Sustainable Tips for Frigid Weather

By Mary Alice Hartsock

If you spent last winter in or around Philadelphia, you probably haven’t forgotten the freezing temperatures! You may have removed ice and snow from your sidewalks, or you may have wondered how to warm up your car and home quickly and efficiently.

Below, Kylie Ford, an associate with the strategic sustainability management firm Sustrana (formerly Resonate), helps us think about how to behave sustainably during the coldest winter months. By making small adjustments to our daily routines, we can make a big difference for the environment and the health of our families, pets, and homes.

Ice Prevention and Removal

The use of rock salt and other ice-melting products is incredibly common, but many are harmful to the environment and can even make your pets and garden sick, Ford says. When the snow melts, these products seep into the ground and storm drains, eventually turning up in groundwater and surface water. The sodium and chloride that make up rock salt can affect the salinity and nutrient concentrations of our soil and streams, threatening the livelihoods of plants and animals that depend upon them.

For a safe, environmentally friendly alternative, find an organic, sodium chloride-free de-icer. Many people are surprised to learn that sugar beet juice lowers the melting point of ice and snow, and it’s safe for people, animals, and our environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of
environmentally friendly de-icers at epa.gov.

Snow Removal

If you have a bad back or a busy schedule, you might have considered turning to a snowblower for help with snow removal. But snowblowers powered by gasoline can emit high levels of carbon monoxide. Ford suggests considering battery-powered and hybrid snowblowers, or even hiring some neighborhood kids to help shovel your sidewalks. Shoveling is the cheapest, most environmentally friendly alternative and can be a source of exercise when a snowstorm keeps us indoors. For a moderate sum, invest in a wheeled shovel!

Cleaning Off Your Car

Imagine that it’s 7:30 a.m. and temperatures are below freezing. Your car is veiled in a thin layer of ice and snow, and you have only a few minutes to clean it and get to work. Do you turn on your car and let it warm up and defrost? Or do you reach for your ice scraper?

While it may be tempting to slip into a cozy car, idling cars release carbon dioxide, a major cause of global warming. In fact, driving your car slowly at first is an effective way to warm it up. To preserve air quality and improve your car’s fuel economy, get up five minutes earlier to scrape your windshield. If you must warm up the car, turn it on when you are ready to start brushing snow from the roof and doors. The defroster will begin to work by the time you’re ready to scrape the windshield.

Heating Your Home

Are you traveling this winter? Ford says that though we often are tempted to stop heating our homes when we are away, blasting gas heat to quickly increase the temperature upon our return burns more fuel and may actually cost us money. Instead, consider setting your heat at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit when you travel.

Throughout the winter, think about your house’s average temperature, and consider whether you and your family could be comfortable at a lower temperature. To make the transition, try reducing your heat a degree each week or month. Invest in fuzzy slippers and robes to stay warm!

This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 issue of Academy Frontiers.

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