Cat writes: As the granddaughter and daughter of Holocaust survivors, my maternal grandparents and Mom lived the “waste not, want not” lifestyle. Things were repurposed, up cycled, repaired, and rarely thrown out. I grew up holding this value near to me and have passed on my love of conservation to Alex.
For example, I remember my Grandpa saving the white borders from pages of postage stamps, and using them as Wite-Out – likely before Wite-Out was invented. Now I’m the one who saves the white extra blank stickers that come on the prescription booklets from CVS; we use those to label all kinds of things. We also save the cotton that comes in the bottles of nutritional supplements for later use.
One of the best ways to help the planet is to not buy anything new, so we tie-dye stained clothes and ask for hand me downs for Alex when we want a refreshed style. We are part of two local “Buy Nothing” groups on Facebook, a fantastic way to de-clutter. Clothing that can’t be salvaged and other worn-out fabric items go into the pink recycling bags that Framingham provides.
Mother Nature leads the way in our yards: we don’t treat the grass, we let wildflowers blossom and we mulch leaves and grass. Four new trees were planted by Framingham High as part of the Treeplenish program.
We reduce food waste by putting expired food in the back yard and use food from local farms that would otherwise go to waste. Just got a nice bunch of turnips that I roasted as part of our Thanksgiving dinner, then used the leftovers as part of latkes for Hanukkah. Our eggs and honey are from our neighbor who lives around the corner.
We conserve water by saving the cold water that runs before a shower and using it to soak dishes and water plants. We avidly recycle (or give away) paper, plastic, metal. Plastic wrappers from food and other purchases go right into the big garbage can in the garage rather than into a plastic garbage bags. We reuse plastic grocery bags for trash. We favor reusable water bottles — no single-use plastic. We trade climate-saving tips and tricks with others in our city via Facebook groups.
In addition, we conserve energy by:
“The Earth is what we all have in common.” — Wendell Berry
We share the earth with 7.9 billion other people. In recognition of this, we try to minimize the impact that we have upon the earth’s resources and our community. Given that we already score negatively just by living in a single-family home in the suburbs with two vehicles, we take as many other steps as we can.
This journey started for Jocylyn at age 14 when she became a vegetarian and intensified when, in her 20s, she spent a year living with families in developing countries and experienced first-hand how most people in the world live. When she came back home, she started making more significant changes. A combination of personal, communal, and political actions form the backbone of our daily lives.
Personal actions include:
We are happy to share ideas and learn from others as we continue this journey!
Changes we’ve made in the house and energy use
We have lived in our 1952 Cape style house for 36 years. Over the years we have been able to do renovations and improve on the efficiency of the heating and cooling systems and have had several MassEnergy evaluations. We implemented new insulation, replacement windows and a new efficient gas water-heating system. We had mini-split units put in so we can cool down separate areas of the house in warm weather and heat them in the winter. By using fans, we can cool or warm first floor with one mini-split. As our house is not a good candidate for solar panels, we joined a solar program called Inspire for our electricity through Eversource.
Changes we’ve made in household activities
We live in Natick and we have an excellent recycling program. For curbside pick up, we do mixed recycling, food waste recycling and fiber and household goods recycling. Craig and I were part of the experimental Food Waste program, which is done through Black Earth Compost and have reduced our garbage in half. We also have a recycling center that takes latex paint, Styrofoam, large cardboard boxes, batteries, fluorescent and LED lightbulbs, motor oil, metals, large plastic items like lawn chairs, garden waste and wood.
We try to reuse things as much as possible.
Changes we’ve made in the garden
Changes we’ve made in our cars
I have had a hybrid Toyota Prius since 2010 and Craig now drives the Toyota RAV4 hybrid.
The actions we’ve taken so far are:
Many of the above have saved/decreased fossil fuel energy use, though those of course they entail a capital spend to do, except for composting, which can be free. We opted to buy a composting box in our current house that sits outside our kitchen. The initial boiler conversion saved ~$750 in natural gas costs/year for the life of the boiler so the boiler paid for itself in about nine years — then we just save fossil fuel and money.
While all these activities save money in energy costs that would have otherwise been incurred, the most noticeable were the insulation and the solar installation. Before purchasing an all-electric vehicle, we went from about $2,200-per-year electric bill to $0 per year until we purchased an all-electric vehicle. Because of the state incentives and the SREC system we should be making money after we break even starting in 2023 — that’s cash earned just for generating the energy, even though we also use it. I don’t know how much electricity we will purchase as a result of having the Tesla because I typically recharged at work. Now that I’m not working, we will see, but I predict we will spend $500–$900 a year on electricity; that could rise as we replace our older cars with plug-in hybrids or an all-electric vehicle. In general, we decided that any home improvement or purchase, where possible, was an opportunity to introduce a green measure and do our best to adhere to this policy.
All the measures above were easy to do. Some, like composting and using the compost in the garden, require some work while others like installing our solar panels were a matter of researching and finding a contractor. BTW, solar panels have already become significantly more efficient so they produce more electricity than when we installed them in 2017.
I tried to include the timing of some of the things we’ve done to the best of my recollection. The overarching reason for doing these actions was an attempt to be more eco-friendly and to aspire to eliminating fossil fuel use for our energy needs. We still have work to do on using plastics but have begun in small ways to address this as well.
I would recommend doing all these things if the budget allows. I particularly recommend converting away from fossil fuel for heating and transportation. The technologies keep improving. Though we have forced hot water heating in our house, which we like, we are hopeful that there will be an electric boiler that would allow us to further decrease or stop using our natural gas boiler but still allow us to use our forced hot water heating system.
Some of these actions, like converting to solar, save money immediately. While owning the system requires a capital investment, leasing (if it’s still available) may not involve much if any initial capital. All of these and more like diet change help to decrease our earthly footprint and most are health neutral or beneficial.
We never made a conscious decision to “go green” because of climate or it being the latest social-political trend. Having been born during Depression times, we were brought up not to waste anything, so striving to be green was simply a way of life. World Wat II imposed restrictions on energy and food. So for us “older adults,” it’s a natural and meaningful way to live.
We could go on, but this gives you the flavor. It’s a way of living! Some call it Yankee New England frugality. Simply a mind set to treat all resources as sacred and to be responsibly used, whether food, energy, manufactured products in line with Judaic teachings. A shirt without a button does not require a new shirt, only a button. This thinking was always the right and smart thing to strive for. It’s being green from core out!
We like many are seeking to further simplify, consciously reduce food, energy use, water, etc.
And yes, we always take doggie bags home. As kids our DNA became infused with
“waste not, want not.” Perhaps something like that is appropriate for being green as they are one and the same. Green is not new, merely an extension of respect for resources. Nice to see it rebranded for these times where resource waste has run amuck in our land of plenty. For us, it has always been a way to strive to live, being consciously aware of the earth’s limited resources.
I have had significant savings over time, a smaller carbon footprint, and the satisfaction of contributing to a healthier planet for future generations
While not difficult, these steps did require some research and forethought, careful planning and budgeting. When I needed to replace a car when my daughters were young I was glad to buy the 2004 Prius that had been redesigned to accommodate four people. I had read estimates stating that, were all Americans to drive similar hybrid cars, there would be no demand for Middle East oil, obviating the need for the devastating costs of waging war there.
I recommend all of these actions to members of Beth El.
I am also a member of Arcadia power, so my energy usage is from a combination of solar farms and wind energy. I pay a small monthly fee to buy wind power as needed.
Michelle and Michael have both been concerned about sustainability issues since they were kids. This has been an ongoing focus where they and their children learn about different aspects of living more sustainably. Their kids have introduced them to some practices, like when Eliana brought them backyard composting and the importance of native plants and Tobin did an in-depth research project on electric cars in high school. Here are some of the ways they are making changes in their behavior and technology choices. None of these feel like sacrifices.
Waste, yard, food and consumer products
Work and volunteering
As an engineer, Michael is a volunteer member of Newton’s Energy Commission (working on aggregation, heat pump and EV adoption) and Beth El’s Green Team, and he assists with implementation of Boston University’s Climate Action Plan. Michelle is a long-time member of the Massachusetts Envirothon Council.
Think green. When we first moved to Massachusetts in 1982 we explored the possibility of solar to heat our water, but quickly learned the presence of many trees on our lot made “going solar” infeasible. Oh, well. Nevertheless, we’ve tried to be energy efficient. Some of our green-ish efforts have been:
Not bad, but we knew we had to do better.
We decided to do the homework and learn how really to go green. We signed up for a Mass Save energy audit. Besides free new thermostats, shower heads, power strips and light bulbs, we re-insulated our attic and walls, all for a wonderful price.
The Mass Save representative left us with a lot to think about. And think we did! We researched online and posted a call for help to the Beth El bboards. Wow! So many suggestions from fellow Beth El “green” folks! Michael Gevelber, Nathan Kaplan and Mikey Navisky were especially helpful.
We interviewed the top solar providers, solicited proposals, and made our selection in February 2020. (This was a long process. We can provide the details to anyone interested.)
We took down a dozen big trees. The solar installation started in March of 2020. We went live on May 19, 2020. The installation included a 240-volt charger for the EV (electric vehicle) that we bought in December 2019 in anticipation of going solar.
Our electric bill has been $0 for nine of the twelve months! Why stop there? We’ve since replaced our gasoline-chugging, emission-spewing chain saw, leaf blower, and lawn mower with battery-powered or corded tools. We’ve continued composting, too, and, incidentally, our roses are gorgeous, thanks to our coffee grounds for mulch/fertilizer. Most recently, thanks to Sandy Coy’s posting info on the Beth El bboards, we’ve increased plastics recycling through the Trex program.
Going forward, we’re looking for technology and price improvements in solar battery storage. They could be a great hedge against the all too frequent power outages in Sudbury. Sounds like a lot of choices and changes, right? A little intimidating? You bet! We thought the same way, but we discovered that there are so many resources right here in our community who were so forthcoming with information, helpfully sharing tips about professionals, and most of all, providing lots of encouragement. Turns out it was pretty easy to get on the green (electric) train.
In the past 18 months, we have done three things:
The impacts on our life are huge. Every single time we look at our roof, we get the satisfaction of knowing we’re utilizing renewable energy; it’s such a stark visible reminder. The same is true when we’re cooking and dump our scraps in the composting container. It’s satisfying to know that all of this waste is being reused.
We’d been kicking around going solar for a while but did nothing about it. Then, in the fall of 2019, Phil Posner posted on the Beth El bboard that he was working with a solar company and asked if anyone was interested. That’s all it took for us to get the ball rolling. Phil got us signed up with 1st Light Energy. Working with him was great, period. However, 1stLight was a disaster. It took nearly five months between when the panels were installed and when the system became operational. But with that now behind us, we’re entering our second year of relying predominantly on solar power.
For #2 and #3 (composting and electric vehicles), the Beth El Green Team made things super easy. Their wonderful workshops propelled us forward. We moved from “we’re thinking about these things” to taking action. We have huge gratitude for this amazing work the Green Team has done! Rabbi Josh’s sermon about being more green definitely had a huge impact on us as well. His sermon highlighted how being more environmental is so in line with our Jewish values.
We’ve always vaguely wanted to “become more green.” But it was seeing Phil’s post on bboards that got us moving on solar, and the fabulous work of the Green Team that’s gotten us moving with composting and getting an energy-efficient car.
We would recommend any of these actions to other Beth El members (though I think Phil has moved on to doing other work.)
Sandy has long been focused on environmental issues, and she and Steve have worked to make changes in their behavior and its impact both big and small.
On the bigger side, they added to their house and updated every part from its 1960s condition. The addition they added to the original house was highly insulated. The older part of the house and the attic were insulated through Mass Save. They replaced the roof with light-colored 30-year asphalt shingles to minimize heat load in the summer and all the windows with low-E double-glazed glass. They added a Mitsubishi heat pump for heating and cooling in the new addition. The rest of the house is oil-heated with forced hot-air system which works with a Lennox exterior compressor for cooling. Adding the heat pump reduced oil usage by 30% or more. The house is all electric and electricity usage is unchanged from the earlier levels. Sandy and Stephen will likely switch to a greener electricity supplier, such as solar reducing fossil-fuel usage. Every light source is LED and they are careful to turn off lights when not in use.
Sandy and Stephen use a countertop FoodCycler for most types of food waste. It turns scraps, including chicken bones, into fertilizer that is a dark, light textured, low-odor, mineral-rich compost. They also have an outside composter for yard waste only.
Following Sudbury Valley Trustees advice (or their own laziness!) they follow the Freedom Lawn approach. Leaves are left on the lawn in the fall, but cleared in the early spring. No pesticides. With the summers getting hotter, they intend to mulch more plants in the garden to reduce moisture loss and soil heating. Soil overheating is now known to destroy organic material, reducing soil fertility and is one of the causes of desertification.
They have a natural lawn with low-mow seed and native plants and they save the plant’s seeds for next year’s use. They also grow their own herbs, divide plants to propagate, and use vegetable rinse-water and cooking water on plants to reduce water use. They also have efficient shower heads and a toilet bidet to reduce paper use.
They eat only humanely raised chicken and other meats and have reduced their consumption of red meat. For shopping, instead of bags, they have the groceries they buy placed back in the cart and bring them to the car to get loaded into their large plastic carriers they keep in the trunk.
Sandy and Stephen primarily drive higher-MPG cars but want to do more. An AWD is needed in the winter for the steep back driveway and they dream of replacing that with an AWD four-motor Tesla.
Andy is in the building industry and has explored and worked with PV (photovoltaic) and geothermal systems. Both Andy and Melissa always wanted to do what they could for the environment, and so when they moved to Sudbury ten years ago, they made a long-range plan to remodel. Their actions were not the result of a single decision but rather an overarching commitment they made to try to be better to the world.
When they added the second story, they insulated with spray foam using a “hot roof” envelope. They are careful about lighting — any lighting is LED when possible. They have occupancy timers in closets and the pantry to make sure lights go off when not in use. Some of the exterior lighting is self-sufficient solar. Some switches are connected as smart switches to allow efficiency control.
When they changed over from oil to gas, they chose a high-efficiency boiler and hot water tank. In the kitchen they swapped over to more efficient appliances.
During their remodeling, they bought reclaimed flooring and pulled all the nails themselves for reuse. Whenever they can, they try to upcycle material and put it to a new use. Since they are constantly under construction, it feels normal for the family to have a pile of leftover materials hanging around ready to be something new for them.
About 20 years ago, Susan and Jordan bought a composter for their yard. Since then they have loved using it and using the composted materials in their gardens. Not only has composting added rich nutrients back into the soil, but it’s decreased their trash output by at least 50% and saved on bags and trips to the dump.
For those trips and others, they bought a Prius in 2014 and love it. They are happy about not filling the tank very often and reducing pollution.
Not content with a hybrid, in October 2018 Susan signed a three-year lease for a Nissan Leaf. She wanted an electric car but worried about days when both Jordan and she would need to drive more than 150 miles (the limit for the Leaf). John Harper proposed the idea of thinking about their cars as community cars, which they can swap for a weekend or a day when needed for longer distances. His point was that Susan could buy a car for most of her driving needs, not just the occasional need.
“This was a new way of thinking for me,” Susan says. “I love owning and driving an electric car.” She doesn’t love the Leaf, however, and hopes there will be more choices by fall 2021 as she would like to own her next car. “The electric car is so very quiet and we didn’t see much of an increase at all in our electric bill.”
Recently Susan and Jordan installed a heat pump system which switches to gas when it has to work too hard. This wasn’t the cheapest choice when they had to replace their AC system in the spring but it was the right choice for the environment and will certainly help them when they go to sell the house some day. Steve Breit was instrumental in helping them understand the heat pump system and to help them pick the right one for their needs. The right one for their house didn’t have rebates so that made it a harder choice. In the end they decided that it is their responsibility to do their part for our planet and that extra amount was their contribution.
They chose to pay a higher rate for electricity by deciding to go with 100% renewable. It isn’t much more than the rate negotiated by the town of Sudbury, and, again, it’s a way to do their part for the planet. Susan says, “It seems that our gas bill is more than a third less than last year and our electric is up 12%. We think we’re probably saving some money, though that wasn’t the goal.”
Andy and Karen were delighted to let go of the idea of a perfect green lawn. To conserve water and avoid polluting groundwater with fertilizer runoff, they stopped watering and fertilizing their lawn. Eventually, what grew was a mixture of velvety moss and an assortment of tough grasses, including crabgrass. Mowing has now been reduced from weekly to biweekly, and Andy takes special pride in the moss-filled lawn. “As long as it’s green,” he notes, “it works for us.”
Karen and Andy have taken a number of actions in their home:
Inspired by their adult children, Andy and Karen recently became pescatarians, avoiding meat and chicken. They strive to buy locally grown produce from the supermarket and from nearby farm stands in the summer.
This year they began to compost kitchen scraps using Black Earth Compost for curbside pickup. They have been recycling paper, plastic and metal for many years. They recycle textiles using a textile recycling bin at their local elementary school. Between composting and recycling, they produce a fairly small amount of trash.
Finally, Karen and Andy donate books and clothing to More Than Words Bookstore in Waltham, a wonderful social enterprise that supports system-involved youth.
About ten years ago during the renovations of their 100+ year old house, Shirley Hui and Robert Allen insulated the outer walls. They installed solar panels in 2017/2018, and, relying on Steve Breit’s expertise, replaced their old A/C systems with heat pump systems.
They still have their traditional gas-fired boiler for heat but are using the heat pump for the spring and fall. The boiler was replaced two years ago with a tankless on-demand hot water system which decreased their gas bills, particularly in the summer when it was just for hot water.
For electricity, they had some issues initially, but they have not had to pay an electric bill in 2019-2020. They replaced 85-90% of their light bulbs with LED.
Last year they installed low-flow toilets.
This year they had a Mass Save energy assessment and will be replacing old insulation in their basement sills next month with only minimal cost to remove the old insulation. The Mass Save energy assessment was done by Homeworks. “They were pretty good to work with, even through the pandemic.”
It’s hard to give good estimates on cost savings since they haven’t done a full analysis and they have had changes depending on who was living at home. Right now it’s just Shirley and Robert. It’s harder to do these changes if you can’t afford it, unfortunately. But it’s the right thing to do if you can afford it.
They have curbside compost pickup in Natick and it is super easy. This reduces their weekly trash tremendously.
Shirley and Robert have been reducing their traditional lawn using very minimal fertilizer and are trying to grow a native strawberry lawn. They are planting a sedge called Carex pennsylvanica as a lawn alternative and adding native plants to benefit the pollinators, butterflies, and insects.
They are vegetable CSA members at Natick Community Organic Farm, as well as meat share members at Walden Local.
Shirley adds, “In the future I would really like more concrete ways on how to conserve water within the house and how to use rainwater more effectively. Very few contractors know how to deal with this.”
For decades, Janet and Joel dreamed of living in a home that allowed them to live lightly on the earth. That dream is now a reality and Janet notes they live in what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called a “constant state of radical amazement.”
As a first step, Joel and Janet hired a firm to dismantle the old oil-heated house piece by piece, recycling most of it or donating what they could to others before building a green home. The new house is super insulated and strives to be net zero — using 36 solar panels to power the lights, heat pumps that provide heat and cooling, and appliances. No more drafty rooms or oil heat! When the solar is not producing enough electricity to support their heat pumps, they are connected to the grid.
To conserve water, the home has low-flow toilets and faucets, and a nifty rainwater collection system gathering water that can then be pumped for use on their gardens. The driveway is gravel, not paved, which allows water to seep back into the ground, avoiding runoff and reflecting heat instead of absorbing it. The floors are reclaimed red oak from old buildings.
Janet joyously explains, “We are tremendously grateful to be able to live in tune with the natural world.”