Help the environment and balance your budget
Two things have happened recently that made me realise we are at the 'tipping point' of environmental awareness.
One is that my company began implementing some green initiatives - a company whose rubbish bins were often filled with styrofoam cups and lunch boxes and where dozens of television and computer monitors used to hum ceaselessly overnight.
My favourite eco-friendly tip offered by my colleagues was to reuse the coffee-cup protector sleeves, which for some reason, is both a sensible and amusing thing to do. But these nifty inventions do help prevent people from doing something even more wasteful, which is doubling up their paper cups to protect themselves from the hot liquid.
The other is that Live Earth was a total flop audience-wise. Not because people were unaware of the need to protect the environment, but because everyone, including people like me, had already heard enough about it. Eighteen years after Time magazine put 'Endangered Earth' on its cover, yeah, we do finally get it.
Which leads me to the next topic - how can we help save the environment while saving money?
It used to be that saving the environment meant spending more money. Think solar panels on your rooftop or buying an eco-friendly car that is priced at a premium to other similar classes of cars. Back in the United States, my first introduction to the asinine aspects of environmentalism was to be told by my county government that I would need to pay for specially labelled rubbish bags if I wanted to recycle my newspapers.
I'm afraid laziness won out and I dumped all my week's editions of The New York Times in my neighbour's bin. Better he looked like the gluttonous boor than me.
But there are simple things you can do to protect the environment and to save yourself money.
1. Turn everything off
If there is one wasteful thing I used to do and now cringe at the thought of is how indifferent I was about leaving computers, video recorders, lights on during the day and even overnight.
Doing so can cost you hundreds of dollars in extra electricity charges a year, perhaps more. Be aware of unnecessary lights on in your house. Turn off the cable box if you're not watching television. When you leave on vacation, unplug all your appliances because many of them still consume energy even when not used. The same goes for consumption of water. When brushing your teeth, turn off the tap. Load up your washer with as much clothing as possible before doing a load rather than laundering a few items.
2. Reuse it
When you can, try to reuse things, particularly printed paper and plastic bags. I'm afraid I am one of the styrofoam culprits at work, something about which I will now be more conscious, but I do make myself feel better when I use the back side of printed paper or go grocery shopping with a canvas bag to hold the purchases.
The next best thing to buying all my boy's baby clothes was to give them away after his first birthday. The local charity came in a giant truck and picked up the four rubbish bags full of clothes, plus they left a receipt at my door to tell me how much I could write off in taxes that year. Think before chucking your furniture, clothes, small possessions away - rather than throw them in the bin, just donate them. In some cases, you will get a tax break for the value of the goods and even if you don't, you'll feel good knowing that your possessions are getting a second life.
4. Take the bus
The fact that Hong Kong has such an efficient and clean public transport system makes it easy to follow this tip. Yes, in Hong Kong, it is sometimes too easy for one to hail a taxi, but if you just try a few times a week to ride the bus or tram, you will be helping the city with its terrible pollution problem. Plus it is cheaper.
5. Keep everything tuned up
This goes for everything from your air conditioner to your car. The cleaner and better shape your energy-guzzling appliances and vehicles are, the more efficient they will be and the less electricity or gas they will need to use. Inflating your tyres to the right pressure, cleaning out your air-conditioning filters, inspecting your washer, these are all things you should do once a year to ensure they are all in the best working order.
Now if I can just find another use for those coffee cup sleeves ... any ideas, please send them along to me.
Betty Liu is an on-air correspondent in Hong Kong for CNBC Asia and author of Age Smart: Discovering the Fountain of Youth at Midlife and Beyond. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .