EcoMom Challenge #2: Drive More Efficiently

As an EcoMom Leader and green blogger I am writing a ten part series covering the 10 Steps to a Sustainable Future recommended by the EcoMom Alliance. This week the topic is how to Drive Efficiently and cut down on your green house gas emissions.

1) Drive a more fuel efficient vehicle: for many of us this is often a difficult choice to make. In the Green Me Household, we may not drive a Prius or an electric car (yet!), but both of our cars are fairly fuel efficient compared to similar cars in their class. In our case our vehicles fuel efficiency is not an accident, but a significant factor in our decision to buy both vehicles. If you are in the market for a new vehicle, definitely make fuel efficiency a top consideration!

The car that my husband generally uses to commute to work is a 2005 Toyota Corolla, which averages about 33 miles to the gallon. His commute is often stop and go, so this mileage is worse than it was when I used the same car to commute a different route a few years back. At that time the Corolla usually maintained at least 35 miles to the gallon.

Our second car is a 2007 RAV4 that gets about 23 miles to the gallon. This is clearly worse than the Corolla, but better than similar cars in its class, so it is not too shabby. At the same time, since we have become more fuel conscious we tend to take the RAV4 less and drive the Corolla to run family errands on the weekends and in the evenings. If you have two cars and one is more fuel efficient you can save money and pollution by planning trips around using the more efficient vehicle. Ideally, wed be a one car family   wed love to see a Prius Wagon with room for storage, optional all-wheel-drive and great fuel efficiency!

2) Avoid short trips: Did you know that 90% of emissions come from the first mile of travel? Wow. If you didnt have a good reason to avoid short trips before, you do now!  However, if you are like the Green Me family this is one of the more difficult steps to take, even though it is easy to walk or bike to the Grocery Store, Target or Home Depot. Part of the challenge (at least in our case) is psychological, because these stores are so close by we tend not to feel bad if we need to pop over for some extra eggs, a different kind of screw or the prescription that we forgot to pick up earlier. Even the phrase pop over implies that a short trip is no big deal, but the fact that 90% of emissions come from the first mile of travel means that the pop over is indeed a big deal!

One way that we are working to avoid short trips is by combining multiple trips into one. For example, on Saturday we needed to hit the grocery store to pick up a few extra items for a brunch we were hosting on Sunday. We also wanted to attend the wine tasting at the liquor store next door that was between 4 and 7 pm. We almost went to the store after lunch, but instead we held off until wine tasting time, so that wed only have to make one trip. Ideally, we would have even walked or taken the bikes and bike trailer, but unfortunately between baby naps and dinner plans, we didnt have the time.

Another way we reduce pop overs and multiple trips is by planning errand circles. For example, on Friday evening or Saturday morning well make a list of all our wants and needs on a to-do list. Then we will map it and decide that we will start on the south side of town, making our first stop at the Human Society Thrift Shop (drop off goods), this might be followed by a run to the recycling center (drop of sticks/weeds at the tree limb center and corrugated cardboard and other stuff not taken at the curb). Next we will head north and return some books to the Library, maybe taking some time to stroll down Main Street. Well finish up our trip with a visit to the Natural Grocers and the hardware store next door. Combining our trips like this not only saves gas, but it also saves time and money, and makes running errands more fun sort of a family adventure!

3) Use Public Transportation: Depending on where you live this may or may not be a good option. In my hometown the bus system was awesome and I had an EcoPass (free bus-pass through work), so riding was essentially free. Between my EcoPass, my bike, and my two feet, I got around fabulously for many years sans a gas guzzling car. Now I live in a town with a miserable bus system and it is expensive – last I checked a ride was $1.25 each way. Now gas has gone up, but not enough to spend $2.50 and precious time (time is money) walking to and from the bus stop, and waiting at the various transfer centers to actually get where I want to go.

Now, the first thing I should really do here is admit that my harsh criticism of our local public transportation system is based on theory, as I have yet to actually try it out. Back on Earth Day, I in fact pledged to try the bus system out one time per month for the rest of the year, but to-date I have avoided trying the bus out. So, Ill make a deal with you – this Thursday (when Baby Green Me goes to daycare). I will run an errand by bus and report back on Friday.

Have you tried your local public transportation out or are you like me? Do you keep putting it off, making the argument that it is just too darn inconvenient? If so, why dont you take the time to give it a try this week? If you have older kids (or no kids), a husband or significant other, why dont you make it an adventure? In other words, rather than having your first experience be a stressful run to work, just go for a ride and see how the system works. Maybe stop somewhere to have coffee or lunch and then come home.

4) Carpool: This is also an option that has been difficult for our family. As single (or at the least childless) folks this was much easier, but now that we and many of our friends have small munchkins in car seats, this is more difficult for us. 4 adults and 2 babies in car seats dont fit in the average car and definitely not in either of ours!

On the other hand, my husband would carpool to work, except that weve had trouble finding him a carpool partner. However, this may be changing soon as we just learned that a neighbor got a job at the company across the street from my husbands office. Hopefully, in the next week or so they should be able to work themselves out a carpool arrangement, at least a few days per week!

If you drive to work carpooling is a great way to save gas, save pollution and build community. Earlier this year I wrote a post highlighting benefits of carpooling and listing links to carpool databases around the country.

5) Dont idle (ever!): If you drop kids off at school or pick them up or if you wait for someone to run into the store, the post office, or the dry cleaners – dont idle! Idling creates more pollution and cause engines to run less efficiently than stopping and starting your car. In addition, new cars dont need to warm up prior to driving off and in fact it can be bad for your car to sit and idle. Furthermore, studies show that idling to warm a car up on a cold morning actually takes longer to warm the engine than starting cold and driving off.

Along these same lines, be careful of your acceleration/deceleration habits being first off the line at the stop light, and the first to arrive at the next light will not get you anywhere faster, but it will cost you more gas and create more air pollution than starting off slowly! If you are up for a challenge and your really want to learn to drive more efficiently, perhaps you are a good candidate for Hypermiling!

6) Keep Your Tires Inflated: Properly inflated tires help your vehicle to get better gas mileage thus improving your cars fuel efficiency. Period. Check one-time per month (or at the least at every oil change).

7) Bike and or Walk: These two options of course save fuel and thus reduce pollution. Most importantly, when you walk or bike you are not only helping to keep the planet healthy, but also your own body and that of your children! A little extra exercise is great for your heart, your spirit, and your cholesterol levels!

You may not be able to walk or bike everywhere, but you can probably do more than you think.  Start small and continue to expand your trips. Walk to the park instead of driving. Make some short trips into bike rides. And, on nice days get out and exercise outside instead of driving to the gym. The fall is a great time for outdoor exercise!

If you live near to your kids school and you’d like to walk, but don’t have the time every day, maybe you could start a Walking School Bus with other parents. This way a few parents could take turns each day getting a gaggle of kids to and from school. My son is not yet old enough for school, but this would work really well in our neighborhood, because there is a bike path that goes from the neighborhood park all the way to the nearest elementary, middle and high schools!

In conclusion, ways to drive more efficiently include: driving your most fuel efficient vehicle; combining trips; planning ahead; hypermiling; and, eliminating car trips by using public transportation, walking or biking!

Earth Day Adventures

As we all know by now, today is Earth Day, and we had some errands to run. We are fortunate to live a hop and a skip from a variety of stores, including Target, King Soopers, Pet Smart and Borders Books to the East. And a few local shops such as Deja Brew (an organic fair trade coffee shop), a bike shop, ChiDog and Blissful Family (a Buddhist and natural toys shop) to the West. This morning I needed to pick up a prescription at Target and a few supplies for our pets at Pet Smart. And, since the weather is beautiful and it is Earth Day, I thought wed take the bike and trailer, but first I had to fix not one, but two flat tires.