“Bring it Home” this Earth Day: Reducing your Environmental Impact with Susan Karr

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Earth Day serves as a moment each and every year for people to not only appreciate the natural world around us, but to also reflect on what we can do to better preserve and protect it. Fortunately, much of what many of us learned as children remains tried and true today, and we can continue to focus on behavioral changes that will help reduce our water and energy consumption.  Susan Karr, MS, Carson-Newman CollegeSusan Karr, MS, Carson-Newman College

These behavioral changes are the types of lower-impact actions that cost us nothing. For those of us that seek to reduce our impact on the environment to a greater degree, we can invest a little (or a lot) of money to employ new technologies that reduce resource use in our homes. For this year’s Earth Day, we’ve invited Susan Karr, author of Environmental Science for a Changing World—available for the first time with Macmillan Learning’s new online learning tool, Achieve—to share more about a feature in the book called “Bring it Home.” 

“With ‘Bring it Home’, we offer students suggestions on ways they can reduce their impact on the environment,” says Karr, such as ways to reduce their water and energy consumption.  “We also share with students the 4 “Rs” when considering their consumer choices: refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.” 



Susan encourages us to consider how we use water and to look for ways to reduce that use. “And remember,” she says, “saving water also means saving the energy it took to collect, purify, deliver, and perhaps heat that water.” 

Karr suggests that a technology option to consider is a low-flow faucet and a low-flow showerhead. A low-flow faucet can reduce the rate of water flow by 1 to 2 gallons per minute, and a low-flow showerhead can reduce flow rate by 1 to 1.5 gallons per minute, she explained. “It really makes a significant difference knowing that some older kitchen faucets have a flow rate of up to 5 gallons per minute,” Karr says. 

If you don’t have the money to install a low-flow faucet or showerhead, Susan suggests some behavioral changes you can make when running water in the kitchen or bathroom:

  • Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth or shaving.
  • Don’t turn on the water at full speed unless needed.
  • Capture water while waiting for it to heat up and use that collected water to water plants, fill the dog bowl, or other uses. 
  • Time your shower for a few days to determine its average length, and then try to reduce shower time by a few minutes. 
  • Take a “Navy” shower by turning off the water except to rinse. 

Other technologies to consider that will reduce your water consumption include a front-loading washing machine or a low-flow toilet, Karr says. An energy and water efficient front-loading washing machine uses nearly half the water as older top-loading models. “Similarly,” Karr says, “installing a low-flow toilet or a model with two buttons—one for liquid waste and one for solids—will also reduce water waste.” 

Once again, if you’re unable to purchase and install these water-waste reducing technologies, Karr offers some behavioral changes you can make: 

  • Only wash clothes when needed.
  • Only run the washing machine when it’s full.
  • Don’t flush the toilet to dispose of tissues; dispose of them in the trash. 


Karr also reminds us that right now, fossil fuels power modern society, so making choices that use less energy will reduce the use of fossil fuels and, consequently, reduce the negative impact of using those fuels. “Three areas of our lives where we can use less energy include transportation, home, and electricity,” Susan says. 


When possible, Karr encourages people to purchase the most energy efficient vehicle they can afford and that meets their needs. If you’re unable to upgrade your vehicle to one that is more energy efficient, there are still behavioral changes you can make:

  • Carpool, take public transportation, walk, or bike. 
  • Combine trips and plan your route to avoid backtracking if you are out running errands to reduce miles driven.
  • Keep your car tuned up and tires properly inflated to improve the fuel efficiency of your vehicle.
  • Use cruise control when appropriate—maintaining a constant speed improves fuel efficiency.
  • Avoid idling—starting a car back up takes less fuel than idling for more than a few seconds.


According to Karr, it’s important to make sure that your home has the recommended insulation for your region to reduce energy needed to heat and cool your home. “You can also insulate your hot-water heater,” Susan says. Inexpensive hot-water heater ‘blankets’ are also available and easy to install. Behavioral changes made at home include:

  • Lower your thermostat in the winter by a degree or two; do the same in the summer by turning it up.
  • Set the water heater to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit; turn it off if you will be away from home for at least several days. 


Energy efficient versions of many devices are available. For example,replacing light bulbs with more energy efficient varieties, such as LEDs, can save energy and money. You can also invest in renewable energy, such as solar panels, by installing them in your home, or you can support local renewable energy initiatives with your energy providers. Some key behavioral changes include:

  • Turn off lights and electronics when not in use. 
  • Take advantage of natural light by opening curtains during the day. 


The 4 “Rs” when considering consumer choices

“Other changes are more related to your consumer choices than to technology or behavioral options,” Karr says. “You can reduce the impact of your consumer choices by considering the resources used to make those consumer goods.” The 4 “Rs” when considering consumer choices are refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. 


“Don’t buy a product if you can do without it,” Karr says. For example:

  • Drink water from a fountain instead of buying bottled water.
  • Refuse to take a shopping bag from a store—carry your items or bring your own reusable bags. 
  • Opt to buy unpackaged produce rather than bagged or boxed items.
  • Rent or borrow items, when possible, and lend them to others—especially if you will rarely use them. 


Karr says to choose products that require fewer resources to make or that are minimally packaged. For example:

  • Minimize packaging—if you must buy a bottled drink, buy the largest bottle you will use instead of several smaller bottles. 
  • Contact retailers or marketers to reduce receipt of unsolicited mail or visit the Federal Trade Commission for suggestions on ways to reduce promotional mail such as catalogs, credit card and insurance offers. 
  • Reduce your consumption of meat, especially the consumption of beef—the animal-based food with the highest water and carbon footprint. 


“Use products again,” says Karr, “for their intended purpose or another.” For example:

  • Purchase durable products you can use again and again rather than disposable items or those with a short lifespan. 
  • If you must buy a product that comes in a package, consider reuse potential—can you use it for another purpose?


Karr reminds us that we can turn a recyclable item back in to be made into a new product. For example: 

  • Check with your local recycling center or solid waste department to learn about which materials are accepted for recycling in your area.
  • Choose products that can be recycled over items (or packaging) that are not recyclable.
  • Support the recycling industry by choosing products made from recycled materials.
  • Avoid “wish-cycling”—placing items in a recycling bin that are not recyclable in your area; this has the potential to contaminate other recyclables in the bin (forcing recyclers to dispose of the entire bin) and/or increase the time and money needed to sort through the recyclables, decreasing profit and viability of the recycling industry.

There are many things that we can all do to reduce our impact on the environment. Perhaps you already do some of the things on this list, or perhaps there are other ways that you decrease your usage of resources such as water and energy. We hope that this Earth Day you try something new and consider your impact on the environment. You can also sign up for a demo of Achieve for Environmental Science for a Changing World: https://go.oncehub.com/AchieveDemos.