Summer sustainability roundup

Summer's long, warm, sunny days and vacation schedules bring greater opportunities for relaxing at home, spending time outside and traveling to new places. However, that very warmth can also bring challenges when you're trying to keep your energy footprint small and use nontoxic products.

Here are some tips for managing summer's heat, outdoor events and leisure activities in an eco-friendly way.

Staying cool

  • AC. When the temperature goes up outside, your first instinct might be to crank up the air conditioning inside. However, you can use AC responsibly and save energy by making sure your home is well insulated, to prevent air leaks; using the right size of AC system for your home; and turning the thermostat up when you're sleeping or when you're going to be away for several hours.
  • Windows. Your air conditioner will also get a break if you also make strategic use of shades, shutters and awnings. Close some of your blinds or draw curtains on windows that face west or south to reduce heat from sunlight. Use ceiling or floor fans in your rooms, and open your windows at night to catch cool breezes. You can even use your ceiling fan together with the air conditioner, to circulate air more effectively and require less work from the AC unit.
  • Patios. Another way to stay cool is to spend time out on the patio or deck in the evening, taking in the fresh air when it's not at peak heat. If you're putting in a new outdoor space or updating your current one, check out our flooring guide, our "Ask a Pro" answer on green patio materials or our article on sustainable decking options.
  • Deck chairs. For outdoor furniture, use durable, moisture-resistant materials that have been harvested or manufactured in a sustainable way. For example, depending on your aesthetic preferences, you can compare the merits of aluminum and recycled plastic or focus on responsibly obtained wood.

The great outdoors

  • Grilling. Summer is a great time for grilling out, and if you're a fan of entertaining in this way, check out our article on how to grill sustainably. For your family, a new choice might be going with veggie kebabs instead of meat, or you might switch to an electric grill to cut down on harmful emissions.
  • Bug spray. One of the hazards of spending more time outside is encountering all the bugs that live there—especially the notorious mosquito. Tired of squinting at the ingredients on a bug spray can and wondering if they're toxic? Make your own natural insect repellent with our recipe of witch hazel combined with essential oils.
  • Landscaping. During a season when you're spending more time doing garden and lawn care, it can help to have some resources for environmentally friendly methods. Read about taking good care of your lawn and soil, trying out low-maintenance lawn alternatives and sustainable gardening.
  • Gardening. If you're looking for a project, why not start a community garden? Get your whole neighborhood involved in growing fruits, vegetables and herbs that everyone can enjoy.

Green travel

When you step away from the routines of home to visit new places, it doesn't mean you have to give up sustainable habits. There are easy things you can do to stay green while traveling:

  • Carry your own reusable coffee cups, water bottles, silverware or straws to keep from generating more trash when eating in restaurants and exploring local coffee shops.
  • Take a train instead of flying, to reduce your impact. Once you're at your destination, use public transportation. Some cities have wonderful metro systems or bike-share infrastructure, and many have walkable downtowns.
  • Support the local economy by buying produce, goods and souvenirs from people who live in the place you're visiting.

Looking for a local park or National Park to visit this summer? Try a park location that boasts sustainable, LEED-certified facilities. There are also plenty of cities with LEED-certified attractions.

See more articles on green living