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Squeaky Clean and Super Green

On Tuesday, we hosted a Spring Green Cleaning event here at the EnAct Test Kitchen (also known as Madison Environmental Group’s conference table made from recycled materials). It was the first time we’ve tried this, and we’ll definitely do it again!

Several enthusiastic EnAct members showed up to learn how to make eco-friendly and non-toxic cleaning supplies. Download the recipes here (.pdf). We were also joined by veteran broadcast journalists and local media celebrities Katy Sai and Jay Olsen, who filmed our event for later broadcast on Madison Gas & Electric’s Green View web channel. We’ll post a link as soon as the piece is available online.

We spent only a small amount of money to buy products like baking soda, vinegar, and eco-friendly dish detergent…plus a few things that were new to me, like vegetable glycerin, washing soda, and tea tree oil. Armed with these plus spray bottles and glass jars, we made 6 different cleaning products to tackle just about every problem.

I am particularly fond of the mold killer (which I’ve already used with great success in my shower) and the furniture polish(which we used to clean up the conference table after our event)!

At EnAct, we always say that it is easier, and a heck of a lot more fun, when we work together to make positive changes. This event proved our point one more time!

So check out the recipes, consider hosting your own green cleaning event, and keep your eyes on the EnAct website for announcements about future events like this.

Be green. Have fun.

Maria

May 20, 2010 at 11:20 am Leave a comment

Earth Month, DreamBikes, and Us

Here at EnAct, we’ve been swept up in a vertiable tornado of Earth Month activities. We were at Isthmus Green Day, at the Nelson Institute’s Earth Day summit, we hosted our own Earth Day party, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s great to spend time in the community, talking with people who are concerned about protecting the planet and leaving the Earth a better place for future generations. People have lots of different motivations for getting involved, and it is great to hear what inspires them and what they hope for the future.

Yesterday was possibly one of my favorite events. We hosted a bike donation for tenants of Network222, a building owned by the Fiore Companies. DreamBikes came out to accept donations of used bikes and provide free tune-ups for people. I can’t say enough about what a wonderful company DreamBikes is. They are a nonprofit organization that works with the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County to teach kids job skills as they rebuild bikes that are then sold in the community. DreamBikes made a commitment to set up shop in an underserved neighborhood where there were no other  bike shops. They are providing an amazing resource for kids while promoting truly sustainable behavior, in the environmental, the social, and the economic sense.

DreamBikes
DreamBikes on Madison’s West Side

Bikes for sale at DreamBikes

So if you are looking for a new ride, please consider our new friends at DreamBikes. And consider what you can do to make Earth Month last all year long.

Be green. Have fun.

–Maria

April 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm Leave a comment

Renewable Energy: Easy as Pie in WI

Do you know the Union of Concerned Scientists? Love them! It’s a group of citizens and scientists (obviously!) who work together to promote a healthy environment. I often turn to UCS when I’m looking for perspective on science-based issues.

This week they issued a report that everyone (I’m talking to you legislators and voters) should read. Here is the headline:  Proposed Increase in Wisconsin’s Renewable Electricity Standard is Easily Achievable, Report Finds.  New Standard is Affordable, Would Cut Pollution And Boost State Economy.

Here’s a nice quote:

“Requiring more clean electricity here in Wisconsin means more jobs that can’t be outsourced,” said David Boetcher, government affairs coordinator for Wisconsin International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers State Conference of Inside Local.

Really, what else needs to be said? Jobs, cleaner air, reducing dependence on foreign oil. It’s all good and I’m proud to live in a state that is poised to be at the forefront of those changes.

Oh, one more point. Remember our friends at MGE always say, “The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t buy.” So while alternative energy is great, energy reduction at home and in our businesses is even better.

Speaking of, last week I checked a portable energy meter out from the Madison Public Library. You plug these devices into anything in your home that uses energy, push a few buttons, and voilà! It calculates the cost of the energy used by that appliance/computer/tv—including those that you think you’ve turned off but which are still using power to keep their buttons glowing.

Energy meters can be checked out at the Library

We have many such gadgets in our house. Some of them “need” to stay plugged in…like the ones that are recording tv shows when we’re not home, or keeping our wireless network functioning when we are. I’m not sure what the options are for turning these things off, but hopefully having the actual cost to keep them running will help my husband and I make decisions about what we can change.

I’m plugging it in tonight so I’ll let you know next week what we’ve learned.

Be green. Have fun.
–Maria

March 30, 2010 at 10:07 am Leave a comment

Spring…It Is for the Birds

Like everyone else in Madison, I’m having a slightly mixed up response to this week’s beautiful and springlike weather. We are VERY happy to see the sun and pop open our windows. It seems like half the town is wearing shorts today. But we’re also realistic Midwesterners and pretty much everyone I talk to thinks that we’ll still get hit with one more snowstorm.

So I thought I’d check with the experts: my neighborhood birds. Today was the first morning that I heard them chirping outside my window. Unfortunately, I’m not a bird watcher so I can’t tell you who was singing. I did see several robins hopping around looking for lazy worms, so perhaps it was them.

Here at EnAct, we often talk about how wonderfully sustainable Dane County is. This ethic includes land and water protection, which means it is also a great place for birds. Just ask the kind folks at the Madison Audubon Society! They have a handy printable brochure (pdf) that points out the best places in Madison to find our fine feathered friends.

Bridge on Yahara River-perfect for birding

My favorite birding spot is just outside my front door: a paddle down the Yahara River between Lakes Monona and Mendota finds lots of birds along the shores and nesting underneath the bridges.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane, copyright International Crane Foundation

This is also a great time of year to open your ears and cast your eyes skyward. If you’re lucky, you might see a flock of sandhill cranes making their way from warmer climes back to our cozy Wisconsin marshes. They are huge birds, with a wingspan of 6-7 feet and they look a bit like a flock of geese overhead. But they have a very distinctive call that many people say sounds like children laughing. I have to give a shoutout to one of Wisconsin’s unique places: The International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, where you can see many different species of cranes close-up; it is a great road trip adventure.

I’m pretty sure that where ever you are in Madison, birds are there, too. Here’s a red-tailed hawk that a friend took from his apartment balcony just last week. They are one of my favorite urban predators.

Redtailed hawk in Madison

Redtailed hawk, copyright Rob Pflieger

So go on, get outside to see who has arrived and decide for yourself if spring is here to stay. Remember…the early bird gets the worm! (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)

Be green. Have fun.

–Maria

March 16, 2010 at 2:17 pm 2 comments

Water, Water Everywhere?

As I slogged through the muddy and puddle-strewn Yahara Parkway this morning with my trusty sustainability companion, Pixie the wonderdog, I couldn’t help but think about water. It was seeping into my supposedly waterproof shoes, and spring means several weeks of soggy ground.

So, what’s with water? As with so many sustainability issues, one seemingly simple question makes me realize how little I know. About anything. And everything. Like, for example, where does your water come from, Madison? I mean, we’re surrounded by lakes, so presumably we all know the answer. Except I didn’t. Do you?

Copyright ibm4381

The Nature Conservancy recently posted a nifty interactive feature called, “Where does your water come from?” Unfortunately, Madison isn’t on their map. Can I assume that my water comes from the same place as Green Bay’s or Milwaukee’s?

Which led me to my next resource: Wisconsin’s Water Library. Where I learned that this is Groundwater Awareness Week. What a coincidence, and now we’re all aware, yes? I also found this neat info:

Early French explorers called this area “Ouisconsin,” derived from a Native American word meaning “gathering of the waters.” The state’s liquid assets include more than 32,000 miles of perennial rivers and streams, more than 15,000 lakes, and more than 5 million acres of wetlands.

Well, I’m glad that I picked water to blog about this week. However, helpful and interesting though the site is, it didn’t answer my question.

Thank goodness for the City of Madison Water Utility (a fine organization that just happens to be an EnAct sponsor and on our Board)! They have a great Frequently Asked Questions section where I finally found my answer:

Q: Where does Madison’s water come from?
A: Madison drinking water comes from a deep sandstone aquifer, an underground rock formation where water collects in small spaces among the rocks.  Groundwater originates as rain or snow, soaks into the ground, and is naturally filtered through layers of soil and rock before replenishing the aquifer.  The Madison water system consists of 23 wells, 31 reservoirs, and 840 miles of interconnected pipes.

Gee whiz, I was completely wrong in assuming Madison’s water comes from the Great Lakes. Look for me to investigate water in future posts…because I’m discovering that my understanding of this issue is a little muddy.

Be green. Have fun.

–Maria

March 9, 2010 at 10:49 am 2 comments

I love my electricity provider!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so of course I’m thinking of love. And I have a confession:  I am in love with Madison Gas & Electric. This is the first time I’ve been enamored with a utility provider but I refuse to be ashamed.

Though MGE is EnAct’s most important sponsor, that’s not the only reason I am infatuated. Every time I meet with them or participate in an outreach event with them, I am so impressed by the services they offer to their customers and to our community.

Here are my top 10 reasons why I love MGE:

  1. Looking for a tip on anything from caulking to dehumidifiers to furnaces? Visit their website for a brochure full of answers.
  2. Need assistance in Spanish or Hmong? MGE has a full Spanish-language site and representatives who speak Hmong.
  3. Want to borrow a book or a portable energy meter to check your energy use? Check out their library partnership.
  4. Considering solar power in your home? MGE offers advice and also example projects in the area. (Did you know that the UW Bike Path is one of the nation’s largest solar installations?)
  5. Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Their CO2gether program includes a calculator that is linked directly to your energy use for real-life tracking.
  6. Want to invest in green power? MGE offers options.
  7. Considering an electric car? They are creating the first charging network in the country.
  8. Looking for something to do this month? Check out their events calendar, go to a Power Tomorrow Worksh0p, or attend a Community Energy Resource Fair this spring (watch their website for details).
  9. Need energy conservation tips specifically for renters? They’ve got it.
  10. Want advice? Visit their web channel and “Ask Bob” a question (Bob is on the EnAct Board and is a great resource).
  11. Wondering where to find one of only 3o peregrine falcon nests in Wisconsin? Where else but at the MGE station on Madison’s East Side!

I could go on, but I don’t want to make MGE blush. Thanks, MGE, for taking me to a whole new level of enviro-love.

Be green. Have fun.
–Maria

February 11, 2010 at 4:49 pm Leave a comment

Take the bus, save $10 grand each year

It’s rather ironic that I’m blogging about taking public transportation, since this is the environmental change with which I struggle the most.

This year I made a commitment to take the bus to work at least once a week. I’m keeping that vow, but only barely. All the usual excuses…it’s hard to coordinate my schedule, I have to carry outreach supplies with me, I’ve got stuff to do before and after work, blah, blah, blah. None of them are as important as the reasons why I should.

Today’s story in Tree Hugger is just one more reason why:

…The average American who takes public transit saves a staggering $9,240 a year….The finding comes from a recent study by the American Public Transportation Association, which compiled the average costs of parking, gas, and tolls each year. They’ve come up with a comprehensive savings report that shows how much a rider saves in the 20 top cities for public transit….

We had an EnAct orientation this past weekend at the Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ on Madison’s west side. We asked people what environmental actions they do that make them proud, and which ones they’d like to improve. I was inspired yet again by folks who have gone to one car or who regularly use public transportation, and I admitted my own failings. Confession, church, it just felt right.

Anyway, it isn’t always easy being green, as Kermit the Frog told us so many years ago. (Hey, did you know that there is a Muppet Wiki? But I digress.)

I’m going to keep trying to get my butt on the bus. Because, really, couldn’t we all use an extra $10 grand in our pocket at the end of the year? I thought so.

Be green. Have fun. Get on the dang bus! (That last sentence is directed to me.)

Maria

January 26, 2010 at 11:19 am Leave a comment

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