Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Keeping up with the Joneses, gasoline-guzzler style!

Along the same lines as my previous post, I also keep track of my consumption of gasoline. As I discussed earlier, giving up my car is not an option for me at this point in time. Therefore, I consume gasoline like an American--as long as I can pay for it, I will keep driving. In tallying up my statistics, I was surprised to find that from July 8, 2008 to July 7, 2009, I bought 351.42 gallons of gasoline. Adding in my carpooling opportunities, I consumed an estimated total of 354.92 gallons. Surprisingly, this is down just over 22 gallons from the year before.

While I am nowhere near the Riot 4 Austerity goal of 50 gallons of gasoline for the entire year, I consumed 71% of average. Not great but I improved over last year. To what do I attribute this difference? I suspect part of the reason is my twice monthly work-at-home (telecommute) day. Based on the mileage to work and my car's average mpg, I should have saved about 26 gallons. That is close to my actually gallon savings.

To fill out my numbers game, I tallied my mileage over this same period (9,638.8 miles) and divided by the gasoline consumed by my car to yield a 27.4 mpg over the last 12 months. I thought I calculated closer to 28 mpg last time so I was disappointed that I lost some ground. Still, that means in August 2011, I will reach the average mileage lifetime for my car if I am still driving it. Here is hoping I can make it to 150,000 miles!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Consumer goods spending for the past 12 months

As part of the Riot 4 Austerity goals, I have been keeping track of my consumer goods spending. The Web site states:
The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc… Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the extent you can, but what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR.
Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price.
Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost.

Since I have been tallying my spending for a year, I thought I would finally add up what I have spent on consumer goods according to the rules. Since much of my money was spent at charity thrift shops, I did not count any of those totals. Garage sales and craigslist's finds were only 10% of what I spent and everything else (Walgreens, hardware store, etc.) was full price as I was paying for new.

So what was my total? Acknowledging that I may have forgotten to note a few spending opportunities, I spent $1,138.33 from July 2008 to July 2009. I will round that up to $1,150 to accommodate spending not accounted for. I really wanted to hit the $1,000 goal and I would have except I did buy a new tree for my yard. While I was not sure if gardening items were really part of this (shrubs, trees and plants), I counted them anyway.

Then I remembered I had a large purchase in June--a replacement laptop plus supplies from Amazon. Instead of nearly reaching the 90% reduction goal, I spent $3,100 over the last year. If I would have been able to wait until next year (or at least until August), I could have patted myself on the back at reaching the consumer goods goal. Unfortunately, a large purchase was enough to more than double what I thought I spent. However, this gives me a personal goal to reach in the next 12 months--spending less than $3,000 in one year.

Other expenses that added up included a couple of heavy spending trips. Once or twice a year, I take a day or a week off and among other things, do a lot of my accumulated "want and need" spending. That is, if I need more socks, want new light fixtures or the bath mat is beginning to wear, I make a list and hit several stores in one day. Not being a big fan of shopping, this gets what I need and what I would like to stock up for a year out of the way at once. Fighting crowds is not my idea of fun so I prefer to go on a weekday in the morning. Since these trips are heavily invested in new items, I noticed about 60% of my accumulated spending came from two shopping trips (excluding my new computer purchase).

While this goal was not the success I hoped for, I can continue to focus on buying secondhand, whether off craigslist, at a garage sale or from charity thrift stores. Much of my spending was kept lower because I pursued this option. I believe I can do better for next year but acknowledge that a curve ball (or two) could throw off me off my goal.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The big environmental hurdles

Despite professing my desire for greener living and lowering my environmental footprint on this planet, there are changes I have not embraced. These include:

My diet
I was raised with meat and potatoes as the staples of my supper. As the daughter of a dairy farmer, I consumed plenty of meat and dairy products except for Fridays because we were Catholic and did not eat meat that day of the week. While I now drink 1% milk rather than raw whole milk, the quantity has not decreased. However, I have decreased my meat consumption but never to zero. I find myself craving a hamburger if I have not had red meat for a while and I desire milk when I have not consumed for as few as two days. Asking me to part with cheese is like asking me to mow 10 acres of lawn--extremely undesirable.

I know that the environmental costs of keeping me in a meat diet are much greater than eating lower on the food chain (i.e., a vegetarian diet). I can mitigate some of the evils of my diet by going local and organic but I have converted little of my diet to grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and sustainably harvested fish. While I might incorporate more of locally grown and harvested food in my diet, I still enjoy eating meat I can easily find at a grocery store.

My car
I live in a suburb in the United States of America. I was raised in a country that has a love affair with cars and thinks little of jumping in one and traveling to wherever his or her heart desires. While I may combine errands, enjoy my occasional telecommute to work and try to park the car at least one day a week, I still use my car at least five times a week. While I may not feel a strong attachment to my car like some, I have few other options to get me to my workplace, the doctor, my family and necessities. Therefore, I consume gasoline, pump out carbon dioxide and otherwise pollute to use the easy transportation of a car. Unfortunately, I see no way around it. Despite looking for a carpooling buddy and knowing people at my workplace drive from the same city, I still drive alone because few seem interested coordinating rides with another person. I could look harder than I have for someone to carpool with but I have had no response when I have made attempts.

Even with a desire to carpool or even park my car for five or more days of the week, I work at a distance greater than I am able to bicycle and there are no mass transit options. Because my desire is leading me to a rural location, I anticipate my future driving needs will stay the same or even increase.

My electrical and natural gas consumption
While I am conscious of my fossil fuel use and what burning it does to the environment, I still use it. I keep my thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer. However, I also have a refrigerator, a chest freezer and in the summer, two dehumidifiers, all keeping my kilowatt hours high. Currently, I have four computers (three laptops and one desktop), an electric toothbrush, electric lawnmower, electric snow thrower, TV, electronics and lights with occasional contributions by my iPod and iPhone when they are recharged. While the use of some of these are optional (e.g., television), I leave them all plugged in when not in use. I also like having warm water at the turn of faucet handle, all heated with my natural gas water heater.

While I try to reduce how much electricity I consume, I am not planning on replacing my refrigerator (~12 years old) or my air conditioning unit (~15 years old) just to reduce my electrical usage. I can think of no good alternative to running two dehumidifiers in my basement and there are too many things like my MacBook Pro and electric toothbrush I just cannot give up without a fight. Nor can I completely abandon use of the air conditioner (temperatures are predicted to be above 90 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity for the next two days) or my furnace. Therefore, I will continue to use my devices of my modern, convenient life including my natural-gas burning furnace and water heater.

It is not easy to walk away from things that would have the greatest effect on my use of finite resources. I plan to take advantage of the local farmer's market for some of my needs but it does not replace my monthly run to the grocery store. I continue to be conscious of my fossil fuel use but will attend the monthly family dinner that requires me to drive 150 miles round trip. My love affair with my MacBook Pro will not end anytime soon. Therefore, I will continue trimming here and there and hope I can reduce my consumption of nearly five times my share of this planet to a more reasonable two or less. My planned changes get me closer to four so I will continue to seek ways to reduce my environmental footprint.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Workplace worries

It is interesting to learn how each of us feel we are vulnerable at work. Recently, 70% of one of the departments at my workplace was let go--including the Vice President in charge of the department. While we had been seeing some reorganization with occasional "release" of people without positions, there was no wholesale firings. With this latest salvo, all of us in my department became more concerned with how long we might have our jobs.

Honestly, I believe that more people would be fired before anyone in our department would be touched. We are intimately connected to the company's Web content and technical literature so wholesale firing will not happen. In fact, we have enough work that we could take on another person or two to help out.

I have been in my department for 4.5 years but I still the newest person in the department. If nothing else, I can imagine that the newest person would be fired first. One of my colleagues thinks that since she does not have a computer at home (and in many ways, only tolerates her computer at work), she is more vulnerable because she is not technosavvy. Another person who runs much of the administrative work in our department feels that when the content management system is put into place, she is out of a job.

I feel both of these people add more to their job than lack of technology knowledge and entering and keeping track of lots of data. However, the end result is that even if you have 20 years with a company, they can still make a financial decision and let you go. I know that in three years or so, I will have to decide if I keep my position with the company, ask to change the situation (e.g., part-time with a mostly telecommuting option) or leave. Hopefully, my company and I will not part ways until I am ready, not because the restructuring left me out of my position.

How vulnerable are you feeling at work?