Environmentalism has certainly been on people’s minds lately. Governments around the globe are teaching their constituents about the need to conserve resources. School children are taught the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle. And of course advertisers are keen to tout the environmental benefits of whatever product they are trying to peddle.
Information on energy conservation that was once considered insightful and forward thinking is now common knowledge. In many circles it could be seen as inane to not be conversant with at least some basic ecological facts.
Whether or not the public are interested in the metaphysical depth of what it means to respect and sustain a relationship with our Mother Earth, surely we can appreciate that the sentiment is in the right direction. We might even be able to learn a thing or two about how to conserve energy, given the modern and usually urban settings where most members of ISKCON live.
Most of these tips just make good sense. Not only do they conserve natural resources; they save money by reducing the amount of energy required to run a household or a temple. Personally I feel that if temples could implement some or all of these methods we could educate our visitors in practical urban conservation skills. ISKCON’s founder, Srila Prabhupada, set such an example himself.
Turn your "off" appliances off.
It is estimated that about 75% of electricity used by home electronics is consumed while switched "off". By unplugging them from the wall or using a power strip and switching them off when not in use, you can reduce your energy consumption.
The next time you need to paint the interior walls of your home or temple, use a light color paint.
Dark colors tend to absorb light, requiring you to use more energy from light bulbs to achieve the same effect. Not only do light colors on your walls help save energy, they also make your rooms feel brighter and create a cleaner atmosphere.
Buy a water heater blanket and keep it insulated.
Water heater insulation blankets are designed for gas, oil or electric heaters. They reduce the rate of heat loss and save your system from having to use more energy to keep the tank warm.
Put insulation in your ceiling.
The effect of insulating your ceiling can be dramatic. You will stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. In some climates, this may in itself provide enough comfort to displace the need for artificial air conditioning.
If you can shade the side(s) of your structure that are exposed to the afternoon sun you will help to keep your home cool in the summer. In the winter you will want maximum exposure to the sun. Some careful planning will help you to determine how to keep the summer’s afternoon sun from turning your home into an oven.
Get curtains to insulate the windows.
Big windows are nice, especially on the eastern side of your structure where they allow in the morning sun. You will, however, need to make or purchase thick enough curtains to insulate them. This keeps the warmth inside in the winter and outside in the summer, which will save your heating and cooling expenses. Otherwise you could literally be losing money out the window.
Replace incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (the squiggly white ones).
This is one is essential. Fluorescent bulbs use about one third the energy to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent. They also last much longer - one bulb saves US$30 or more during the course of its life.
In 2006 the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA declared, "If every American household changed a single light bulb to an Energy Star bulb, it would provide enough power to light more than 2.5 million homes."
Use a front loading washing machine.
When you choose your next washing machine, pick one with a front loader. Front loader models use about 25% less energy than a standard top loading model.
Also, simply switching from a hot/warm cycle to a warm/cold cycle when washing laundry can save a lot of energy and extend the machine's life.
Avoid using a clothes dryer.
These are huge energy consumers. Weather permitting, you'd do better to dry your clothes on an outdoor line. The sun and wind are natural purifiers and leave your cloth much fresher than they would be in the static electricity charged pile that a clothes dryer works so artificially hard to produce.
One exception to this suggestion would be if you live in a city like Kolkata, India where the soot and vehicle exhaust accumulate on your clothes as they dry. If you are in this situation then maybe you could hang them indoors instead?
Remember: anything that involves artificially changing the temperature of water or air requires a lot of energy.
Beware of your frigidaire.
This is another critical area where we can save a lot of energy. The seeming necessity to have a refrigerator stems from modern society's unfortunate divorce from agrarian living. Instead of growing and purchasing produce locally, a lot of people make one big trip to the metro supermarket per week where they stock up on several items that require refrigeration. For devotees this usually means milk products. Most vegetables are only perishable when left out for several days.
So how much butter, milk or cheese does your family or temple community need to consume? This question is worth asking when determining the most efficient refrigeration system for your needs.
For a single person or a couple with no kids a small "bar" fridge may do the job. Natural gas powered models that run very efficiently are also available in this size, although they aren't cheap. Having too large a fridge for your needs is a huge waste of energy.
Where you place the fridge in your home or temple is also important. Avoid exposing your unit to direct sunlight and make sure your kitchen is well ventilated. You should also avoid keeping the fridge near your oven as it will have to work that much harder to keep cool.
If your fridge comes with an adjustable thermostat, make sure it’s not set too cold. You should set it to run at around 3 - 4°C (38°F) and the freezer compartment to around -15 to -18°C (0 to 5°F). One degree of difference can alter the fridge's energy consumption by up to 5%.
Open the fridge and freezer door as little as possible and avoid placing hot food in the fridge – let it cool down first. Check that the fridge and freezer doors close properly and are airtight – replace the seal and adjust the door hinge as required.
Take care if you use modern mixer taps.
If you have mixer taps installed in your sinks, be very careful not to draw hot water if you don't need it. Mixer taps are the ones where you control the water temperature by swiveling the neck to either the left or the right.
I suggest avoiding them altogether, but if they are already in place just be careful to not unnecessarily draw hot water through the pipes by thoughtlessly opening them in the most convenient middle position. This pulls hot water from the storage tank and into your pipes. Then when you are only quickly washing your hands, the warm water will often never even reach the sink. Still, your hot water system will need to work to replace the amount of water that has been wasted.
Save paper by minimizing what you print from your computer.
Some printers have a duplex mode that allows you to print front and back.
Try gardening and start a compost heap.
I know this is subjective, but there are few things more satisfying in this world than growing vegetables for Krishna. There are many interesting vegetables that can be grown in your home garden that can't be purchased in the produce section of your supermarket. This is because they aren't commercially viable. They may not transport or store well enough to be mass produced.
There are many resources available online to assist you in learning how to implement a home garden. With the price of food going up it's a smart time to cultivate some (if not all) of your own produce.
Plan your menus according to the produce that is in season.
This will save you money and not contribute towards the wasteful practice of transporting produce over long distances.
Educate friends and loved ones about the impact of a meat-centered diet.
No, I'm not saying that you have to get up on a soapbox. Often the example that you set speaks more than words. Still, if a thoughtful person would consider the facts about how wasteful the meat industry is then at least they'd have a reason to justify a change in dietary habit.
Paul McCartney once said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” While this may be true, the corporations of slaughter cannot disguise their ecological footprint. It is becoming a well-known fact that supporting the meat industry is the single greatest cause of environmental devastation.
Srila Prabhupada taught by example how to conserve Krishna's energy. On a morning walk, he once went into a neighbor’s garden to turn off a dripping tap. Another time, although ill, he got up from his bed to turn off a fan running unnecessarily in an adjoining room.
Srila Prabhupada also criticized the wastefulness of his Western disciples. “This is your custom,” he once said. “Simply wasting. If you have some extra cloth, you cannot fold it. You cut it off and throw it away. Whatever goes wrong, you solve it with money, and it appears good. You make some accident, and you cover it quickly with money. It is not that you are very capable, but with money you cover your deficiencies.”
This is not a comprehensive list of energy saving advice. These are just some of the simple methods that I think can be practically implemented in our temples and in the homes of urban dwelling devotee families.
Ekendra Dasa is the managing editor for ISKCON News. He lives with his family at the New Govardhana farming project in Australia.