Green confusion

Trying to green your life but not always sure what the green choice is?  You’re not alone. “Delusions Abound on Energy Savings,” a recent post on the NYTimes Green blog, shares some results from a study about our energy saving beliefs and behaviors.

One common misconception involves laundry.  What saves more energy, line-drying clothes instead of using the dryer, or switching your washing machine from a warm water wash to a cold water wash?

Most people picked line drying, but washing in cold water actually saves more energy.  Mr. GreenLife provided this explanation: It takes a lot of energy to heat water.  Compared to heating enough water to fill a washing machine, the process of removing that water from the clothes in a dryer consumes less energy.  (I’m sure his explanation included more scientific details that failed to make it through my important information filter.)

Your best bet?  Cold water wash AND line drying.

I took most of their findings with a grain of salt, because they focused simply on energy use, not overall environmental impact.  For example, buying energy-efficient appliances saves more energy than switching off lights or unplugging appliances when not in use, but they don’t factor in the environmental impact of discarding what may be a perfectly functional, but older model refrigerator, just to upgrade to a new energy-efficient model.

I’m also not sure how “driving a more fuel-efficient car” comes out on top of “biking or using public transportation.”  Again, they omitted some important details on the overall environmental impact.  I highly recommend driving a more fuel-efficient car, but not driving that car at all is even better.

The complete journal article is available here through the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Yeah, PNAS.  Maybe they should have thought that acronym through a little bit  more.  Or maybe research scientists/academics do have a sense of humor?


  1. Rebecca says:

    Hmmm… I’d say a fairly large grain of salt! It makes me wonder if the study wasn’t funded by the manufacturers of high efficiency appliances.

    And in terms of the acronym… well, at least it wasn’t PNIS!

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      I share your suspicion about the funding source for the study. We do need good research on topics like this so we know what messages and information would be most useful to help people make meaningful changes. Getting people to the point where they’re ready to think about making those changes, and then actually make some changes (that may, at first, feel like sacrifices) is a whole other ballgame.

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