Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Freezing Yer Buns?

It's cold out!

Okay, it's San Francisco, so it's not THAT cold out, but you know ... it's coldER than it is at other times of the year, and also I am a big, big pansy, so anything less than 60 degrees = cold in my book.

Now I would like to say that, being a pansy non-withstanding, I have been a Freeze Yer Buns star and have been diligently keeping the thermostat at some obscenely cold temperature.

But I have not.

Instead, my thermostat has been hovering between about 65-70 during the day, and sometimes a bit lower at night.

I have to admit, I haven't been putting as much thought and effort into it as I have in years past. When it gets cold, I turn the heat up a notch. At night, when I go to bed, I'll often turn it down a notch.

The truth is, now that I'm not trying to be SUPER HARD CORE about everything, it's a little hard for me to get up the motivation to freeze my buns off. While there are plenty of people who save tons of money by keeping the thermostat down, we don't save that much money. Living in San Francisco means that even heating the apartment to 70 degrees doesn't take THAT much energy if it's 50 degrees outside. And, oh yeah, I live in an apartment. Heating a smaller space just involves less energy.

As I make these justifications to myself for why I don't WANNA freeze (waaah!) I can't help but think back on this Washington Post article about the rebound effect. The article basically states that though our appliances have become much more energy efficient in the past forty years, Americans still use as much energy as we did in the early 1970s. The idea is this: when we purchase more energy efficient appliances that save us money and energy, we will often end up a) using them more, getting something bigger because it will now "cost the same," or turn around and buy yet another energy sucking device.

Energy efficiency can produce a number of these kinds of unintended consequences. A classic example is captured by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, who writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The biggest energy drain in a home is for heating and cooling. We opted to heat our home with a system that runs warm water through all of the floors. The system is energy efficient, I'm told, and wonderfully comfortable, but it's powered by gas. So while our photovoltaic system will someday help during the summer, it will never help much in the cold months when the sun is wimpy and we're burning gas to heat the floors. Worse yet, the heated floors are so pleasant that we probably overuse them compared with a forced air system. That's a classic unintended consequence.
When Adams opts for a more energy efficient system for his heating, he ends up using more heat than he would have if he had gone for a less energy efficient system.

Bringing it back to Freeze Yer Buns, I'm finding that I'm just like any other American. Given a situation where my heating needs are already fairly minimal I choose to keep my apartment heated to a level that I like it.

Which is fine for my buns, but sort of problematic if the goal is to combat climate change by limiting energy use....

What would you do? If you got a super-duper energy efficient heating system that would allow you to keep your thermostat at 70 without using any more energy would you continue to freeze yer buns? Or would you say "eff it" and get those buns nice and toasty?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gift Giving: The Honeymoon Registry Edition

So, one thing I have learned since getting engaged: there is a ginormous wedding blogosphere.


I'm actually not sure why this surprised me; after all, this is the internets. There is every kind of blogosphere you could imagine. If there are bloggers out there writing about giving up toilet paper and refrigeration, why wouldn't there be bloggers out there writing about marriage and weddings?

So, because I like reading new blogs, I've been wading my feet in, reading blogs here and there, making new finds, and just generally soaking up the really great writing that you can now find all over the internet.

It's interesting. It's challenging. Because, frankly, sometimes, here in the eco-blogosphere, we're sort of caught in our own little bubble where pretty much everyone shares our own values. The marriage blogosphere? It's a little different. Not that there aren't plenty of men and women out there planning sustainable weddings ... but that's not everyone's goal, nor is every decision made with the ethos of the alt-consumerist eco-nut in mind.

For instance: a recent controversy that erupted on East Side Bride over whether or not it was tacky to register for a honeymoon.

Honestly, the alt-consumerist in me literally *could not fathom* how registering for a honeymoon could in any way be controversial. As someone who always prefers to gift experiences over material goods, I freaking LOVE honeymoon registries. LOVE.

But as I read the comments on this post, I started to see why people felt the way they felt. One commenter wrote:
"Your getting married means that I want to do something to contribute to your marriage over the long long term. Think of it like a barn raising. Do I want to buy you a butter dish that your grandkids will eat out of? Yes."
And see, I GET that. Material goods are tangible. You can hold a butter dish, you can feel its slight heft, and every time you use it, you can think, "Aunt Sue got me that."

On the other hand, experiences are ephemeral. They're held only in our memories, and even those dull over time. In fifty years, you may still have the butter dish (though possibly not- hello planned obsolescence) but your memory of that snorkeling trip you took or the museum you went to may have faded. So I completely get why giving something physical is so important to so many people.

Still, I stand by my support of honeymoon registries and other experiential gifts. As a giver, I still want to contribute to someone's marriage over the long term. But, for me, the way to do that is through experiences. Even if that honeymoon, or date night at a fancy restaurant, or those tickets to the theatre is a distant memory fifty years hence, I believe that those experiential gifts contribute to the sustenance of a marriage. After all, what is marriage, but an agreement to experience life together?

You can raise a barn in many ways: some people will do so by giving you nuts, bolts, and rafters, others will do so by playing the fiddle because barn ain't raised without a dance. It's the same thing with weddings. Some people want to give the nuts and bolts of your daily life: the butter dishes, the tea cups, the pots and pans. Others want to fill your life with music, travel, food, a night out from the daily grind. It's all good. It's all so valid. And all are contributing to a barn being raised, a life being lived.

So, not that anyone asked me, but if someone were to ask me about honeymoon registries? I'd say, go for it. But maybe include a small physical registry too. After all, we all want to give in different ways.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Do You Feel About the Charity Gift?

Beth of Fake Plastic Fish has a brilliant post up about charitable gift cards where she calculates exactly how much of your money is going to said charity versus to the intermediary company, because she's mathtastic like that. Go read it and then bookmark it for later.

But her post made me wonder ... how do you all feel about the charity contribution gift?

In some ways, I like it ... especially if it is a thoughtful one. For instance, if I know my friend is very involved in a particular non-profit organization, I think it's a very nice gift to support said non-profit in their honor.

I also love how many brides and grooms these days are registering for charity donations in lieu of yet another crystal vase.

That being said, I still very very rarely get people charitable contributions as gifts.

It's not that I don't love supporting charity. I do. And it's not that I feel the need to get people THINGS, because I totally don't. But I guess when I'm getting a gift, I want it to register longer than the millisecond it takes someone to read that I paid X dollars to a charity in honor of them and think, "Oh, that's nice."

Which is why I sort of think the charity gift card or a gift certificate to an organization like Donor's Choose is preferable ... at least in those situations the recipient gets to be an active participant in the charity process.

Still, there's something that sits wrong there for me. Maybe it's because in my mind a gift is a gift and charity is charity and I'm not sure there's a need to conflate the two. Give a gift to someone because you love them, give to charity because you support the organization, but a gift of charity feels ... I dunno, a little 'moralistic' maybe. As much as I believe that we as a society are over materialistic, it breaks my heart just a teeny tiny bit when I read about parents who request no gifts for kids birthday parties or ask for charitable donations instead. As a kid, I *loved* picking out gifts for my friends. I guess I still love picking out gifts, when I'm not super pressed for time and stressed out, that is.

But maybe I'm being a charity curmudgeon. Maybe so much of gift giving has turned out into an obligatory hassle that, frankly, a charity gift is just as good as the Starbucks gift card, and is probably more helpful to the world to boot.

What do you all think?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Amazing News

Guys, guys, I have some amazing news that is so amazing that I forgot to blog about it for three weeks, and am finally getting on the ball now. But seriously, don't let my tardiness detract from the awesomeness that I will unveil in this post.

So, you know how you are always whining about how you wish that you could PAY for things that are FREE? Like air. I mean, I get air for free all the time, but wouldn't it be awesome if I could pay for it and get new, trendy air?


Well, I can't help you on the air front, but I can help you with something else:


That's right, a new company called Boxed Water is Better is now selling tap water. In a cardboard box.

See, now, there are lots of places where you can buy BOTTLED water, and that water is sometimes from the Alps or Fiji, but is also sometimes tap. But that water is BAD because you know, it's in plastic bottles and plastic is bad, and because sometimes it comes from Fiji and water from Fiji is bad.

But Boxed Water is Better is ... well, better. Because it comes in a BOX. I'm telling you, Fake Plastic Fish guzzles down thousands of these a day. And because their water is DEFINITELY tap which is better for the environment. Sure, it would be even better for the environment if you just drank your tap water from the, you know, tap (saving on energy costs, etc) but where's the fun in that?!

And also Boxed Water is Better has a beautiful minimalist website and they even talk a lot about the environment on it.

Really, how could you NOT love this product?

Now, some of you might say, "Ruchi, can't I just get tap water for free? Why should I pay someone to package tap water in a cardboard box?"

And to that I say, for shame. Is it really ALL about the money? Doesn't anyone care about STYLE? And by style I mean drinking out of boxes?

So, people who drink Boxed Water is Better, I salute you. You obviously Care About the Environment. Now, since you seem to enjoy just giving away your money for nothing, would you send me a twenty? Thank you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Sustainable Wedding?

I've been reflecting a lot on weddings and eco-weddings, and what it means to throw a "sustainable wedding" or what the hell that phrase means in the first place.

Weddings are ... difficult. For me, the past month has meant realizing more fully than I had ever truly realized how a wedding really isn't about me. I know, Modern Bride might beg to differ, but it's not just MY special day. It's a lot of people's special day, including, of course, the groom. And those people also have opinions about what the wedding should look like. Especially the groom.

I had ideas about what I wanted my wedding to look like, and I had to pretty much toss them out the window immediately. A lot of my friends (who like me, tend to run pretty indie and eco) incorporated a bunch of Do It Yourself projects into their weddings. In my head, I liked the idea of setting up the wedding with friends and family. But I'm not very crafty, my family is not really a "DIY" family, and we're having a fairly large wedding. DIY ain't happening here.

So, fine, I thought. I have always said that you don't have to be a cowboy, you don't have to do things yourself. Living sustainably can also involve hiring others who share your values. Maybe I can hire a "green caterer" or a "green florist." We can do email save the dates, or maybe not do them at all.

And maybe we will do those things. Or maybe we won't. Maybe we will be constrained by our budget and won't be able to afford the "green caterer," or maybe our attempts to be eco will end up saving us money.

I just don't know, and to a certain extent, I have to let it go.

In a lot of ways, I think weddings are inherently unsustainable from an environmental perspective. They are big shindigs that typically involve a lot of traveling by a multitude of people. It's a lot of money, a lot of energy, a lot of hassle, a lot of stress, a lot of crying. For what generally amounts to ONE DAY.

On the other hand, weddings are sustaining. Not just for one couple, but for entire communities. Weddings are our way of saying together as a community, "Yes. We're here for you. We love you. We're with you."

Look. We're inviting people from four different continents to our wedding (pretty sure there's no one from Africa or Australia on our lists, though I could be wrong.) I don't know if all those far away people are going to travel, but it's probable that some will. And the uptight crazy eco-nut that still exists inside of me to remonstrate when I do things like use paper towels or sleep in and drive to work feels pretty bad about all the energy that will be consumed so people can come to my wedding.

But the rest of me can't get too worked up about it.

I read a post somewhere about someone's wedding (vague I know, if anyone has any idea where the following came from let me know) where they talked about the oft given advice to not invite anyone to the wedding who you weren't sure you would be friends with in three years. And they said that that advice ignored the fact that some people WOULD be your friends in three years BECAUSE you invited them to your wedding.

There are few events where all the people you love make a point to gather in one room, and weddings are one of those select few events. And at the end of the day, that's what it's about for us. It's not about the chairs or the music or the cake or the invitations (though we have opinions on all those things), it's about the people.


I'd like to promise to myself right now, here on this blog, to keep that in mind for the next several months. That, at the end of the day, our wedding is about us, our friends, our family, and our joined community. And as long as I keep remembering that I know, that while our wedding might not the most environmentally sustainable thing in the world, it will be emotionally sustainable. And that's what matters most to me.