Send Letter to Editor

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

logo1.jpg - 10354 Bytes
Take mass transit, share a ride, walk or carpool! © Robert Queen
Take mass transit, share a ride, walk or carpool! © Robert Queen

August 2007

Individual actions, community benefits

Cleaner air begins at home.

Elisabeth Olson

In the basement
Upstairs | Laundry
On the go
Your ecological footprint

The next time you rant about today's environmental challenges – climate change, acid rain, mercury, energy demand, regional air and water pollution – stop and take a look in a mirror. Examining and revising your individual behavior is equally as important as scrutinizing corporate, government and community uses of resources. Your behavior can significantly reduce pollution and environmental damage while conserving energy. Together, our collective behavior can encourage policy change within government at the local, regional and national levels and promote better environmental practices within corporations.


Below is a short list of actions you can take to reduce your contribution to poor air quality. Choose the ones that work for you and everyone will benefit! Saving energy conserves natural resources and reduces air pollution caused by producing and delivering that energy. What you do does make a difference. So do it – and we'll all breathe easier.

In the basement

  • Set the temperature of your water heater to no more than 120 degrees to save energy.

  • Put an insulating blanket on your water heater to reduce heat loss if insulation is not built into the tank.

  • Insulate hot water pipes to reduce heat loss, particularly those closest to the water heater and those passing through unheated areas.

  • Take good care of your home heating/cooling plant: Replace furnace filters. Replace filters in air conditioners and heat pumps and clean the evaporators and coils. To ensure maximum operating efficiency, many people hire professional services to clean these parts, check insulation on the coils and lubricate pumps on a regular maintenance schedule.


  • Inspect your home's insulation. Add more if needed, first in the attic, then in the walls.

  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.

  • Install a programmable thermostat to set back your temperature automatically at night and when you are not home.

  • Turn your heat down by three degrees at a time in winter to find a temperature that is comfortable for you. Similarly, set air conditioning higher in summer to discover how little air conditioning you need to stay comfortable.

  • Purchase clean energy where available. Many utilities now provide alternatives for their customers to buy units of energy from renewable sources.

  • Purchase Energy Star rated appliances. See Energy Star or call the ENERGY STAR Hotline at 1-888-STAR-YES (1-888-782-7937).

  • Turn off lights, computers and appliances when not in use.

  • Replace as many incandescent bulbs with compact florescent bulbs or even LED bulbs as possible. They save energy and last ten times longer!


  • Do laundry during off-peak hours.

  • Wait until you have enough dirty clothes to wash a full load.

  • Discover when cold water washes work as well as warmer settings.

  • Clean the dryer lint trap after each load so that the dryer runs as efficiently as possible.

  • Dry laundry on a clothesline, if practical.

  • Avoid wearing clothes that need dry cleaning, or use a wet cleaning service as an alternative.

On the go

  • Take mass transit, share a ride, walk or carpool.

  • Plan ahead! Combining errands into one trip reduces mileage and saves gas.

  • Avoid rush hours and listen to the traffic report before you go. Congested conditions increase air pollution and expose drivers to unhealthy conditions.

  • Tighten your gas cap until it seals tightly or clicks. You can lose up to 30 gallons of gas vapors a year by not tightening your gas cap.

  • Avoid topping off the tank. Pumping in more gas after the pump shuts off releases gas fumes into the air and reduces the benefits of vapor recovery gas pumps.

  • Refuel when it's cool. Refueling during cooler periods of the day or in the evening generates less air pollution.

  • Drive the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.

  • Avoid jackrabbit driving! Unnecessary braking and acceleration decreases gas mileage.

  • Use cruise control on the highway to save fuel by maintaining a steady speed.

  • Use overdrive gears on the highway to decrease engine speed and improve fuel economy.

  • Don't let your vehicle idle. Idling even for short periods wastes more fuel than restarting the engine.

  • Dejunk the trunk! Extra cargo is extra weight. Your engine burns more gas and releases more emissions.

  • Care for your car: Taking good care of your car can help reduce emissions. Regular oil changes and tune-ups improve your vehicle's performance, extend its life and save gas. Properly inflated tires improve gas mileage, reduce emissions, and help your tires last longer.

  • Use those handy inside-the-windshield blockers when parked outside on a sunny day. It takes more energy to cool a hotter car.

Your ecological footprint

An ecological footprint is a tool to measure how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and absorb its wastes under prevailing technology.

A 15-question quiz can help you gauge your consumption to national and international averages. The quiz will give you an idea of your ecological footprint relative to other people in the country. The quiz is not highly detailed, but will help you better understand yourself as a consumer, given your current environmental behaviors.

By measuring the ecological footprint of a population (an individual, a city, a nation, or all of humanity) we can assess and manage our ecological assets more carefully. Ecological footprints enable people to take personal and collective action to live within the means of one planet.

What's your shoe size? Visit Ecological Footprint Quiz to find out.

Elisabeth Olson develops educational outreach programs on air quality for DNR's Bureau of Education and Information.