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Your kid’s first car just might be electric

Two decades from now, children born into a world shaped by COVID-19 will be coming of age, and while the pandemic’s lasting imprint is unclear, one detail is coming into focus: Baby’s first car will probably be electric.

Despite the slump in the global electric vehicle market this year, a new analysis from the research firm BloombergNEF suggests that electric vehicle adoption will accelerate, eventually. The researchers’ annual outlook estimates that by 2040, 58 percent of new passenger cars sold will be electric, up from 2 percent today, and electric models will make up 31 percent of all of the cars on the road.

But it’s going to be a bumpy road to get there. A report by research firm Wood Mackenzie released in early April predicted a 43 percent drop in global electric vehicle sales by the end of the year. The new analysis by BNEF estimated that sales would only dip by 18 percent. Either way, it’s a sharp change of course for the industry, which has been growing steadily for over a decade.

Automakers were also forced to shut down factories and suspend production to help contain the outbreak, delaying the release of some new electric models, such as the latest Chevy Bolt and the electric Hummer. And with oil prices at record lows, some experts predict that buyers won’t be able to justify the up-front costs of electric cars with savings on gas.

So how does any of this spell a fast and furious adoption of electric vehicles in the future? The short answer: cheaper cars and more aggressive climate change policy. In a statement, Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport for BNEF, said the firm’s analysis suggested that internal combustion engine car sales already peaked back in 2017, and that electric car prices will finally be on par with their gas counterparts by 2025, thanks to falling prices for lithium-ion batteries. That day could come even sooner for Tesla vehicles: The company claims to be on the verge of introducing a new, more-affordable, long-lasting battery in its Model 3 sedan as early as later this year that it says will make the car cost competitive with gas models. But it will only be available in China to start.

The outlook is even brighter for electric buses, expected to make up 67 percent of all buses on the road by 2040, according to the analysis, as well as two-wheeled vehicles like mopeds and motorcycles, which are expected to be 47 percent electric by that year. To make this electric future viable, the world is going to need about 290 million charging stations, with a total price tag of around $500 billion, said Aleksandra O’Donovan, head of electrified transport for BNEF. Electric vehicles will increase electricity demand by about 5 percent.

Much of the sales growth will be in Europe and China, at least in the near term, where there is more policy support. There are now 13 countries around the world that have plans to phase out gas-powered cars altogether. The United States isn’t one of them. The U.S. government is currently in the process of phasing out a tax credit that helped spur electric vehicle adoption.

But states are attempting to pick up the slack. In Colorado, a new plan unveiled last month promises to add almost 1 million electric cars to the road in the next ten years and fully transition trucks and buses to electric options. Connecticut released a similar roadmap, with the goal of ramping up electric vehicle use by more than 100,000 vehicles in just five years. While budget drains endanger both of those plans, officials are optimistic that the momentum for electric vehicles is pandemic-proof.

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Your kid’s first car just might be electric

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Can’t eat gluten? Pesticides and nonstick pans might have something to do with it, study says

It seems like everyone knows someone with a sensitivity to gluten — a protein mixture found in cereal grains, like wheat and barley. A third of all Americans say they avoid products with gluten in them, and grocery store shelves are overflowing with gluten-free products that didn’t exist a decade ago.

For roughly 1 percent of the planet’s population, eating gluten triggers a genetic immune response called celiac disease that has wide-ranging consequences. The disease’s symptoms range from mild, like diarrhea, fatigue, gas, to severe. Think nausea and vomiting, osteoporosis, infertility, neurological problems, and even the development of other autoimmune diseases.

The root causes of celiac disease have largely stumped epidemiologists. But a study out Tuesday by researchers from New York University establishes a link between the disease and two groups of manmade chemicals: pesticides and a compound known as PFAS, which is often found in products around the house. It might help explain why some people who are susceptible to celiac disease end up developing it when others don’t. The researchers analyzed the levels of toxic chemicals in the blood of 90 children, 30 of whom had recently been diagnosed celiac. They found that those with high levels of pesticides in their blood were twice as likely to develop the disease.

“Our study establishes the first measurable tie-in between environmental exposure to toxic chemicals and celiac disease,” Jeremiah Levine, a coauthor and a professor of pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said.

Ben Lebwohl, director of clinical research at Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center, said the results should be treated with caution. “There are a number of limitations that prevent us from drawing sweeping conclusions,” he said in an email to colleagues on Tuesday. He pointed out that the study only looked at children who had already been diagnosed with celiac. “Children who get diagnosed are likely different in important ways related to health care utilization and socioeconomics, which may be associated with these pollutant levels.”

But Lebwohl said the research added to a growing body of work that suggest that environmental factors increase the risk of gluten intolerance. The study, he said, “mandates follow-up work.”

Levine and the other researchers also tested for toxic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances found in nonstick cookware and fire retardant and have been linked to multiple types of cancer and other harmful diseases. The study was conducted on subjects under the age of 21 because children and young adults are uniquely vulnerable to chemicals that may disrupt immune function.

They uncovered some surprising results. Young females exposed to higher-than-normal levels of non-stick chemicals like PFAs were five to 9 times more likely to have the disease than children exposed to lower concentrations of those chemicals (women make up a majority of celiac cases worldwide). Young males with elevated blood levels of fire-retardant chemicals were twice as likely to be diagnosed with celiac compared to children with lower levels of fire retardants in their blood.

Some of the chemicals have been out of commission for years. “We found that kids were susceptible across the board to a particular pesticide that had already been phased out of most uses,” Leonardo Trasande, a co-author of the study and a professor of environmental medicine at NYU, told Grist. “That speaks to the fact that we have legacy effects of synthetic chemicals that were used decades ago.”

Trasande said more research and a larger sample size is needed to determine whether those chemicals directly cause the disease and whether they’re linked to other autoimmune disorders. But the study lends more support to those calling for stricter regulation of toxic chemicals and pesticides.

“We do need a more rigorous structure for regulating these chemicals in the first place,” Trasande said.

In the meantime, he suggests a few steps to help reduce exposure at home: Open the windows and use a wet mop to collect organic pollutant dust from furniture and electronics that might still carry flame retardants. Avoid using non-stick pots and pans. Trasande suggests replacing them with cast iron or steel. And finally, avoid athletic wear that’s over-treated with chemicals. “You don’t really need oil-resistance in athletic materials,” he said, “you just need to repel sweat.”

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Can’t eat gluten? Pesticides and nonstick pans might have something to do with it, study says

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How to Compare Solar Energy Bids & Select a Solar Installer

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More home and business owners are installing solar panels than ever before. And we now have a greater variety of panels and solar equipment to choose from than ever before. Depending on where you live, you probably have at least two or three solar installers that service your area. This means you have a lot of options when installing a solar energy system — which can be overwhelming.

Let’s explore some of the items to consider that will help you select a solar energy installer that can meet your needs.

Research Solar Installers

Like with any other home improvement project, it is wise to get at least two or three bids from licensed solar contractors with liability insurance. Here are a few ideas for finding potential installers.

Seek Recommendations & Online Reviews

If you know people with solar systems, you can ask them about their experience and possibly get referrals that way. Online reviews are also a good way to find some of the best installers in your area. Consider how long the company has been in business, the depth of their experience, their credentials, and their reputation.

Consider Local Businesses

Whenever possible, support small, locally-owned businesses. This is beneficial for your local economy and maybe even your pocketbook. A study from the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) found that small- to mid-sized installers charge 10 percent less than big installers.

Review Solar Contractor Qualifications

Another important thing to consider is the qualifications of a given solar contractor. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certifies solar PV installers. Their requirements involve passing a written test and accumulating a certain amount of solar field experience. NABCEP certification doesn’t guarantee quality workmanship, but it does ensure a certain level of solar energy expertise and installation experience. Ideally, a NABCEP-certified professional will oversee your solar installation — or you will even have a NABCEP-certified installer on the roof.

Check Installer’s Use of Subcontractors

It is also helpful to know if a solar installer subcontracts out some or all of the solar installation. If so, find out what work the contractor will do themselves and what they outsource to a subcontractor. Subcontracting part of the job isn’t necessarily bad news. For example, they might subcontract a roofer to flash around the installation, which could improve the quality of the final results. 

Compare Project Quotes

Now that you have received quotes from at least two or three reputable solar installers, it is time to compare them. This could be a bit more difficult than you might expect because it is rarely an apples-to-apples comparison.

Some of the most crucial things to consider are the warranties, quality of the solar equipment, appearance of the solar panels, financing, and when they can complete your installation.


The solar equipment will come with its own set of warranties — this varies by the manufacturer and equipment model. There should also be a warranty on labor. Keep in mind that equipment failure can often require a couple of people to climb up on your roof to repair it. This can get expensive if labor is not covered. The more reputable equipment manufacturers and solar contractors are more likely to honor their warranties and to be in business down the road.


Solar installers tend to have solar panels, inverters, and racking equipment that they prefer using. If you are particularly excited about a particular solar product, you can ask the contractor if they will use this equipment. This can also make it easier to make a more accurate comparison between installers’ quotes.

If you don’t have particular products in mind, it is still important to consider the quality of the equipment and that it fits your priorities. Some of the most relevant considerations for solar panels are their long-term power generation, product warranties, environmental performance, appearance, and module testing performance. Cheaper solar panels have a lower upfront cost, but they may also produce less power down the line. Some panels might be more expensive partially because they have a sleek, all-black appearance, which may not be a top priority to you.


Many solar installers partner with financing companies. If you need a loan to install your solar system, consider the financing company they use. For example, what are their rates, fees, and monthly payments? This not an issue if you do not need financing or you are not going through the solar installer to obtain a loan.


When comparing bids, it is also helpful to know when a given installer can get started. Because solar is booming, some contractors have a very full schedule for months. When your solar system is installed can also impact the percentage of the federal solar tax credit as it will taper down for the next several years, effective on the first of each year.

Power Generation

Another thing to consider is power generation. Many contracts will offer estimates on how much electricity a given solar system will produce. Some installers use more conservative methods when estimating this than others, so you do not want to take their estimates literally. For example, one installer may estimate that your roof is more shaded than another installer’s estimate. This means you may want to verify these numbers to make a more accurate comparison between bids. To do this, visit PVWatts Calculator by NREL.

It is a good idea to consider your future electric needs. If a given solar system is estimated to produce more than 100 percent of your electricity needs, it may be larger than necessary. Do you plan a purchase in the near future that will increase your power consumption, such as an electric vehicle or a heat pump? If so, it is useful to slightly oversize the solar system for the time being.

Electric Bill Savings

Also, installers may estimate your electric bill savings. Make sure they used an accurate power rate by viewing your electric bills.

Examine the Contract

It is common when reading solar installer reviews to find dissatisfied customers. In many cases, the salesperson promised the customer something verbally that they didn’t deliver on.

Make sure everything that the salesperson promised is included in the terms in the contract. For example, if your solar installer promised the solar company would remove and reinstall the solar system when the roof is replaced, make sure it is in the contract. If the salesperson promised the system would be installed by December 31, before the federal tax credit tapers down a few percentage points, look for that in the contract.


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How to Compare Solar Energy Bids & Select a Solar Installer

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Electric Scooters: Dirty or Green Transportation?

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If you visit a city these days, you are sure to see Lime, Bird, Spin, or Skip electric scooters zipping between traffic and pedestrians or parked in rows near busy restaurants and malls. But these electric scooters might not be as green as you think. Shared electric scooter companies like to boast about their carbon-free credentials but that is not the whole truth. 

The Influx of Electric Scooters Across the U.S.

Love them or hate them, electric scooters seem to be here to stay. Shared or “dockless” — meaning riders don’t have to return them to a charging station after a ride — electric scooters rolled onto U.S. city streets in 2018 and ever since, have been rented millions of times over. 

The National Association of City Transportation Officials revealed that 38.5 million trips were taken on shared electric scooters in 2018, overtaking station-based bicycles as the most popular form of shared micro-mobility transportation in the U.S. in just the first year they were widely available.

The eclipse of the docked bicycles was mainly due to the introduction of a staggering 85,000 electric scooters available for public use in U.S. cities compared with 57,000 station-based bikes.

How Micro-Mobility Is Changing Urban Transport

As electric scooters have become more widely available to the public, a micro-mobility revolution has surfaced: U.S. citizens increasingly opt to travel the “last mile” by alternative over traditional transport methods. 

The changing landscape of urban transportation can be boiled down to two factors. The first is the ubiquity of electric scooters and smartphones. People can easily locate and rent shared electric scooters by using an app. After a small financial transaction conducted through a smartphone app, the renter can ride a scooter for a set period of time. The ability to pay from a smartphone app using a credit card makes the process of using an electric scooter extremely convenient.

The second factor is the dockless appeal of the shared micro-mobility devices. It is easy to see why electric scooters eclipsed the number of docked, station-based bikes in 2018. If a rider rents a docked bike, they need to return it to a docking station. But the dockless electric scooters can be found, ridden, and left almost anywhere. The convenience of hopping on an electric scooter, riding it from A to B, and leaving it wherever you want contributes significantly to the popularity of these shared micro-mobility devices.

Part of the appeal of shared electric scooters? Riders don’t need to return them to a docking station at the end of their ride. Photo: Paulo Almeida on Unsplash

The Recharge Process

Scooters don’t charge themselves. Throughout the day, the scooter service deploys people driving cars or trucks to collect scooters that have run through their electric charge. Batteries must be plugged in, and the maintenance person who picks them up must haul them to a workspace to recharge tired scooters.

Besides the source of power used, moving scooters from where the last rider left them to a recharging center — which may be someone’s home — produces the same CO2 output as the car or truck used. It’s a two-way trip and scooters must be redistributed where riders are likely to find and use them. We can’t calculate the total emissions, but if you are looking for a green ride, seek scooters from companies that document how much mileage and the types of vehicles used to collect and distribute their two-wheeled transportation.

The Invisible Carbon Contributor 

At face value, electric scooters appear to be carbon-free modes of transportation. But what you can’t see may come as a surprise.

Just like all other modes of transportation, electric scooters need fuel. With traditional modes of transportation such as cars, it is easy to see the pollutants being emitted from their tailpipes. But that is not the case with electric scooters. Although electric scooters may not directly emit emissions through tailpipes, they do contribute greenhouse gases once you factor in the energy used to charge the scooters.

The widespread use of electric scooters and the energy needed to keep the wheels rolling has had a direct effect on the environment. Research from Electric Scooter Insider revealed that, once you factor in the CO² that is released as a result of producing and delivering the electricity needed to charge the scooters, 146.21 grams, or about a third of a pound, of CO² is emitted for every mile ridden.

Bloomberg reported that the scooter riders average 1.5 miles per trip. Combining this with the 38.5 million trips, approximately 57.8 million miles were traveled on electric scooters in 2018. In fact, electric scooters contributed 9,308 tons of CO² in 2018, equivalent to the energy use of an average house for 650 years.

However, it’s not all bad. The amount CO² emissions would have been far greater if those 57.8 million miles were traveled using gas-powered cars. Traveling that distance by car instead of electric scooters, the amount of CO² emitted could have been more than double (22,720 tons).

Electric scooters may not be carbon-free but they still contribute 59 percent less CO² compared to the average car in America (356.91 grams of CO² per mile).

Current State of Electricity Generation in the U.S.

In 2018, fossil fuels made up the majority (63.5 percent) of U.S. electricity generation. This played a significant role in the CO² per mile emission factor for electric scooters.

Charging an electric scooter using clean energy sources would substantially reduce its carbon footprint. The current status of renewable energy sources for the U.S. accounts for only 17.1 percent of all electricity generated. The growing popularity of electric scooters is just one more reason the U.S. needs to expand its investment clean, renewable energy.

The electric scooter, if powered by renewable energy, is a win for the environment. It’s up to you to learn about the power sources a scooter service uses.

Conscious Consumerism

How clean electric scooters are is totally dependent on the energy source used to generate the electricity needed to charge them. As such, conscious consumerism will play a significant role in the future of these micro-mobility devices and their impact on the environment. 

As environmentally conscious consumers, we should know the source of our energy. If you don’t know how your electricity is generated, ask your electricity service provider. If your electricity comes from a clean, renewable energy source like wind, solar, or hydropower, you can feel good about riding and charging your electric scooter — or electric car.

About the Author

Josh Frisby is the founder of Electric Scooter Insider, a site that reviews and recommends the best electric scooters. He also conducts extensive research studies into the micro-mobility industry to uncover interesting insights that spark debate and increase the exposure of electric scooters to the general public.

Feature image courtesy of Marek Rucinski from Unsplash


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Electric Scooters: Dirty or Green Transportation?

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How to Negotiate With a Contractor for Green Building Projects

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If you’re planning a green renovation or remodeling project, you now have more green-friendly products and contractors available than ever before.

Although there are many important details to consider, finding the right contractor for completing the project is essential. Contractors with experience in making energy efficiency upgrades, using natural and local materials, and conserving resources will bring a lot to the table. Ideally, they will add synergy to your green home project and to make it a reality. Here are some tips for negotiating with contractors for green home projects.

Dream Green From the Start

To achieve the best results, we recommend you keep green features in mind from the project’s beginning, not merely as an afterthought. Look for contractors with an established track record of building using sustainable and recyclable materials, deep awareness of the insulation and natural lighting opportunities when remodeling, and the customer roster to prove they deliver. When you need to hire an architect or other design professionals for your project, make sure they are aware of your green project goals and that they are experienced.

If you are building an addition to your home, for example, strategically placing windows and doors can help save energy. If this isn’t planned early on, it can drive up project costs and create delays. During your walk-through with the contractor, listen to whether they make these suggestions or have to be asked. Make clear from the start you want a healthy and environmentally friendly outcome.

Do Your Homework

Although many experienced contractors will have ideas and suggestions, it is also helpful to conceptualize your project before meeting with them. Conduct research about the type of project and the materials, such as doors, window frames, or appliances involved before even the first planning session. This will help you bring specific goals to the table for the first meeting, making it more productive.

Take the time to meet several contractors, no matter how good the first one appears. Asking three contractors about the same project will produce three different approaches that may bring important issues to the surface. With those meetings behind you, pick the contractor with the best reputation who provides the most complete estimate and covers all, or at least most, of the concerns raised by the other contractors.

Consider the Long-Term Costs

Keep in mind that the upfront cost may be greater for green projects but will often save you money over time. For example, if you add insulation to the attic when finishing it out, it can reduce your heating and cooling costs for decades. Metal roofs cost more than their asphalt counterparts but are far more durable.

Consider both the project cost and potential cost savings to understand the big picture financially.

Find a Contractor With Green Renovation Experience

There are now many builders, electricians, carpenters, and even plumbers with vast knowledge and experience in completing green projects. Find a building professional with experience in the given type of project.

For example, if you want to add a graywater system to your home, find a plumber who has done this work before. Look at examples or at least photos of their work; speak with past clients and read online reviews to learn about their experience. Make sure they are licensed and insured to complete the work and that they will take care of any needed permits. There are several national certification programs that can be helpful in your search:

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB): — Certified Green Professional (CGP)
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) — LEED Accredited Professional
Green Advantage (GA) — Green Advantage Certified Practitioner (GACP)

Always Get Multiple Bids

It is typically recommended to get at least three bids for your project. It is hard to know if you are getting a fair price without shopping around. Some contractors will take different approaches to the same project, resulting in a different finished product.

The initial meeting is a great opportunity to pick their brains and get ideas. If your preferred contractor has a higher bid than others, you can ask him or her to match the price of a lower bid. Your goal is to get the best result for you, the planet, and your wallet.

Flesh Out the Details

The details can be extremely important, especially for green products.

Ask the contractor to specify what materials they will use. Whenever possible, use formaldehyde-free and recycled materials, locally and sustainably harvested wood products, nontoxic insulation, and low or no VOC finishes and adhesives. Buying these products yourself is a possible way to cut costs and ensure they have the green features you want.

Also, find out if the contractor will subcontract out some of the work. If so, research the reputation of the subcontractors as well. It’s the person doing the work who has to live up the the environmental expectations you set.

Have a Clear Contract

Make sure that the contract specifies all the important details, starting with a clear project description. Hold your contractor to their estimate, requiring they ask you before over-spending on materials or labor. The final cost of your project is your responsibility to manage and the contractor’s business to increase as much as you will allow.

Here are a few of the common questions to answer in the contract:

Who will purchase the materials and apply for needed permits?
What products will be used?
How long will it take the complete the project and is there a penalty if the project goes past the deadline?
What is the payment schedule and terms?
Is there a warranty on the work and for how long?

Make sure you get any promises the contractor makes in writing and don’t just rely on just a firm handshake. Keep your estimates, contract, and any receipts provided together both for your security and to share with a future home buyer.


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How to Negotiate With a Contractor for Green Building Projects

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Green Preschools: An Early Start for Sustainable Living

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Young children’s minds are like sponges. They absorb just about everything — good and bad. Often, they pick up on things around them that we adults don’t even notice. Input from the world around them shapes young children’s lives, who they become as adults, and how they live.

Teaching a Healthy Lifestyle & Embracing Nature

That concept is reflected in Dawn Maxwell’s goal to run a preschool “… focused on living a healthy life, embracing nature and letting kids have fun.” Maxwell, a mother of four, said, “I just thought it would work. Their minds are so observant.” The Green House in Oklahoma City uses all-natural cleaners, rags instead of paper towels, eco-friendly toys, and serves only vegan, organic, gluten-free food. Whatever food is left over is recycled or composted. Dawn also teaches her students — who range in age from 3 to 6 — how to garden.

David Centola, whose daughter Clara attended The Green House, said he chose the school after exploring several other options. Ultimately, Centola picked The Green House because of its focus on teaching children about the environment. (Editor’s note, August 2019: It appears that The Green House preschool in Oklahoma City is no longer in business, but the nature-based preschool movement continues to grow.)

Growth of Nature-Based Preschools

Maxwell isn’t the only educator who believes in the benefits of learning sustainable lifestyle habits early. According to the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Natural Start Alliance, “The first nature-based preschool in the United States opened in 1966.” By 2012, there were more than 150 nature-based preschools across the country.

Some schools are taking basic steps towards a more environmentally friendly approach, while others have their entire curriculum based around nature. For example, Sunflower Preschool in Boulder, Colorado, teaches children about recycling, composting, and gardening. The outdoor curriculum at the school “honors the natural environment” and the staff encourages “a sense of wonder in the natural world” as well as active play and a child-directed classroom to stimulate development.

Do Parents Find the Difference Worth the Expense?

Peter J. Pizzolongo, a representative for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, says that the driving force behind the trend of nature-based education is the parents. “If it is something that families value, then they’re going to seek that out. … Largely, the movement within the school is recycling, reuse and alternate use, and cutting back on a lot of using of plastics and things that are thrown away.”

With the change in focus comes a slight change in price among most of the nature-based preschools. But, for the parents who are passionate about the nature-focused practices of these preschools, the difference is worth the cost.

It is never too early to start cultivating good habits and practices in children, especially since they will someday be the stewards of the planet. Teaching them how to take care of it now will eventually lead to a cleaner, greener planet.

Editor’s note: Originally published on September 16, 2014, this article was updated in August 2019.


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Green Preschools: An Early Start for Sustainable Living

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Green Websites and Online Games for Kids

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Young people are spending more and more time on devices. Kids between the ages of eight and 12 spend nearly six hours online daily on average. Although this statistic seems quite high, it is important to consider what children are doing online.

There are many educational websites and online games that teach children about nature, the climate crisis, or how to recycle. Unfortunately, some of these are not all that engaging, judging from my kid’s responses to them. Others teach about the natural world but don’t specifically teach young people about living greener lives.

Let’s explore some of the best green websites for young people.

Super Sorter

Super Sorter is an engaging game that takes children to a materials recovery facility to sort mixed recyclables. Plastic bottles, glass containers, and cardboard boxes appear on a conveyor belt where they must be sorted by one of four different technologies. Each sorter specializes in capturing different types of materials so players purchase and place the sorters strategically to have the highest recovery rate.

After watching kids play this game, it does seem to genuinely teach the concept that specific infrastructure is needed to have high recovery rates for single-stream recycling. It is ideal for late elementary age students and older.

PBS Nature Games

The PBS Kids website has a collection of nature games for elementary school-aged kids with a variety of themes. Gamers learn about ecosystems, bird species, constellations, soil health, geography, and more while playing. The object of the games is sometimes being a steward of nature or the environment, like managing renewable energy production, feeding winter birds, and creating wildlife habitat.

Much of the information is offered as a narrative during the game, which some kids might tune out. If nothing else, kids will gain exposure to certain vocabulary that could be helpful later on. These games are ideal for elementary-age children and often don’t require the ability to read.

National Geographic Kids

The National Geographic Kids website has a variety of resources that teach children about different animal species, planets, and special places. Kids can take a pledge to cut back on the use of disposable plastic, learn about amazing animals, or test their knowledge on a given topic with a quiz.

Rich graphics help keep this site interesting to kids, but aside from the videos, many activities require an ability to read. This website is ideal for late-elementary-age students and older. Most early-elementary-age children will need some help from an adult but will likely find the content interesting.

Ranger Rick

Ranger Rick is an interactive website that teaches children about different animals, provides instruction on craft projects, and has some jokes and games. Like National Geographic Kids, the website has excellent graphics and is well organized for young users.

Although Ranger Rick teaches children about the natural world, the website doesn’t necessarily teach children much about more sustainable lifestyle choices and conservation. One year of full access is $10. Because many activities require an ability to read, most early-elementary-age kids will need some assistance from an adult.

Have you found other educational green websites and online games that your children like? Share them with the Earth911 community in the Earthling Forum.


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Green Websites and Online Games for Kids

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Cutting Down on Lawn — Alternatives to Grass

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Lawns are green in color only, and the odds are good that you’re sick of mowing. You could save time by ignoring lawncare myths, and there are ways to reduce the water and energy you waste on your lawn, but even the most eco-friendly lawn is still a lawn.

Here are some tips for reducing the amount of the lawn in your yard even if you’re not an avid gardener.


There’s a good chance that you have at least a few trees and bushes planted around the edges of your lawn. Add to the existing woody plants in your yard to create deep shrub borders. Plant native species and mulch them all the way to the drip line to reduce the need for water and protect trunks from lawnmower damage. Once established, native shrub borders can survive without supplemental water most years, and need pruning no more than once a year.

Berry Beds

Fill a raised bed that gets plenty of sun with blackberries and you’ll be rewarded with fresh fruit. Image: pixel2013, Pixabay

Raised beds create a sense of structure in the landscape that looks tidier than shrub borders. They also keep cane berries like raspberry and blackberry from spreading.

Filled with flowers or vegetables, raised beds can be just as much work as lawn. But filled with berries, all they need is sun and water and you’ll be rewarded with fresh fruit. But don’t be surprised if you get inspired to take up beekeeping to keep those harvests going.

Unmown Grasses

Ornamental grasses like this pink muhly require minimal care. Image: paulbr75, Pixabay

Lawn grass is not the only kind of grass, in fact, it is one of the least interesting or useful forms.

Ornamental grasses can be used to create sophisticated planting designs or to recreate native prairie. If you choose native species, you can free yourself from both watering and mowing, so you’ll have plenty of free time to sit back and enjoy the butterflies and other wildlife attracted to your certified wildlife habitat.

But research horticultural varieties before planting — many ornamental grasses are invasive species. If a grass doesn’t belong in your region, don’t plant it.

Ground Covers

Sempervivum, a succulent commonly known as “hens and chicks” is just one of many resilient ground covers. Image: Hans, Pixabay

There are probably areas of your lawn that don’t get very much — if any — foot traffic. For those areas, other ground covers may be more appropriate than grass, especially in shady areas. As with grasses, many ground covers can be invasive. Consider native plants like kinnikinnick or wild ginger — find out what grows in your region.

Few ground covers are as hardy as lawn grass. But clover, herbs like creeping thyme, and even moss can tolerate some foot traffic. The benefit, though, is groundcover that requires relatively little water compared to the traditional lawn.

Unplanted Areas

Although permeable pavers can reduce the amount of grass you have to deal with while still allowing rainwater to drain through the gaps, an entirely paved yard is probably too much. Gravel, on the other hand, can be a lawn substitute without making your yard look built over. Combining large areas of gravel broken up with a few drought-tolerant plants is best suited to dry climates and desert landscapes.

There’s no need to rip out your entire lawn if you don’t want to. But you can save time, energy, and water by reducing the area of your lawn. Try one or more of these strategies to chip away at the edges of your lawn. You might find yourself with a prettier yard and more time to enjoy it.


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Cutting Down on Lawn — Alternatives to Grass

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Is My Roof Too Shaded for Solar Panels?

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Many people want to install solar panels but their roofs are very shaded. Is it worth it to go solar?

Obviously, solar panels produce more power when they are in direct sunlight, but they do generate some power when shaded. Here are the typical reasons for shady roof areas and how to place solar panels to take advantage of the light that is available.

Solar Orientation

It is ideal to install the solar panels on a south-facing roof.

When the panels point either west or east, they will not get as much direct sun during part of the day. If the panels face east, they will produce a lot of energy in the morning but very little in the late afternoon. The reverse is true if they face west. It is not recommended to install solar panels facing north as they will receive almost no direct sunlight.

To determine the generation loss due to orientation, use the PVWatts calculator tool and edit the azimuth field, which represents the angle at which your solar panels must be placed. 


Although trees are wonderful for so many reasons, they are not necessarily compatible with solar panels unless they are planted on the north side of the home.

Trees on the south side can be most problematic because they can block midday sun, which is very important for overall power production. Trees can also prevent passive solar gains that can keep your heating energy use down in the winter.

There are a few things to keep in mind with trees. They could shade your solar panels more in the colder months when the sun is at a lower angle (especially if you live farther north). It is also important to consider the type of trees and how much they will grow.

Some smaller trees can be pruned to keep them small while some trees are just immense. Deciduous trees will shade your panels less in the winter months than conifers because they lose their leaves. However, even branch shade does have an impact on energy production.

Dormers, Gables, and Chimneys 

These roof features are another culprit for solar electricity production. Aside from strategically placing solar panels where they aren’t shaded, there are few ways to get around these architectural obstacles.

An experienced solar installer will be able to place the panels where they receive the least amount of shading. Unfortunately, this might limit the size of the array.

Other Locations for Solar Panels

Keep in mind that you can install panels on a garage, as an awning, on a carport, or even on a trellis. This will probably increase the installation cost, especially if you need to purchase materials to reinforce the trellis or carport. Yet, these structures can be useful solar locations and provide other benefits. 

Join a Community Solar Farm

Community solar gardens or farms are owned by a group of people or a company. They allow a group of households and businesses to use the renewable energy that off-site solar panels generate without installing the solar panels on their properties. Solar farms are ideal for renters, apartment dwellers, low-income households, and people with shaded roofs.

Some states have legislation in place making this arrangement more feasible and economical. Currently, Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, and Colorado are the the top states for community solar farms. But 15 other states also have policies supporting community solar projects, and in several other states, utility providers and other groups are working to offer community solar. If you live in one of these states and have a shaded roof, joining a community solar farm might be a great option.


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Is My Roof Too Shaded for Solar Panels?

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Broke Is the New Green

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Planet-friendly products are getting easier to find, but they’re still too expensive for most people to buy.

If you can’t afford fair trade coffee, organic cotton towels, and reclaimed wood tables, environmentalism can seem like a cause you can’t join. It’s good to shop your values, but the truth is, you can’t shop your way to sustainability. If you’re too broke to shop green, there’s a pretty good chance that you are already living that way.


Housing ties with transportation as Americans’ biggest direct carbon impacts, making fantasies of off-grid homesteading or net-zero efficiency hard to resist. At least, they would be if they weren’t so expensive.

As inspiring as these sorts of homes are, it takes 15 to 20 years for a net-zero house to offset the carbon emissions from its own construction. Which means that energy retrofits to an old house are not only much cheaper than moving to a new one, they are just as green.

Density, meaning both the size of your home or the number of people you squeeze into it, lowers per capita emissions more than almost any other housing change. Besides reduced per capita energy consumption, the benefits cascade into reduced transportation emissions and consumer waste.

In fact, the U.S. could achieve half of its climate targets if everyone got a roommate.


Feel guilty because you can’t afford a Prius? Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s true that about 80 percent of a vehicle’s emissions result from driving it rather than manufacturing it. But the exact math on whether it’s greener to buy an efficient new car is not clear cut.

Replacing your 1970s Buick that gets 8 mpg with a 1990s Honda might be greener than buying a new electric vehicle (unless it’s a recycled EV). Next time your old car is in the shop, you can feel extra virtuous.

Walking, biking, and taking public transportation are all greener than driving, no matter what kind of car you own.

Shopping Less

Four-fifths of the impacts that can be attributed to consumers are not direct impacts, but are secondary impacts, the environmental effects of producing the stuff we buy.

If your tight budget has you thinking twice before you head to the register, you are eliminating waste before it’s produced. That’s called precycling, and it’s the greenest consumer choice you can make.

When you really do need to buy stuff, a new organic cotton T-shirt is undoubtedly better than a new one made from conventional cotton. But life cycle analysis shows that by far the most important factor is the number of times consumers wear a garment before throwing it out. Buying second-hand is almost as good as not buying at all, because it extends the life of the product.

Cooking More

Forget fancy dinners at the latest organic, locavore restaurant. Even fast food is more expensive than cooking at home.

What you might not know is that cooking at home produces fewer greenhouse gases than eating the same meal at a restaurant. Plus, you have more influence over your own ingredient choices and food waste at home. Suddenly, making beans and rice starts to look like environmental activism.

Feature image courtesy of  1820796 from Pixabay 


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Broke Is the New Green

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