains make it easier to heat and cool our two-storey living room, shutting out sunlight in the summer and blocking drafts on windy winter days. We buy Energy Star appliances and look for additional features to ensure we aren’t losing energy.
Our fridge, for example, beeps to let us know that a door has been left open. We also have motion sensors in closets, the pantry and some hallways that turn the lights on when we enter and turn them off after a few seconds if there is no further movement.
EL: How has “going green” affected your cost of living?
JM: Being eco-friendly actually saves us money. Buying second-hand, fixing items rather than replacing them, up-cycling items into something new, making your own cleaning products and growing your own food are all simple ways that everyone can save money while living sustainably. Last year I bought an electric vehicle to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Up front, it cost me no more than I would have spent otherwise, and government rebates further reduced the cost. I also save money each month — I used to spend roughly $400 a month on gas, and now I spend $50 a month charging my car at home. I don’t have oil to change and the manufacturer pays for my annual vehicle inspections.
EL: What advice would you offer those looking to make more environmentally friendly choices?
JM: Stay focused on what you have control over and what is reasonable given your circumstances. If you are passionate about a topic you are more likely to be committed to making change, so focus on making improvements in the areas that are most important to you.
Start small, and try to understand what your current situation is for one specific area. Inventory your cleaners and look up their toxicity rating in the Environmental Working Group’s database. Or conduct a home waste audit to determine how to reduce waste. Most importantly, remember not to compare yourself to others. We are all at different points on this journey and that is okay.
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