Condo living with a green conscience

Philline Donggay
It will pay to have a green conscience, not just for yourself and for now, but for others and for the future

MANILA, Philippines – A small confined living area to answer the urban space dilemma, condominiums have become a metropolitan staple these days. And those city dwellers who don’t yet live in one, dream about doing so.

With the growing awareness of global warming problems and climate change issues, it’s imperative for condo dwellers present and future, to be conscious of their carbon footprint and contribute to solutions.

Jargon schmargon, what is Carbon Footprint? The book “True Green,” published by National Geographic and the “Clean Up World” movement defines it as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by an individual, organization or nation; it’s usually measured in metric tons of the gas emitted annually.

Carbon dioxide has the highest concentration among the greenhouse gases (GHG) found in our atmosphere that’s causing global warming — oversimplified in the Philippine setting: global warming is your warm Decembers and summer super typhoons.

There are several carbon footprint calculators available online but more than the actual effort to measure, what’s important is the move to consequently reduce footprint either by genuinely reducing GHG emitting activities or offsetting through a low-carbon lifestyle.

Here’s how

For condo folks, or any homeowner for that matter, the first simple step is to replace all regular incandescent bulbs with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). Replacing one regular light bulb with a CFL bulb will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. Not only that, for the same amount of electricity wattage, the CFL bulb produces 60 times more light than a regular light bulb. Lighting companies have also developed new technology in LED bulbs that increases that energy-light ratio, and even goes further to manufacture efficient yellow-toned bulbs that preserve the warm hues of a perfectly decorated space, for the “arte” in us.

The newer, more eco- and cost-conscious condominium developers have solar-powered common area lighting. If your building doesn’t have that, you can suggest it to the management. Imagine never having to pay for electricity, forever! At least in terms of lighting, and maybe hot water too, if the building decides to switch to solar water heaters for common use. Building developers just need to get past the initial cost of buying solar panels, the inverters that transform light energy into electricity, and the batteries to store the electricity. It will be expensive. But factor in everything to include your unlimited free energy source: SUNLIGHT. Even just computing for the next decade, the savings will be humongous — more than enough for you to demand lower condominium dues. New technology on solar thin films, that are less expensive than crystalline glass panels, will be in massive distribution soon — that can be taken advantage too.

In other developed countries, solar technology is slowly turning mainstream. Clever (and rich) homeowners, install as much solar panels on the area of their roofs and any excess electricity that the home does not use gets fed into the grid and they earn from it. How smart is that! And green.

Now consider the savings from reduced electric bills as a result of light bulb replacements and the reduced condominium dues with solar lighting and water heating — this fund can be pooled into an investment on energy-efficient appliances. There are plenty of choices these days from so many different manufacturers; just go by the basic tip of “looking for the energy star when shopping for them. The energy star eco-labeling is an international standard for appliances in terms of energy efficiency. Energy star-compliant machines reduce their power consumption by going to “sleep” mode when not in use and use less energy when on “standby” mode. Established by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the energy star labels a whole range of equipment and appliances from refrigerators to computers, washing machines to water heaters, TV sets to air conditioning units. As condo owner, go further by choosing eco-friendly, fair-trade, preferably local-made furniture and fixtures for your unit.

Of course as responsible “green” members of society, it’s not enough to stop at owning eco-friendly furniture and energy-efficient appliances. Our habits of using the appliances need some eco-tweaking too. Did you know that 75% of electricity consumed at home is from products that are “switched-off?” That’s called Phantom Load. More than just putting appliances and computers on stand-by or sleep mode, unplug them from the sockets as much as possible, to prevent phantom loads. If 10 out of every mobile phone is immediately unplugged after full charging, the energy saved could provide basic power needs for 60,000 homes for a full year. Start the washer only when there is enough dirty clothes to fill it; there is practically no energy difference to wash 3 pieces of underwear to washing an entire tumble that fills the machine to the brim. And if possible, use a clothesline instead of the dryer.

Also, your placement of your appliances within your condominium unit, helps reduce energy consumption by itself. Do not place air conditioning in the side of your room that gets the most sunlight: the heat from the sun makes the cooling system’s job harder to achieve and thus end up using more energy. In our neighboring tropical country of Singapore, where more than half of the population live in high-rises, and everyone has a high demand for cool air, precisely because they can afford it, a new technology has been applied to capture waste heat from air cons and use this energy for hot shower tanks for the building. Soon, that technology will reach Pinoy shores. For now you can ensure efficiency of your air conditioning units in this warm country by not wearing winter clothes even if they’re in fashion, and by regularly changing filters; for your refrigerators, by putting them away from the stove and the sunny spots.

Green power

Instead, take advantage of the sunny spots as a place where plant life can thrive. Space doesn’t have to be an excuse since some indoor plants available can be quite small too. But regardless of size, they play a very important role in your home environment, not just for ornamental and decorative purposes but also by acting as natural air filters for pollutants while replenishing oxygen levels in your confined space. Fourth grade Biology Class: through the natural evaporation and transpiration process, plants act as an air cooler. That saves you from buying those indoor ionizers that could just end up taking more space and add up to the electricity bill. Studies have shown that having plant life in an individual’s immediate space reduces fatigue and stress, and even go as far as significantly avoid incidence of respiratory illnesses. That’s green power for you!

The best condominium designs in the world incorporate some kind of elevated green gardens in their structure. There is a massive movement these days in green architecture not only in the high-rise landscaping aspects and the usage of responsible building materials, but also in ultra-performance low-energy technology inspired by the efficiency intrinsic in nature. By effecting simple changes in design for issues on ventilation and natural lighting, condo-living becomes a tad more pleasant. Think sunroofs and warm air vents in the ceilings! (Because natural laws of nature dictate warm air to rise.) By applying plumbing techniques that promote water conservation and waste minimization, a condo building can enormously reduce its impact on the bigger environment. Picture low flush toilets and landscape irrigation supplied with water recycled from sinks and bathtubs! Simple and makes complete sense.

If your condominium has not applied these available green architecture techniques yet, have them in mind for your next purchase or rental. Also good to have in mind is the building’s waste management practices. You can segregate all you want in your home, but if building supers do not send the recyclables for recycling or the bio-degradables for composting, what’s the point? Check on your locality’s recycling practices, if not arrange for them.

Another point to look at when it comes to condo-living is location, location, location. Because isn’t the whole point to the condo lifestyle to be closer to your place of work or business? If you can’t get a place close enough to walk or bike to work without smelling like a wet dog afterwards, at least get one that’s accessible to public transportation. We cannot discount the great contribution of public transport to the reduction of global warming. As most of us know, gasoline and diesel emit carbon as we ride our cars and other vehicles. Humans now have carbon emissions totaling 90 tons every single day! All that carbon combines with other GHG gases to make up a sort of thick dark sheet in our atmosphere that attracts more heat from the sun but traps it inside, thus raising climate temperatures. Reality check: melting glaciers!

With public transportation  where more people can divide the energy used in the combustion process of one vehicle, say a bus for example, each of our carbon footprint as individual commuters is significantly reduced. But if public transport is just not your cup of tea, be sensible enough to call on a neighbor, a friend or a family member to organize a car-pooling scheme when available. In neighboring Indonesia, in the capital city of Jakarta, cars that run the streets on peak hours with less than 3 passengers inside are stopped and charged for violation. Attention MMDA!

In my Filipino dream world, there will be no need for MMDA because Metro Manila and other key Philippine cities will have an efficient and extensive train system that runs on renewable energy, hybrid and electric cars. Buses and electric jeepneys travel the roads and the President will be persecuted for buying a gas-guzzling sports car.

Smart grids of the future will run on solar, wind and hydro power, and will have “charging stations” instead of gas stations for electric vehicles. And condominium folks are living healthy from clean air and organic local food. Because really, just because you can afford premium beef from Brazil doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for your health, or for the health of the planet. It takes 10 times more energy to produce and transport meat, than fruits and vegetables; and beef, 3 times more than chicken. “Meatless Mondays” or limiting your family to “Steak Sundays” can be both a carbon offset and a weight maintenance activity.

Seek out local farmers’ markets whenever possible. If none, chose locally-grown and produced organic foods from the supermarket — these require the least transportation, therefore the least energy to get to your plate. Also, fruits and vegetables grown organically are so much healthier due to the absence of toxins from synthetic fertilizers and pesticides avoided by organic farming — most of which are carcinogenic. Cancer buffet anyone?

The basic green concepts of reduce, re-use, recycle and refuse are applicable to everyone, but allow me to put more weight on people living in condominiums — being a fast-growing segment of city dwellers. It’s really quite simple and there are 10 million ideas to do this — ideas which will surprisingly just come to you when needed, for as long as you understand this fundamental truth: That we cannot keep exploiting the Earth and not expect consequences.

Green conscience

Reduce your consumption of EVERYTHING: of paper that comes from trees, tissue from virgin pulp; of plastics that come from oil, pet bottles that will just pile up the trash — bring your own re-usable water bottle instead; of food. Think twice about needing something. Buy re-usable batteries in place of disposable ones that end up contaminating soil and water supply. Buy refillable pens, refillable shampoo bottles and liquid soap dispensers. Aim for the least trash and know where and how to throw them.

In general, purchase high-quality re-usable items for your home. They might be expensive at the onset but they last longer and therefore, cost-effective. Recycle as much as you can, if not for yourself, for others. Because one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure. Give away old clothes. Donate old cellphones and computers to the less-fortunate people and in the process, help bridge the digital divide. Refuse that plastic bag when buying from the bakery, or shopping for groceries. Carry your reusable cloth bag to prepare for such occasions. Refuse that plastic spoon and fork on the take-out for home. End marketing mailers and refuse printed-out billing statements, substitute them for electronic statements.

Actively seek out knowledge for other bright ideas then share them. Spread awareness. Take part in the community: volunteer for green projects and join eco events. Plant a tree for your birthday. Donate to the World Wildlife Fund.

City living, particularly owning air space in a condo, doesn’t have to detach you from the rest of society, and the single most important crisis humanity is facing at the moment. It will pay to have a green conscience, not just for yourself and for now, but for others and for the future. The next time you step out of your building, into flood waters after an Ondoy-like typhoon, you will know that the water is a picometer lower because of what you’ve done. Imagine if everyone else took part. –