As people around the world become more environmentally aware, consumers are becoming more thoughtful with their purchase decisions. Conscious consuming is about being aware of the impact on the environment of what we buy.
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The solution lies in ethical consumerism, where consumers make a moral choice to buy products that are made ensuring the environment, along with human beings, are not exploited.
Products supporting principles of sustainability such as energy efficiency, fair trade, organic farming, and local production are all examples of responsible buying.
In 2009, some Australian state governments embarked on energy efficiency initiatives delivered via electricity retailers to help householders reduce their energy consumption, and therefore lower greenhouse gas emissions. There is also support in some regions under the Australian Solar Cities initiative.
There's also good financial reasons for energy efficiency in the the home as the more energy efficient appliances, the more money you are saving on energy bills.
Reducing energy consumption is one of the easiest ways to substantially reduce the cost of a solar power system, or to increase the overall percentage of electricity that solar power provides in your home. Here's an example:
60 watt incandescent light globe x 8 hours a day = 480 watt hours
15 watt CFL bulb x 8 hours a day = 120 watt hours
700 lumen bulb x 8 hours a day = 64 - 96 watt hours
Just by replacing a single incandescent light globe with a similar intensity energy efficient CFL; you've reduced the amount of electricity you need a solar power system to to generate by 360 watt hours a day - the equivalent of a 80 watt solar panel - without sacrificing comfort or convenience. The energy savings are even more if you choose LED.
The same approach can be used with many energy applications around the home and can substantially reduce the number of solar panels you'll need - potentially saving you thousands of dollars by giving just a little thought to low-cost energy efficiency based strategies.
Even if you're only partially powering your home with solar panels, greater energy efficiency means that solar power will contribute a greater amount of your electricity needs, reducing your power bills even further and maximising returns from feed in tariffs.
Check out our guide to maximising
feed in tariffs payments through energy efficiency!
Most of the energy we use in Australia comes from electricity, wood and natural gas. Electricity represents 50% of energy used in Australian households. Unfortunately it also contributes to 85% of greenhouse gas emissions, because electricity is mainly produced by using fossil fuels.
Most electricity comes from the national grid and is produced by coal-powered plants - which produce the largest amount of greenhouse gases. These plants contribute significantly to global warming.
Australia's energy sector is the largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Australians are the highest per-capita greenhouse gas polluters in the world, and it is energy used in Australian households that is responsible for the biggest amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately one fifth of Australia's total emissions come from homes, the equivalent of 15 tonnes per household per year. This includes everyday transportation and household waste which goes to landfill. (Source of statistics: Australian Greenhouse Office)
Australians can produce their own electricity by using renewable energy sources. Choosing the most appropriate form of renewable energy for your home, such as solar panels and solar hot water will not only reduce your energy bills, but simultaneously help save the environment.
Being energy efficient is the best way to reduce your energy bills while lowering environmental impacts. In Australia, it is now mandatory that certain electrical appliances such as fridges, dryers, and washing machines come with an energy rating. The energy ratings work on a star system. The more stars, the more energy/gas/water efficient the appliance is. If you are comparing two appliances with the same stars, look at the numbers on the energy rating label. The lower the numbers, the more energy/money you save.
It is estimated that electrical appliances represent approximately 40% of a household's energy use. The energy use in an average Australian household produces 12 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, so remember to switch off appliances at the power socket to save up to 10% on energy bills.
All white goods now come with an energy star label. The energy star is an international standard for energy efficient products. The more stars, the more energy efficient the product is. By saving energy, you save money and help protect the environment.
Sometimes, choosing the energy efficient option when buying products costs you nothing extra, in other cases it should be looked on as a long-term investment. For example, buying an energy efficient fridge can be more expensive, but the money you save on energy bills soon makes up for it.
An energy efficient dishwasher has an energy rating of 3.5 stars or more. Each star reduces your running costs by around 30% a year and also saves water. When purchasing a new dishwasher it is recommended you look for certain energy efficiency features such as half-load settings and an economy option. To maximise efficiency, only buy a dishwasher for your specific needs.
An efficient washing machine has at least a 3.5 star energy rating and a 4 star water rating. A five star water rating can help you save 21,000 litres of water a year and save lots of money on your water bills. A dryer should have at least 2 stars. An energy efficient washing machine will help you save 25% of running costs (for a lifetime) and 15% for dryers.
When you purchase a new washing machine, look for one with energy efficient settings. Try using the cold water cycle - it can reduce your running costs by 80% and given advances in laundry detergents, you'll likely find it does an equally good job as with hot water. Front-loading machines use half the energy top-loaders do. Hang your clothes out to dry instead of using the dryer. Doing these simple things cuts down on your energy bills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
When buying a gas booster or a gas hot-water system aim for one with a 5-star rating - it can save you 15% on running costs. Big households should aim for standard storage systems, whereas smaller households should aim for continuous-flow heated water systems.
Alternatively, consider the most energy efficient option - install a solar hot water system. Solar hot water is now even more economical thanks to incentives such as the Federal government's solar hot water rebate
Tip: For maximum energy efficiency and water conservation, showers should be kept under 4 minutes.
Energy efficient refrigerators have 4-star ratings. A small chest freezer should have at least 3.5 stars. A regular upright freezer should have 4.5 stars. When you buy a new fridge, we recommend that you research what size is right for you. Choose energy efficiency options like thermostat control and door alarms.
It’s a good idea to regularly clean the coils at the back of your fridge, and ensure that there is an adequate gap between the wall and the coils to allow the air to flow freely. Old fridges are extremely inefficient and they increase your energy bills immensely. Buying a new energy efficient fridge saves you money - enough to more than offset what you will spend on an old, inefficient fridge just to keep it running.
Lighting can account for approximately 10% of a household's greenhouse gas emissions. Halogen lights and incandescents use up an enormous amount of energy Fluorescent light bulbs are much more energy efficient. They use 20% of the power that halogen globes do, while lasting eight times longer.
Swapping your old globes for fluorescent or LED lights can save you 80% on lighting bills.
A confusing aspect of switching to LED can be in relation to what type to buy as instead of watts, they are usually rated in "lumens". The following chart shows watts vs. lumens.
Tips: Use dimmer switches where possible. Timers and sensors are recommended for outdoor lights. Switching off the lights when you are not home will also reduce your electricity bills and greenhouse gas emissions.
Gas heaters and air conditioning systems also come with energy ratings. An increase of just one star on a gas energy rating will save you 10% on running costs. Also, keeping doors shut, blinds drawn and locating the heating system away from windows will help conserve the heat in a house. Setting the thermostat between 18 and 20 degrees will also save energy as simply reducing the temperature by 1 degree can save up to 10% of running costs.
Heating your home at night is extremely inefficient. Insulating your home and wearing warmer clothing in the house will automatically reduce energy bills and help the environment. Heat is wasted when a house is not properly insulated. For example, 80% to 90% of heat is lost through your ceiling. Make sure your windows have close-fitting curtains to help contain heat inside a home and prevent heat loss by 40%. Draughts are also responsible for heat loss, so it is recommended that draught seals be put at the bottom of doors, windows be properly sealed and any gaps fixed.
It is recommended that you buy air conditioners with at least 4.5 stars and that you opt for fans and evaporative coolers which use 1/10th of the power. Cranking up the air conditioning on a hot day puts enormous huge strain on the power grid, not to mention the planet. When everyone does it at the same time, it can cause widespread power failure. This is what happened in New York in 2003; it was the largest blackout in North American history and cost the country billions of dollars. Similar blackouts are now also starting to occur in Australia.
There are other ways to keep your home cool: as summer heat comes through unprotected windows, external shades can help reduce heat through windows by 70%. Insulation and fans can keep the heat out and cut down on air-conditioning.
Energy efficiency can be applied right throughout your home: your lights, air conditioner, stove and appliances can all be made to optimize your efficiency and lower your carbon footprint.
Whether you are a business, an individual working from home, or a householder interested in maximising energy efficiency in your environment, there are often simple steps you can take to reduce energy. Consider reducing your current energy and water usage and the amount of waste generated from your everyday activities – no matter how large or small. Not quite sure what to look for?
If you are unsure, Energy Matters recommends specialist assistance from organisations such as ecovantage . Ecovantage provides sustainability advisory services for businesses, schools and homes. ecovantage provides customised services to help you:
Ecovantage sustainability assessors perform site inspections to calculate your impact on the environment and look for opportunities to apply energy, water and waste efficiencies. You will receive a customised report with recommendations ranked by the costs and benefits of each recommendation. If recommendations are made for installation of equipment to increase your efficiencies, these are also ranked by ease of installation, to help you make the best decision.
Ecovantage’s carbon footprint calculation is based on the Australian Greenhouse Office Methods and Factor’s Workbook (Department of Environment and Heritage, 2006) and measures the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by your operations. The calculation considers power, waste and transportation and translates this into a common value - carbon.