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Why Saving Energy is the #1 Green Action you can do this Earth Day

Here’s an Earth Day concept for you—energy efficiency is the “gateway drug” to clean energy.

A person who buys Energy Star appliances, fuel efficient vehicles or hybrids, and home efficiency products is more likely to go on to buy clean energy through their utility, or even look into on-site generation (solar panels, for instance).

But what is the gateway to efficiency? What is the introduction the average person needs to start actually thinking about the energy they use? It’s actually the same easy, everyday idea that can lead people to be more sustainability conscious in every aspect of their lives—conservation.

Granted, the idea of conservation has needed some serious PR for a while, and it’s time we all start spreading the word on what it really means.

For the last few decades, “conservation” has been grossly mischaracterized as “doing without.” For the record, conservation does not mean shivering inside your home in the winter, or sweating on the couch during the summer. It simply means not consuming unused energy. Or, in other words, not wasting energy.

Conservation isn’t sitting in a dark house at night. It’s turning off the light when you leave a room. It’s not suffering in a miserably hot home through the summer. It’s remembering to turn down the thermostat when everyone leaves for the day, so you don’t cool and empty home.  It’s not necessarily a matter of sacrifice, it’s ending wasteful habits.

Conservation, energy efficiency
—performing the same function with less energy, and using clean energy—from wind, sun, geothermal, small hydro, etc.—are the three pillars to what I call being Energy Smart. And clearly, the easiest one of these actions is reducing energy waste—the environmental benefits of which are immense.

Each year, Americans waste the same amount of energy as what’s produced by 17 coal-fired power plants.  Consider the countless tons of CO2, mercury and other damaging pollutants emitted as the byproduct of so much energy being generated to serve no purpose at all. Seems crazy, right?

The craziest part of it all is that that specific waste is attributed solely to what’s called phantom load, or vampire power. The term refers to the energy consumed 24/7 by most of the electronics in the home. Almost everything electronic we use—computers, stereos, DVRs, game consuls, televisions, etc.—are drawing energy even when they’re turned off. Notice, the little light telling you your DVD player is “off”?

Sure, devices like DVRs need to always draw a little electricity to maintain their programming.  However, there are power strips available that solve the problem, and reduce all phantom load in your home. You plug everything into the strip, and turn it off when nothing is being used. The stuff that needs electricity, gets it. Everything else gets completely shut off. No wasted energy, or needless CO2 put into the atmosphere.

Of course, conserving energy doesn’t have the kind instant Earth Day-style gratification of picking up trash or planting a tree. Recently, I wrote an entire post on the new America’s Greenest Campus contest. With this contest, thousands of students, alumni, faculty and staff from colleges around the country are competing for campus sustainability funding by committing to individual energy reduction actions.

The real “teeth” to the contest, though, is that AmericasGreenestCampus.com gives contestants personalized information on how much their actions save in resources (money, oil, water) and waste (CO2).  For once, we can get instant gratification from conservation–the knowledge of how our actions make a difference.

And that’s the gateway. When you realize you’re connected, and your basic actions make a difference, it’s empowering.

So this Earth Day, yes—plant a tree, pick up trash on the highway, and all and any of the other important and valuable volunteer work that helps care for our planet. But remember that the easiest, and maybe most important way that you can have a positive impact on the planet is to reduce your carbon footprint, and the energy you waste.

Visit AmericasGreenestCampus.com and learn how even unplugging your unused cell phone charger can help make a difference.

Written by Brian F. Keane

Named Connecticut’s “Environmental Hero” in 2008, Brian F. Keane’s career has been spent building and managing
political and not-for–profit organizations that directly deal with issues and topics that become part of the national
conversation. From economic issues in the 1990’s to environment issues today, Keane has used his background in politics
and communications to create organizations that challenge the conventional wisdom and ultimately set the national agenda.
Today, Keane is President of SmartPower, a nationwide non-profit marketing organization dedicated to promoting clean,
renewable energy and energy efficiency. Hailed as the “Got Milk” campaign for wind, solar and waterpower, SmartPower’s
award winning marketing campaign has been credited with creating hundreds of GWh of clean, renewable energy across
the nation. With a yearly budget of $3 million and operations coast to coast, SmartPower has become the unrivaled
marketing organization for the clean energy industry. For their efforts, Keane and SmartPower have been recognized with
numerous awards over the past years. Among them: the coveted Green Power Pilot Award presented by the US
Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy; Four Gold Awards from the Service Industry
Advertising Awards (SIAA); the People’s Action For Clean Energy “Environmental Heroes Award” (2004, 2008) and the
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protections’ “Green Circle” Award. In 2005 Brian Keane was recognized as one
of Connecticut’s “Outstanding Forty Under 40”.
A former advisor to the late Senator Paul Tsongas (D-MA) and a Congressional Aid to Representative Les Aspin (D-WI),
Keane has built an extensive background in non-profit management, political organizing and communications. He was one
of the architects of The Concord Coalition, a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating the federal budget
deficit. Keane was also the founding Executive Director of Economic Security 2000 (ES 2000), the nation's first
nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to saving and reforming Social Security. Keane’s testimony before the U.S.
Congress helped make ES 2000 a recognized national leader in the debate on Social Security reform. In fact, Presidents
Clinton and Bush have both recognized ES 2000 as a valuable resource in the discussion on Social Security. Throughout his
career, Keane has spoken extensively across the nation, internationally and to the local and national media. Today he is a
much sought after interview and presenter on clean energy and energy efficiency.
Keane is a 1989 graduate of The American University in Washington, D.C. where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in
Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. The 10th in a family of 11 children, Keane served as the Chairman of his eldest
brother’s successful campaign for the Boston City Council and his brother’s subsequent race for the U.S. Congress in
Massachusetts 8th Congressional District in 1998. Brian Keane was himself, briefly, a candidate for the Massachusetts
State Senate in 2002. Today Keane serves on the Board of Directors of the Vermont-based Clean Energy Group (CEG). He
also serves as the President of the American University Alumni Association.
Keane and his wife, Kate Sawyer Keane, live in Arlington, Virginia with their two children Karenna (4) and
Jack (2).

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