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The Sierra Club’s Mr. Green Fills a Book with Sage Green Advice
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What's the best way to be more earth-friendly? Just ask Mr. Green! Bob Schildgen, a.k.a Mr. Green, is the author of Hey Mr. Green: Sierra Magazine's Answer Guy Tackles Your Toughest Green Living Questions

What's the best way to be more earth-friendly? Just ask Mr. Green! Bob Schildgen, a.k.a Mr. Green, is the author of Hey Mr. Green: Sierra Magazine's Answer Guy Tackles Your Toughest Green Living Questions, coming from Sierra Club Books in April. The book is available to Club members and friends at a discounted price of $11.25 through the Sierra Club online store, To ask Mr. Green a question, visit And while we wait for the book, here are Mr. Green’s answers to a few frequent questions.


Hey Mr. Green, Should I turn off my computer at night or put it to “sleep”? —Dave in Bozeman, Montana

Unless you have software or network hookups that require your PC to be on constantly, turn that sucker off. The sleep mode cuts energy use by 70 percent, but using the off switch reduces it even more—and turning off the power strip stanches the flow entirely. (Please don’t confuse power saving with screen savers; though the latter may feature a heartwarming picture, they do not save energy.) Since computers in the business sector alone waste more than $1 billion worth of electricity a year, it’s surprising that more fuss isn’t made about these simple steps.

Some people believe that restarting the computer each time you return consumes a significant amount of energy, but it’s really not enough to worry about. Think about it, if these devices actually required as much power to boot up as some believed, circuit breakers would be snapping like castanets and you’d be flamenco dancing back and forth to the fuse box instead of sitting there typing out pertinent questions to Mr. Green. It’s also rumored that turning a computer off and on repeatedly hastens its demise. This is simply not true. Even if it were, obsolescence would likely kill off your machine first. And when your desktop PC is put to sleep—permanently—consider replacing it with a laptop, which uses a lot less power.


Hey Mr. Green, I would like to encourage my son-in-law to turn off the lights when he leaves a room. To do that, I would have to show the cost benefit. Can you help? —Ruth in Watertown, Massachusetts

In olden times, a household authority figure would say, “Turn the lights out,” and that would be that. But today’s contentious whippersnappers apparently need a detailed financial analysis before flipping the switch. Fortunately, the math is on your side. Electricity rates are based on the number of kilowatt-hours consumed (1 kilowatt equals 1,000 watts).

 All you have to do to find the daily cost of operating a light bulb is multiply its wattage by the number of hours it burns, then multiply that by the kilowatt-hour (kWh) rate printed on your utility bill and divide the result by 1,000. To summarize: (hours used ¥ watts ¥ rate) / 1,000 = daily cost.

So if a 100-watt bulb burns for ten hours a day, and the power company charges ten cents a kilowatt-hour, it costs a dime a day to keep lit. That’s about $3 per month, or $36 per year. Leaving a half dozen bulbs burning would waste more than $200 per year.
If your son-in-law turns off the lights and puts the annual savings into an account that draws 5 percent interest, in ten years he will have about $2,650, a nice little sum he could invest in some booming alternative energy company.


Hey Mr. Green, I know the Sierra Club encourages replacing incandescent bulbs with efficient fluorescents, but the former are readily disposable in the trash, while the latter contain mercury. So what am I supposed to do with my dead fluorescent bulbs? —Stew in Princeton, New Jersey

How many environmentalists does it take to change an efficient lightbulb? While your local hazardous-waste authority is the best source for information, many hardware stores will take back your old bulbs—sometimes at no charge if you’re buying replacements. Check or call (800) CLEANUP to find a recycling location near you, or visit the EPA’s Web site at for info. It’s worth the effort: Though fluorescents do contain mercury, a highly poisonous element that persists in the environment, burning coal to generate electricity puts almost fifty tons of the nasty stuff into the air each year. Since fluorescents are four times more efficient than regular bulbs—and last at least five times longer—replacing all household incandescents (and recycling all dead fluorescents) could cut mercury and CO2 emissions while saving the equivalent of at least 4 billion gallons of oil annually.


Hey Mr. Green, I am urging my employer to participate in a paper-recycling program. Can you tell me how many trees would be saved by recycling a thirty-gallon bin of paper? —Allan in Houston

As teenagers, my buddy Gordo and I and our trusty McCullough chainsaw whacked scads of innocent trees and shipped them to the mill in Dubuque. Toiling to answer this sort of question is a penance for such sins. Better to do it now than to stew in a vat of boiling pulp in the hereafter, taunted by environmental sermons blaring through raspy amplifiers. Anyway, a 30-gallon bin will generally hold around 80 pounds of computer paper, or up to 100 pounds if the paper is tightly packed. A typical tree used for pulp yields about 83 pounds of office paper, meaning your bin would essentially hold the equivalent of one tree. Since 10 to 25 percent of the mass gets lost in the paper-recycling process, you might not rescue a whole tree each time you fill a bin, but it’s safe to say at least three-fourths of a tree could be saved per container. Now if you throw in a lot of crumpled paper that takes up extra space, you’ll obviously fall short of that noble goal.

Of course, trees come in various sizes, and some species yield more pulp than others, so these are ballpark figures. Remember too that all paper is not created equal: virgin office paper requires twice as much pulp per pound as virgin newsprint. But any way you slice it, recycling paper saves a lot of trees, and we could save even more if we didn’t trash over 45 percent of the 100.2 million tons of paper we produce each year.

> 2008 Table of Contents


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