Whenever I move in a new flat there are a couple of things I need to have in my room, not only to feel comfortable, but also to minimize the impact of my new environment on my health. Not only did this changes made me happier and healthier but these small upgrades saved me in the past 2 years around 200 Euros in heating and electricity bills (compared with the average energy consumption assumed by the landlord). Not a bad ROI.
1. Thick, Heavy, Dark Drapes
Having a great mattress is one of the keys to a good night sleep. However, if I do not have drapes to block the noise and the light coming from the street, I always wake up tired the next day, even if I sleep for more than 8 hours. That’s because light and noise are two of the most common sleep disruptors, especially if you live in a crowded city. When closed during hot summer days, they can reduce inside temperature with up to 3-5 degrees. A set of drapes can cost as little as 40 Euros, and it’s an investment that will pay out ten folds in energy savings (by keeping more of the heat inside during winter and outside during summer). If there is one thing I would not want to live without, this would be my drapes.
2. Windows sealings
Another easy and inexpensive way to improve the energy efficiency and the comfort of your flat is to change your windows sealings. They tend to wear out after a year or two, so even if you have efficient windows, they could be letting air and noise in due to poor maintenance. If you do it yourself, it will cost you around 10-20 Euros to change the seals on one window. Again a small investment that pays for itself in short time.
I like to have plants in my room, to reduce indoor air pollution and associated eye irritations and respiratory problems. You can check out more about the top air purifying plants in one of the previous articles.
For my room I choose a spider plant that filters air during the night, and a dracaena for filtering air during the day. Both plants cost me, on sale, around 15 Euros, a very cheap, automated and low maintenance air filter.
4. Extension cord with a switch
Laptops and other appliances still use electricity even if they are shut down. An easy and inexpensive way to prevent this is to buy an extension cord with a switch so when you leave home or you go to bad you can simply flip a switch and prevent all the little light inside your room from affecting your sleep. Plus you will reduce your energy bill with 5 to 10%. I bought mine for 5 Euros so this is an investment that anyone can afford.
5. Aluminum foil behind the radiator
Have you noticed that half of our radiators are facing the wall? That means that almost half of the heat is going into a large heat absorber, instead of your room. Modern houses have an extra layer of insulation behind the radiators, but most old buildings don’t. An easy way to reduce this loss if to place an aluminum foil insulator behind the radiator. This will force part of the heat back into your room and increase the thermal comfort of your flat. You can get one of this for less than 5 Euros and start feeling warm even with the radiators turned down.
A recent article on Harvard Business Review, suggested that in order to increase our productivity we should shift our focus from managing our time to managing our energy, emphasizing the importance of conserving energy for when you most need it.
Although we have gotten better and better over the years at coming up with more efficient ways to produce energy, we haven’t gotten any better at storing that energy. Yes we might have more efficient engines, solar panels and wind turbines, but during peak hours most of the energy is wasted due to a lack of efficient energy storage solutions.
The same is true on a personal level, we have access to power bars, energy drinks, coffee at every corner and more sugar than our bodies can handle, but all this easily available energy has hindered our bodies abilities to recover the energy it stores as fat. In this post I will not go into details about how to recover energy from your body by burning fat (there are other people better qualified to give you advice on that) Instead I will present the basics of electrical, mechanical and thermal energy storage and the most revolutionary devices available on the market today.
Energy can be stored in many forms: thermal energy, compressed air, using a flywheel, in pumped hydro-power plants, in solid batteries or in flow batteries. In this article I will go into details about the pro’s and con’s of each option. And if you stay with me until the end of the article you will discover also the latest technological developments in energy storage solutions, including some surprising tech like liquid metal batteries or batteries made from food waste.
Healthy competition is at the heart of economic development. Ever since the idea was put forward by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations, it led to innovations, great technological improvements and lower prices for the consumers.
On the other side, too much competition can have damaging effects on the economy and on individuals, in the long term. In a highly competitive market, companies and people are pushed to constantly lower their prices while delivering more and more value. This is good for the consumer but for the companies it quickly becomes unsustainable because it leads to lower margins, and budget cuts especially in research and employees salaries.
Take for example the car industry, a highly competitive market, where some of the top companies resorted to unethical practices, or lower quality materials in an effort to keep up with the increasing expectations of the markets and governments, in terms of profit, innovation and prices. Or the construction industry which saw a massive drop in 2008, due to high competition and the ridiculously low prices that had to be accepted by the companies wanting to remain in business at all cost. And, probably, for one of the best examples on how extreme competition is bad for business, we can have a look at one of the most competitive markets in the world: the bar’s and restaurants sector. More than 80% of the business in this sector fail in the first 3 years, competition is fierce and a lot of the newcomers drive the price down while serving bigger portions. That means somewhere expenses have to be cut: either on personnel, food quality or health & safety regulations. I’m not saying all restaurants are like this, in fact some owners manage to maintain a good quality of service and a high morale among employees, even when pushed by competition, and they are usually the 20% that remain in business. However, most of the times, extreme competition in the long term can lead to profit loss, reducing cost on R&D and personnel, less innovation, lower quality and at the end businesses closing down and people losing their jobs.
On a personal side, we are always competing with our rivals, our peers, our neighbors or the status quo, and usually this competition makes us achieve more, be more and have more. But when we take competition too serious, it leads also to unethical behavior like lying, cheating, bullying, bribing and all the other nasty things people due in the effort to get in front of others. Another effect of the pressure competition puts on us is overworking, which leads to stress and exhaustion and in a more severe case even to death.
So why do we value competition at all costs? Why, in a time when we talk about moving towards a society of abundance, are we still competing heavily with everyone else, until the point of collapse? I am not suggesting that we should not have any competition, I am simply implying that we would be maybe better off if we follow Aristotle’s advice and strive to achieve the Golden mean, especially in the most important competition of all: our life. If you go to bed 1% better every day, in the long term you will become a great person; If you are always in a rush and want 200% improvements every day, like many of the investors wish for, it might work for a short while but there is a high chance that you will collapse with exhaustion, and lose everything you gained, just like the stock market crashes every 5 to 10 years.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject: What are the areas in your life where you are or have been maybe over competitive, and what was the impact of this competition on your health, happiness, family and friends? Where was your tipping point, between healthy and unhealthy competition? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
One of the habits that has the biggest impact on our health, our finances, and our environment is the way we eat. This is a subject on which a lot of research has been made in the last years, and the one thing that the researcher agree on is that nutrition should be tailored to the individual. So please consult your doctor or nutritionist for a solution that works especially for you before applying anything in this article. Here we will not go in detail about the macronutrients, carbs, protein and calories of the food we eat. Instead we will look at how it affects our energy levels and especially how food, as it is grown today, affects our environment.
We all heard that eating processed food, sugar or a lot of carbs might be not so good for us, but how often do we think about the impact that our overconsumption and our food system has on the planet?
Introducing Michael Pollan, author and activist for sustainable food, who was curious about where is his burger coming from. So he went to a cow farm where he thought he might find the answer. But of course cows are raised with plants so he had to go a step backwards and find out where the plants are coming from. And since plants use a lot of fertilizer and pesticides to grow bigger, he ended up searching for the answer in Middle East. And what he found out was pretty surprising: to produce one burger we use approximately 750 ml or 28 ounces of oil, for fertilizers, pesticides, transport and processing. If we scale this up to the total food produced we can see that the food system accounts for 20% of the fossil fuel use, 500 billion dollars in medical bills for food related diseases, and 1/3 of the total greenhouse gas emissions. It seems that from the saying: you can choose to pay your doctor or your farmer, we have chosen to pay the doctor.
The impact on the water consumption is even higher. It is estimated that around 50% of the water consumption is used for irrigation making the food industry the larger consumer of water on the planet. For instance, wheat requires 500 liters or 132 gallons of water per 0,45 kg or 1 pound. The same amount of cheese requires 2271 liters or 600 gallons of water. A glass of milk? 378 liters or 100 gallons of water, similar for a glass of wine or beer. It is just mind-boggling the amount of water and oil we use to produce our food. If you want to find out more you can go to http://www.gracelinks.org/ and find all the data regarding the impact of food on water, and other interesting information.
Unfortunately the bad news don’t stop there. Every person in the E.U. and U.S. wastes on average enough food to feed one more person. So not only are we over consuming and polluting the environment, but half of this is wasted in vain, it doesn’t bring us any satisfaction whatsoever. Looking at the numbers, an average person throws away 76 kg/167 pounds of food per year in Romania, 149 kg/328 pounds in Germany and 226 kg/ 498 pounds in UK and in the US even more.
This is all very alarming but there is also hope and we as individuals can change this system for the better. Let’s look at the problem true the 80/20 Pareto principle: What changes in our eating habits would bring the most value to us and the Planet? Looking at the data, the first change that we should make would have to be reducing the food waste. If we could reduce or even eliminate it, we could not only stop wasting money but also ofset the impact we have on the environment.
But how should we do it?
1. Being aware of the unconscious behaviors that might make us by more food
For instance if you are hungry when you go shopping you are far more likely to overbuy food. If you go shopping after a meal the chances to overstock on produce are reduced, so before heading to the grocery store have a small bite. After you come back from the shop, and got only what you needed, reward yourself with something you just bought. This will help you create a habit out of buying only what is necessary for you and your family, avoiding waste while saving money and the planet.
2. Eating a small variety of products during the week
Based on a diet plan I avoid stocking up the fridge with easily degradable products, instead I buy fresh food every day on my way from work. This will take around 5 min of your time, but if you have the possibilities, and have a shop nearby, you should give it a try.
One advantage of doing this is that we increase the quality of our food, since most of us do not store food properly and risk to spoil it. The second reason is you only buy what you need for one or 2 meals so you are far less likely to overestimate, and 3rd, if you have a sudden craving, you can decide on a day to day basis what to eat.
However if you do not have a food store nearby you can record your food consumption over one week, taking into account also how much food you waste, and use that as a bench mark for your weekly shopping. And if you are worried that you will run out of food, you could buy some canned products. Usually canned food has a long expiration date so it is far less likely to go to waste. But keep it only as a back-up solution because some research shows that large quantities of aluminum absorbed by food are related to a number of brain diseases like Alzheimer for example.
If you absolutely hate canned food and have to store foods for long periods of time, here are some
3. Basics for storing food:
Bacteria are everywhere, some of them are good for us like the ones in our gut, and some of them can cause infections. Although we can’t get rid of all the bacteria in our homes, we can control the number, by not creating an environment where they can easily develop – food, humidity, heat and time.
a. Cover your food.
Bacteria love raw fish, raw meet, dairy, and cooked food like soups, sauces rice, pasta or legumes. If you cover the food, the bacteria from the air can’t reach the food, that is why everything you buy from the butcher has to be rapt, and the cooked food has to be covered as soon as it is cold.
b. Keep the meat in the fridge.
Bacteria need a certain range to grow, so do not leave for long fish or meet at room temperature and try to store them as soon as possible in the fridge. Bacteria usually prefer a temperature range from 8° Celsius (46° F) to 75° Celsius (167° F), so you can keep your cooked food over 75° for a long period of time outside, but soon as it is cold it’s good to store it in the fridge.
c. Keep your fridge well organized.
In order to avoid possible contamination is good to store meat and fish on the bottom shelf, and the other products like salads or legumes on the top shelf. This way you avoid contamination from the raw food.
4. Support your local bio farmers.
Instead of encouraging big producers to continue the mass production.
We always complain that corporations are evil and they only want our money, but instead of complaining we can use this to our advantage, by not giving them our hard earned cash for products that are not bringing benefits to us or the environment we can directly influence their behavior. A great sales guy told me when I was starting in my career: ‘Florin don’t forget that in business your money (salary) is in the customer pocket, he decides what he gets, without him you have no money and no power.’ This made me realize that our spending habits have much more impact on companies then we realize.
5. Read the labels
Not only for the expiration date, but also look for clues about how to store it, where the food is coming from or how much sugar and fat it contains. You will be surprised how much sugar there is in products that are presented as low fat or healthy, for instance I was shocked to find out that my low fat yogurt contains half the quantity of sugar as a Coca-Cola. So be vigilant, you only need to do this once per product until you find the ones that are best for you, but this little check can make the difference between eating something healthy or buying something that is only advertised as being so. Also, like this you can choose to buy the products that are produced near your region, instead of being shipped across the globe.
To find out more about the importance of reading the labels, you can follow the story of two identical twins, Alexander and Chris, both doctors, who tested out two of the most popular and debated diets while observing the results.
In a one month unique experiment for BBC’s Horizon one of them went on a low-carb diet, and the other had a low-fat diet. What they found out was pretty amazing. Both diets had their ups and downs, the low-fat one performed better at brain tests, while the low-carb diet won the weight loss competition, but also broke down muscle tissue in the process. So after a month of testing in similar conditions, it was really hard to say which of the two diets is best, and that lead Alexander and Chris to ask a different question. Which foods make us eat more and gain weight, and why?
They realized that it’s not sugar or fat making us eat more and consequently gaining weight, but is the combination between the two. By themselves, neither sugar nor fat are very addictive. However when they are put together, like in ice-cream, the effect on the brain is similar to having cocaine, according to some scientists. The food industry knows this and that is why you’re rarely sold the two separately. That is why it is crucial you read the labels, and keep an eye on what you are putting in your body. It might be one of the most important things you can do for yourself and the planet.
Let us know which of this tips worked best for you in the comment box bellow.
Ever wondered what is the correlation between money, in terms of product value, and CO2 emissions? Or formulated in another way, how our spending habits affect our environment?
It seems that a 1000 $ in total production is equivalent to an increase of oil equivalent energy use of around 190 kg, based on the current world energy mix. Every 1 tone of oil equivalent energy equals to 2,4 tones of CO2 in the atmosphere. So for every 5000 $ in production we are releasing, on average, 2,4 tones of CO2 into the atmosphere, and almost half of this remains in the air. Putting this in perspective, 2,4 tones is the weight of a normal SUV, and half of this can’t be absorbed by nature.
– Definition: The tonne of oil equivalent (toe) is a unit of energy defined as the amount of energy released by burning one tonne of crude oil. It is approximately 42 gigajoules, although as different crude oils have different calorific values, the exact value is defined by convention; several slightly different definitions exist. The toe is sometimes used for large amounts of energy. Wikipedia. –
Keep in mind that this release is only related to production, it does not take into consideration the effects of agriculture, deforestation, water pollution or population growth, which are even more devastating to the environment and affect also other sustainability boundaries of our planet. You can read more about these on: http://reconstructromania.ro/global-warning/
To get a feeling about how bad the situation is, take a look at the graphic bellow made by the U.N., it shows the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere in the last 800 000 years. Just watch what happened in the last 100 years! We did not only reach the maximum level of CO2 in the atmosphere, but we have almost doubled it, with no sign of a decrease to normal levels. We must Green UP now, and one way to do it is by adjusting our spending habits!
More about this in the next article, until then Green UP!