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Friday, December 12, 2014

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eco-fashion friday finds – green gifts


Today’s collection of personal eco-fashion faves highlights gems and jewels to add a little sparkle all year, every year.

recycled sterling ring

(above) Who doesn’t love a cool ring? Handcrafted in NYC, this Crescent Spine Ring is made of recycled sterling silver; ($198) find @ odetteny.com

faire collection eco errings

(above) Ethically sourced, designed in NYC and artisan-made, owner Amanda Judge’s Faire Collection helps artisan communities in Ecuador and Vietnam reach a global market. Glam Drop Earrings ($28) @ fairecollection.com

stacked rings

recycled sterling necklace

(above) Based in Northboro, Massachusetts, you can customize baubles and accessories @ heartandstonejewelry.com. These personalized rings are made of 100 percent recycled sterling silver; ($95/each).

recycled gold jewelry

(above) If you choose to splurge … from recycled 14 karat gold and silver, a beautiful aquamarine necklace ($490) from designer MelissaJoyManning.com

sacred stud ring

expandable bracelet

(2 above) Alex and Ani – rings, bracelets, necklaces to suit your every mood. Hyacinth Stud Rings ($28) and Bangles (solar sky’s blessing wrap – $38)

eco earrings

(above) Ecofashioned from Mason Jar Glass, pretty drop earrings ($27) from Bottle Up Designs via amazon.com

Enjoy your holiday festivities … stay warm and green.

related: more eco fashion finds from The Alternative Consumer

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Friday, December 12, 2014

5 Financial Resolutions for the New Year


horizon

The new year is right around the corner, and it’s time to take stock of how things went this past year. As a self-described Capital C Consumer, I have enjoyed my year, but there are a number of ways that I can pick out where I could make better decisions with my money. You’re probably right there with me. That’s why I’ve decided to make my New Year’s resolutions financial in nature, this year. It’ll make my money go farther, keep me out of debt, and let me use my money how I want for years to come. So let’s take a closer look at this kind of “green.”

1)  Educate myself on personal finance. This one’s all the rage these days. Every finance blog you see is trying to convince people like you and me to get focused financially speaking. Now that I’ve been an adult for a little while, I’m seeing the balance one has to strike between things I want now and security I want to have in the future. This year I plan to learn a lot more about investment, and to make the purchases I make today very intentional.

2)  Buy Good Stuff. That’s right, if you are going to make a purchase this year, do your homework. There are so many forces that make it incredibly easy to buy all the time – the internet, credit, free 2-day delivery, free returns. All of these add up to me making a lot of impulse purchases. But I want to curtail those and focus on buying the right thing. From this day forward I will not just buy any blender, I will buy the Platonic ideal blender! I will read reviews. I will compare prices. I will buy the thing with the 8 year warranty, and I will make it last!

3)  Do a Budget. I mean, seriously, do it. You’re how old? It’s time to sit down with your little notepad, or whatever, and figure out how much you make, how much you can spend, and how much you can save. Quit playing games.

bch

4)  Start a Retirement Account. I’m not old, right? Oh, but if I started investing 10 years ago, I’d already have $30,000 saved and more than $1,000,000 more in investments by the time I retire? I see. Well, better late than never. I have recently started my IRA, and I will max it out this year. I will also move forward with OptionsXPress and get this personal finance train moving.

5)  Buy a Bike. This is just a personal one, but you might want to do this one too. It’s time for me to stop paying so much for my stupid car. I don’t drive it that much. I work from home. I can get anywhere I need to go (usually) on a bike. It’s time to make the jump and get to pedalling. Plus I can use the workout, but my wallet will thank me too.

These are just my New Year’s Resolutions, but perhaps you can relate. If you need to get your financial house in order, it’s time for you to resolve with me to make 2015 the year of personal finance. By this time next year, we’re both going to be in way better positions. Maybe we’ll be so happy we can splurge on gifts for the family. Maybe.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

10 Christmas Shopping Don’ts


green gift guide

  • Don’t buy anything a Kardashian might wear. Items include: bad rap musicians, undersized thongs, anything that was once a living creature, ex-professional basketball players and any fashion accessory that requires 2 or more sherpas to haul it around.
  • Avoid buying anything manufactured in a country you can’t spell or pronounce.
  • Avoid purchasing products made by workers who make less in a year than you pay for a bad haircut.
  • Don’t purchase tickets to any theme park that makes giant mammals do tricks your Yorky would refuse to perform.
  • Don’t shop in any store that’s big enough to have its own zip code. Keep your local small businesses alive.
  • Don’t buy any more holiday decorations if your home’s monthly electric bill doubles in December.
  • If you need to refill your gas tank to get to a store, it’s not local enough – save the emissions. Shop closer to home.
  • If, in the creation of a product, a gene pool needed to be modified, you should put it back on the shelf…
  • Just say no to anything involving fur, hair, skin or hide unless it’s breathing, alive and happy.
  • Don’t buy some piece of disposable junk for someone in lieu of doing them an invaluable service (clean those gutter anyone?) … showing them some authentic love, or investing in a gift with lasting, sustainable value.

related: more holiday gift guides fromThe Alternative Consumer

Christmas gift photo via shutterstock.com

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Green Holiday Gift Guide for Guys 2014


Thanksgiving has passed, signifying the arrival of the holiday season and the mad rush to collect the perfect gifts for the loved ones in your life. If you were able to abstain from partaking in this year’s Black Friday sales, I would like to personally congratulate you! The amount of flat-screen TVs and energy-demanding products flying out the doors of stores around the country on this grossly and inappropriately named day is staggering. Sure, new versions of these tech products are more energy efficient than their predecessors, but the ever-growing volume of smart devices and plasma screens drown out this energy conservation. This year, instead, let us put our environmentalists’ hats on and give the gift of sustainability. Your brother, uncle, father, son, nephew, etcetera just may appreciate if you use this short list of gift ideas as a guide:

hybrid light

Hybrid Solar Lantern from Hybrid Light
(above) This is especially built for the outdoorsmen in your life, or it could be given to the campers in your life. The extremely durable Hybrid Solar Lantern sports a small solar panel on the top, and will provide up to 6 hours of light from its 200-lumen LED with a full charge. The lantern can charge itself via the solar panel with any light source, meaning that if you find yourself stuck in the beautiful outdoors, you could even charge the Hybrid Lantern with your car’s headlights. That is, if you forgot to bring the lantern’s included car-charger. Stash the Hybrid Lantern with your home-disaster kit for a trusted light source during rough weather and power outages as well, as the lantern can hold a charge for years. But perhaps more importantly, give your loved ones the gift of no more batteries this holiday season with the Hybrid Solar Lantern from Hybrid Light.

kanteen

The Renewable Growler from Klean Kanteen
(above) Do you have a beer drinker in your life? Give them this hipster-esque reusable growler to make them the envy of the local breweries. Microbreweries are springing up all over the place; just look at this list of the 159 small craft breweries within a stone’s throw of where I am sitting here in Colorado. With this Klean Kanteen stainless steel growler, you can in to your favorite brewery, clink the bottle down on the bar and walk away with 40-ounces of your favorite brew, without collecting all of that glass! The growler could of course otherwise be used to tote your water, tea, wine, juice or whatever else you would like… I guess.

d1

D.I.Y. Mason Jar Terrarium
(above) If you are short on cash or gift ideas for the eco-loving guy in your life, consider putting together his own small, home terrarium out of a mason jar, as seen here. You might want to start with a large jar, then add some rocks, petrified wood or sticks and mosses or other small, low-water plants, and presto – you have given the gift of life in a bottle. Tips on how to do it via about.com and photo credit/inspiration: treehugger.com and joshleo

NRDC green gifts

World-Changing Eco Gifts from NRDC Green Gifts
(above) Finally, this is for the minimalist, non-materialistic men in your life who would appreciate a new boost of altruism instead of a new electric shaver. Why not visit NRDC Green Gifts and make a donation towards the kind of environmental activism they most value? With a small donation, your loved one will receive a personalized card thanking them for their support of a variety of eco-friendly projects. Choose from 32 different projects, such as the protection of bees, polar bears, monarch butterflies and elephants, or the gift of clean water, a donation to clean energy, or even the option to sponsor an environmental lawsuit on behalf of the planet. Whatever direction you choose, you can be assured that your gift will go towards the welfare of the planet.

related: more green gift ideas

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How about some Real Holiday Cheer?


Brrr, it’s cold outside, even here in Florida. Our friends at Prairie Organic Spirits have some tasty ideas for hot-toddy beverages to keep you nice (or naughty) and warm this winter.

Prairie Organic Gin Hot Toddy

(above) Prairie Gin(gerbread) Toddy
2 parts Prairie Organic Gin
1 part gingerbread syrup*
1 part lemon or orange juice
¼ cup boiling water
Directions: Fill cup with hot water and stir until gingerbread syrup is dissolved. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

*Gingerbread Syrup:
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Directions: Combine ingredients in a pan. Heat to boiling while whisking until all the powder substances dissolve. Boil for 2-3 minutes so syrup thickens.

Harvest Hot Chocolate

(above) Harvest Hot Chocolate
1 oz. Prairie Organic Vodka
¾ oz. Amaretto
2 tbsp hot chocolate mix (instant)
4 oz. milk
Whipped cream (optional)
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Directions: Prepare hot chocolate (as usual) with milk and stir in remaining ingredients. Top with whipped cream and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

spiced & spirited hot toddy

Spiced and Spirited (serves 2-3)
1/2 bottle Red Wine
2 oz Prairie Organic Vodka
3 cinnamon sticks + 1 for garnish
3 star anise pods
1 strip lemon peel
1 tsp. sugar
Directions: Add ingredients to a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until warm (do not boil), remove from the heat and let stand 5 – 10 minutes. Garnish with cinnamon stick.

Make merry, stay warm my friends…Cheers!

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Monday, December 8, 2014

5 Weird and Wonderful Uses for Solar Panels


alt energy

Most people understand that the integrity of the Earth’s atmosphere, terrain, and oceans are being threatened by climate change. This has prompted some energy companies and innovators to come up with creative solutions for generating electricity with solar power. The truth is, fossil fuels are in finite supply and these sources of energy are beginning to struggle to meet the increasing demands of the world’s economies. In addition to the problem of supply meeting demand, there is the fact that the traditional fossil fuels directly harm the atmosphere by releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants when used. Conversely, solar power is an alternative power source that is clean, simple, affordable, and sustainable.

Since innovations in alternative power sources have made the technology more affordable consumers have been making the shift towards these more efficient options, ranging from choosing to drive all-electric cars to simply swapping out incandescent lights for bulbs with lower wattage or LED lights. It is solar panels, however, that have continued to lead when it comes to providing homes and powering devices with alternative sources of energy. Solar innovations have replaced the older thick and bulky solar panels with thin film solar cells. This has reduced installation costs in solar energy and has broadened the potential uses and placement options for solar power producers. These new solar innovations in solar cells have shown to produce ten times the energy, compared to the conventional rooftop solar panels of yesterday.

solar shed light

The uses for solar panels around the home have become more varied thanks to the new innovations, much of this prompted by thoughts of climate change. These may include placing solar technology on dwellings and other buildings such as sheds and conservatories, (above). Also, there is now a solar powered Logitech Wireless keyboard that does not require batteries or traditional power sources. The keyboard can be powered by sunlight indoors or even by the light from a desk lamp. It is considered to be a “green” accessory. Another innovation is solar windows. These windows are treated with an electricity-generating coating that is transparent and actually converts sunshine into energy. Imagine the Solar Window being installed on all sides of a fifty-story building and the amount of energy that would be generated.

Less Conventional but Creative Uses for Solar Power

solar refrigeration

1.  Camels equipped with solar powered refrigerators are being used in Kenya. Unconventional?  Yes, but these camels are being used as mobile health clinics. Certain medicines and vaccinations are required to be kept at certain temperatures and that is difficult in the Kenyan climate. In the hot temperatures of Kenya, the solar-powered refrigerators have the ability to keep these medicines and vaccinations cool as they are being transported to rural communities by doctors, nurses, and aid workers. An international team that included California’s Art Center College of Design, Princeton’s Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, and the Kenya-based Nomadic Communities Trust all collaborated on the design of the crystalline solar-powered miniature refrigeration units. This included coming up with the bamboo camel saddle, which makes it possible for camels to transport the refrigerators over long distances.
(photo credit, designmattersatartcenter.org)

ice fishing

2. Solar-heated ice fishing shacks. The fact that the white snowy surface in the winter boosts the sun’s power makes this option quite viable for those who love to fish through the ice. An existing fishing shack can be insulated and sealed with foil and a heat collector can be constructed from plastic sheets and a bug screen. Cold air can be allowed between the collector and the wall via four holes in the walls. The sun heats the air and then enters the shack through a flapper valve. Even with outside temperatures of below freezing, the comfy fisher-person can enjoy temperatures of up to seventy and even eighty degrees Fahrenheit inside the fish shack.
(photo credit, pocketrangerblog.com)

solar oven

3.  Solar oven cooking is another alternative concept to consider. It involves collecting and trapping heat through the combination of the use of glass and reflective materials. These solar ovens can actually cook food at temperatures of up to 350 degrees with absolutely no fuel use. There are indoor and outdoor versions of these solar ovens and the only real down side is they take longer to warm up than conventional ovens.
(photo credit, solarovenchef.blogspot.com)

solar traffic sign

4.  Solar traffic signs can save communities a great deal of money over a period of time. They are wireless and quite flexible and the LED lighting is environmentally friendly and long lasting. Better still, in a power outage, the signs and lights will continue to work.
(photo credit, traffic-products.net)

solar paint

5.  Solar paint may be something that is not well known, but it is becoming all the rage in certain markets. While there are other paints which may contain toxic materials that can have some negative health affects, solar paint is based on solar cell technology, cleanly formulated to actually harness solar energy and convert it into electrical energy.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pulling Water out of Thin Air – Sustainable Condensers Create Drinkable Water


elowater turbine

Fresh drinking water is a disappearing commodity for many people of the world. In fact, some 750 million people in the world lack access to safe drinking water. With current climate changes the desperation for water is expected to increase. This need has triggered the rise of numerous new technologies. Most promising are those that are self-efficient. The following devices function by condensing fresh water right out of thin air – utilizing renewable energy to get the job done.

water from wind

Since 2011 Eolewater has been developing the WMS1000  a wind turbine that powers itself using the wind and collects water from the humidity in the air. The WMS1000 has been able to collect an average of 62 litters an hour of fresh water in 45 percent humidity at 24 degree Celsius. After being able to produce 1000 liters a day of freshwater the turbine is currently being shipped to Abu Dhabi for the first phase of tests in extreme weather conditions. If successful, the WMS1000’s wind powered water collection can be implemented bring fresh water to people in need.

NERIOS S3

Eolewater also has systems that harness solar to power water collection. The NERIOS S3 is a solar powered water condenser. It’s the newest model and boasts 28 individual solar panels. Its ice storage system means that no battery is needed for when the sunlight is not available.

fontus condenser

Also harnessing the power of the sun  is another invention called Fontus. Designed by Kristof Retezar a Austrian industrial design student; Fontus is a solar powered water condenser for your bike.

fontus self filling

Fontus attaches to the frame and when you ride air flows in through the filter, is cooled, water condenses then drips down into the removable bottle. Offering a way to allow bicyclists to ditch the camel-packs and make their own water as they ride.

fonuts design

In 50 percent humidity at a minimum temp of 68 degrees Fahrenheit Fontus can condense at a rate of 1 drop per minute. However it currently lacks an additional filter to prevent pollutants from being in the water so it’s not recommended for use in an urban setting. At a price point of 25 to 40 dollars for a unit it might be a fun investment for the alternative bicyclist.

These technologies all address a growing problem in different ways. With our need for fresh water growing by the day inventions like these might save rivers and groundwater from being tapped.  They can also create a water source for people that live in even the driest of environments. Although water collection from humidity is more practical in areas where humidity is high, these strides are perhaps a step in the right direction.

related: more green design projects featured on The Alternative Consumer

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Carbon Neutral Homes: The Future is Flat-Packed


zed factory homes

In February 2008, the first 100% carbon neutral flat-pack home was revealed by ZEDFactory – Zero (fossil) Energy Development. It was affordable, quick to put up and revolutionary in the way properties are designed.

flat packed home

The house was designed to be erected within a few weeks, and the cost of £150,000 for a three-bedroom property was seen as a huge step in making such eco-friendly homes affordable for more people.

ZEDFactory said that its flat-pack home has a Code 6 status, which is the highest level in the sustainable building code. The innovative idea has since developed and it could well lead the way to many more such eco-homes appearing over the coming years.

Key Features of the Eco-Homes
Wooden frames are used to build the houses, which is a carbon-neutral material. On top of this, they use eco-concrete that provides excellent energy efficiency and allows the building to absorb and release heat more slowly. As a result, the insulation is up to three times higher than in standard homes.

The buildings also make use of plants on the roof to attract birds and insects. On the south facing side of the room, solar panels are installed to generate energy for up to four people. A small wind turbine can also be added, and the energy can be used to sell back to the grid or to power an electric car.

A biomass boiler is used to heat the water in winter using wood chips, and a grey-water system and low-flow showers are used to reduce water usage.

How Can You Go Greener at Home?
You may not be able to take advantage of all of the features of these eco-homes, but you can still make a difference by making simple changes around your home. For example, you could invest in solar panels or a wind turbine, which can help meet your electricity needs in a greener way. Or you could do something even simpler and add more insulation to your home, such as cavity wall insulation or loft insulation. This can help you to reduce your heating requirements and cut your bills.

Saving energy means saving money, and another way to save money is to choose a more suitable tariff. npower has a Tariff Information Label tool so you can search for a suitable one in your area with ease. Or you can find a tariff that promotes other ways to save energy, such as npower’s Intelligent Fix tariff, which comes with the Nest Learning Thermostat at a reduced cost, which could provide you with a way to reduce your energy usage.

Then there are simple things you can do around the house to lead a greener lifestyle, such as:

  • using more low-energy light bulbs
  • turning off all computers, televisions and gadgets when they are not in use
  • collecting rain water to use in the garden
  • recycling as much of your waste as possible
  • buying reused goods rather than new ones

Cut Your Own Carbon Footprint
These are all ways to cut your energy use and live a low-carbon lifestyle, even if you cannot move into a new eco-home. Greener homes are likely to become more popular over the coming years, and that is good news for everyone, and by following simple tips you can have a big impact on your own energy use and reduce your environmental impact.

Contributor Evie Noble became interested in green technology over 8 years ago while building her own home. She now enjoys researching the latest tech and trends on today’s consumer market and writes about them on a variety of eco and tech blogs.

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