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On the last Spare the Air day in San Francisco, I noticed that downtown looked like a ghost town. Seriously--- tumbleweeds and all. The bus stops were crammed and while this may have been the result of a wonky mishap, I'm apt to think it's at least in part due to people's commitment to spare the air. Ideally, urbanites pedal our way through life with little to no use for a car. This may not be the case for suburbanites. So if you have to own a car, try to hang on to the one you have for as long as possible and keep it properly maintained. Always consider the car's environmental performance and consider buying a used car.
If you really need a new car here is another concern: not only do cars emit air pollution, they also emit gases and toxins in the vehicle itself. That new car smell is simply a collection of chemicals coming off the plastics, foams and fabrics from the steering wheel, dashboard and seats. Specifically, PBDEs used as fire retardants, pthalates used to soften plastics, and lead used in solder and wheel weights have been linked to serious health problems including birth defects, liver toxicity and impaired learning. This isn’t even counting the other chemicals, allergens and heavy metals present on many vehicles. Not all companies are created equal, and with the rise in consumer consciousness comes change.
Perhaps one of the best options out there comes with the 1800 pound smart fortwo car introduced in January 2008. Protecting the environment, energy efficiency and preservation are the top priorities of the smart brand. They use water soluble paint for the exterior (actually, they use powder, thus eliminating the need for solvents), have eliminated materials like formaldehyde, CFC and asbestos, and take major steps to minimize waste (they hate waste) and maximize recyclability. They’re definitely driven to go above and beyond.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has published their yearly Green Book which lists environmental information about vehicles available in the new model year. It's no surprise that 1/3 of the top 12 cars listed as the most eco-friendly vehicles are hybrids. But first on the list (for the 2nd year in a row) is the Honda Civic GX, which is powered by natural gas. Sounds like a gem, but if you're not in New York or California, you may want to explore other options for now. The Environmental Protection Agency, has created the Green Vehicle Guide which gives information about the environmental performance of vehicles and provides the user with dynamic search and sort capabilities. Side-by-side comparisons can be performed for up to three vehicles and searches can be customized. Also, see what is available on EcoPlum.
You many also want to compare the policies of auto makers in regard to their use of plastics in the vehicles. The Ecology Center and Clean Production Action grade the top 6 auto companies on their policies, goals and actions, leaving you a little better armed when going into the battlefield.
Once you’ve decided on the healthiest vehicle for you, your family and the environment, look to these green driving tips to prolong the health of all involved:
Go light on the pedal- gas and brake, to both reserve gas and your brakes.
Smell the roses- driving 75 mph rather than 65 can lower your fuel economy by 1%
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