Eco-Friendly Pet Products, An Overview

Eco-Friendly Pet Products
CC flickr photo courtesy of kevin dooley

American Pet Products Association estimates that in 2012 there are more than 72.9 million homes with pets. They are a big part of our lives, but can also have a big impact on the environment around us.

There’s a lot of waste that can be reduced effectively by choosing green pet products. Here are some ways that you can decrease the carbon footprint your pet leaves, and make pet ownership more responsible.

The Planet-Conscious Pooch

What dog doesn’t love a good game of fetch? Whatever toys your dog loves best, there are eco-friendly versions to make their play more eco-friendly. EcoChoices offers a wide selection of dog toys, from nontoxic balls to hemp-stuffed toys. Continue reading “Eco-Friendly Pet Products, An Overview”

2011 Lexus CT 200h Hybrid: Review Roundup

Lexus CT 200h Hybrid Reviews
photo courtesy of Lexus

Hybrids are becoming more common. With Toyota dominating the market, luxury brands have started to take notice. The CT 200h hatchback is Lexus’s most serious attempt to bring more sound engineering, fuel economy and luxury touches into the growing hybrid market. Let’s find out what’s being said about it.


MotorTrend – First Drive: 2011 Lexus CT 200h (October 2010)

If fuel economy is your thing, the CT 200h gets 42 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. Those figures are pretty close to the Prius.

MotorTrend calls the CT 200h “a far smoother and more comfortable car to drive than the Prius,” saying that “the CT 200h rides nicely over poor-quality pavement, and vibrations are nearly non-existent. Exterior noise is effectively dampened as well, though not the tire noise.” Continue reading “2011 Lexus CT 200h Hybrid: Review Roundup”

2011 Lexus RX 450h Hybrid SUV: Review Roundup

2011 Lexus RX 450h SUV review
photo courtesy of Lexus

The RX 450h is a luxury crossover hybrid SUV from Lexus. Other than the discontinuation of one of its options packages, it remains unchanged from 2010, so you’ll see reviews from both years. Let’s have a look at what people are saying.


Automobile Magazine – 2010 Lexus RX450h

Automobile says that the RX 450h “represents a careful evolution” of the hybrid crossover SUV, though they note that the trend for Lexus SUVs has been attention to performance over fuel efficiency. However, Automobile says that the newest 450h is making positive strides. It gets 28 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

The V-6 gas engine and electric motors combine for 295 hp, which Automobile says “makes the hybrid the most powerful RX and produces strong, seamless acceleration.” Continue reading “2011 Lexus RX 450h Hybrid SUV: Review Roundup”

2011 Lexus HS 250h Hybrid: Review Roundup

Lexus HS 250h Reviews
photo courtesy of Lexus

The Lexus HS 250h is a hybrid luxury compact sedan which many people have dubbed Lexus’s answer to the Prius. While it boasts a similar chassis shape and is in the Prius’s class, it is its own car. The 2011 model is unchanged from the 2010 model, so the reviews below cover both years. Let’s see what folks are saying about it.

Edmunds – 2011 Lexus HS 250h

Edmunds says that the HS 250h “truly deliver[s] admirable fuel economy numbers,” as well as “all of the luxury trappings you’d expect from a Lexus.”

The reviewer also says it offers “significantly better performance than a Prius.” Edmunds calls it “quick,” as it accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds. The downside, they say, is that fuel economy is 35 MPG, which doesn’t touch Prius’s 50 MPG.

The drivetrain is powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 that works in concert with two electric motor/generators, producing 187 horsepower. Edmunds assessment is that this car “won’t impress spirited drivers as much as frugal owners.” They add “Transitions between gasoline and electric propulsion are seamless and smooth, though throttle response is a bit leisurely.”   Continue reading “2011 Lexus HS 250h Hybrid: Review Roundup”

2011 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid: Review Roundup

Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Reviews
photo courtesy of Lexus

The GS 450h is a midsize luxury hybrid sedan. It’s remained largely unchanged since its debut in 2007. All of the reviews below, except for Edmunds, are for the 2010 model, which, minus some trim packages, is the same car as last year. Lexus says that its fourth generation of GS’s are on the horizon. Let’s see what people are saying about the GS 450h.

 Edmunds – 2011 Lexus GS 450h

The GS 450h has a 3.5-liter V6, which produces 292 horsepower. The electric motors turn that up to 340 hp. Edmunds says “With this kind of power on tap, it’s clear that this hybrid is geared more toward increasing performance than reducing fuel consumption.”

The EPA says the 450h gets 23 mpg highway and city. Edmunds says that it “seems like the smart choice between its gas-only powered brethren — at least until you consider the price.” The price is nearly $56,000. Continue reading “2011 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid: Review Roundup”

2011 Mercedes E350 BlueTEC Diesel: Review Roundup

Mercedes E350 Bluetec Diesel reviews
photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes’s E350 BlueTEC attempts to revive diesel cars in America, with the German automaker’s trademark mix of luxury and performance. Let’s break down what’s been said about the E350.


MotorTrend – First Test: 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec

MotorTrend says “the E350 Bluetec is not a blast to drive, period,” adding “In fact, the driving experience is actually quite dull.” They say that the motor noise is quite loud, compared to other modern diesels, although the cabin does a good job at dampening the noise. The shifts are quiet, as well.

Regarding performance, MotorTrend says: “Acceleration is lackluster, with the 210-horsepower, 400-pound-foot turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 needing 7.5 seconds to get the 4167-pound sedan to 60 mph and 15.6 seconds to get it through the quarter mile. The brakes… are fairly middle of the road as well, with 60-0 mph requiring 128 feet. Handling? That’s middling too.” Continue reading “2011 Mercedes E350 BlueTEC Diesel: Review Roundup”

2011 Lexus LS 600h L Hybrid: Review Roundup

Lexus LS Hybrid Review RoundupThe Lexus 600h L hybrid car is Lexus’s attempt at cornering the luxury full-size sedan market and it’s a hybrid to boot. Let’s see what the automotive press had to say about it.

MotorTrend – 2011 Lexus LS 600h L First Test (March 2011)

Many reviewers note the extremity of the noiseless, vibrationless ride that this car offers. MotorTrend speaks of Lexus’s “single-minded pursuit of isolating passengers from the outside world.” They continue: “The automaker says the car is one of the quietest automobiles ever built, and we have no reason to doubt that claim.”

But MotorTrend wasn’t impressed by the powertrain. It lacks the speed and power of its competitors, yet doesn’t deliver enough fuel efficiency to really compensate for that. The reviewer says: “The L in the LS 600h L stands for Lagging, as in lagging behind the competition.” The 600h L delivered 20 MPG in combined city/highway driving during testing. Continue reading “2011 Lexus LS 600h L Hybrid: Review Roundup”

2011 Chevy Volt Electric Hybrid: Review Roundup

Chevrolet Volt Review RoundupHere’s a round-up of reviews about Chevy’s flagship plug-in electric vehicle hybrid, the 2011 edition of the Volt.

Edmunds – 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Edmunds does a good job of explaining exactly what the Volt is:

“The Volt is a four-seat, four-door ‘series-parallel plug-in hybrid’ hatchback with a lithium-ion battery pack that can power the car’s 149-horsepower (111-kilowatt) electric motor by itself for an estimated 40 miles in the city. After that, the gasoline-powered inline-4 engine primarily supplies electricity to the motor for as many as 300 additional miles. All told, the Volt is the most advanced hybrid to date and quite possibly the most fuel-efficient car you will be able to buy.”

They note that there is no standard way to determine fuel-efficiency. If you never fully deplete the battery (by going a short distance at an easy clip and recharging the car every night) then you may never use any fuel. But over longer distances, you’ll use gas. Edmunds measured the fuel economy of the Volt with an empty battery and found it to be 31.4 mpg. In their long-term road test, they found the Volt varied between 47.9 and 111.5 in “apparent” MPG. Continue reading “2011 Chevy Volt Electric Hybrid: Review Roundup”

2011 Nissan Leaf Electric Car: Review Roundup

The Nissan Leaf is a major attempt at delivering the prototypical electric car that will revolutionize green personal transportation. Let’s see what the automotive press has to say about this year’s model.

2011 Nissan Leaf Electric Car Review

MotorTrend – Full Drive: 2011 Nissan Leaf (10/27/10)

The review team at MotorTrend has this to say about the Leaf: “It’s mostly unremarkable as a ‘Car of the Future.’ And while that may seem like damning it with faint praise, it’s really the highest praise this car can be given.” The point being is that this is an approachable car for the mass car-buying demographic. In fact, they say that driving the Leaf is just like driving any other gas-powered four-cylinder hatchback and the electric car learning curve was painless.

The review spends some time discussing the Leaf’s range (averaging 100 miles, but dropping to 60 in difficult conditions like winter rush hour) and charging time (20 hours at 120 volts, 8 hours at 240 volts). They note that “Nissan is banking on the advent of ‘Quick Charge’ stations wired to commercial-grade 440-volt power supplies that can give you an 80-percent charge in just 30 minutes.” How much would it cost to charge? Charging prices are difficult to gauge, because electricity utility rates vary by location and even time of day. In Los Angeles, they estimate, “It works out to anywhere from $1.10 to $3.84 for a full charge.” Continue reading “2011 Nissan Leaf Electric Car: Review Roundup”

2011 BMW 335d Diesel Sedan: Review Roundup

BMW 335d Diesel Review RoundupThe BMW 335d is a diesel-burning luxury mid-size sedan. Originally released in 2009, this car has garnered breathless reviews. It’s apparently a lot of fun to drive. Unfortunately, 2011 will be the last production year for this car, as BMW makes way for its next generation of the 3-series. Apart from a new Sport package and better stereo equipment, the car has remained the same since 2009. All the reviews mentioned are for 2009, except for Automobile’s, which covers 2010.

MotorTrend – First Drive: 2009 BMW 335d (October 2008)

MotorTrend is practically panting when its review starts: “Prepare to have your prejudices shattered and your perceptions altered. Prepare to relearn everything you thought you knew about performance cars. Prepare to drive the 2009 BMW 335d.”

What drives every red-blooded reviewer crazy is the 335d’s engine, which MotorTrend describes as “a twin-turbo, 3.0L straight-six that delivers 265 hp… and a thumping 425 lb-ft of torque between 1750 and 2250 rpm.” It’s paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, going from 0 to 60 mph in six seconds. And, because it’s a diesel, fuel efficiency is 23 mpg city and 36 mpg on the highway. Continue reading “2011 BMW 335d Diesel Sedan: Review Roundup”

Five Cool Diesel Cars You Can’t Buy in the U.S. — Plus Two You Might

To the average American car buyer, diesel is synonymous with truckers, farm equipment, and an upscale clothing brand. For Europeans however, diesel is the must-have fuel for those who can’t stomach the $8.70/gal (current average price in Germany) for gasoline. With diesel selling for $1 less per gallon and providing greater fuel economy, it’s no wonder more Europeans prefer diesel cars. While American fuel prices remain far cheaper, recent price hikes have had more people asking: where’s our diesel option?

A host of factors have contributed to the dearth of diesel cars here in the United States. Until 2007, the allowable sulfur content in American diesel fuel was far higher than in Europe, requiring manufacturers to completely re-engineer engines for our market. While the sulfur content is now the same, American limits on NOx and NO2 emissions are still significantly lower than their European counterparts, demanding use of an expensive urea-injection additive such as AdBlue to meet standards. Higher labor costs have also been an issue, as most diesels built in European countries suffer from unfavorable exchange rates when exported overseas. Building a diesel engine factory in either the U.S. or Mexico would reduce labor cost – if buyers can be found for the 350,000 units a year a typical $350 million factory puts out. Finally, EPA certification for a new engine adds even more to the bottom line. Continue reading “Five Cool Diesel Cars You Can’t Buy in the U.S. — Plus Two You Might”

Best Energy Efficient Clothes Washers / Washing Machines for 2011 and 2012

If your current clothes washer is about to quit, you should consider buying one that’s Energy Star-certified. Energy Star appliances are better-engineered to save you money on your utility bills and help the environment by using less energy and water. We get our electricity primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, that in turn leads to climate change. Energy Star says that clothes washers that earn its label use 37% less electricity and 50% less water than other washers.

The Energy Star program recommends that when buying a clothes washer, you pick one that is an appropriate size. Using a small, super-efficient model more frequently to handle a large amount of laundry is less energy-efficient over time. Energy Star has two metrics to measure washer efficiency. The first is the Water Factor number. The lower the WF rating, the more efficient the washer is in using water. The second metric is the Modified Energy Factor, which takes into account the amount of energy used to run the machine and the amount of energy used to heat the water for it. The higher the MEF, the more efficient the washer is in its energy use.

Most efficient closhes washer Electrolux EIFLS60
Electrolux model EIFLS60

Here are the top 10 washers as of May 2011, according to the Energy Star website, ranked by MEF. Note that model numbers listed with asterisks (*), have characters that indicate model color, or something else that has no bearing on performance. Continue reading “Best Energy Efficient Clothes Washers / Washing Machines for 2011 and 2012”

2011 Audi Q7 TDI Diesel SUV: Review Roundup

The Audi Q7 TDI (Turbo Diesel Injection) diesel SUV is the German automaker’s diesel-burning, higher-efficiency version of its luxury Q7 SUV series. Audi has introduced an eight-speed automatic transmission, coupled with a scaled-down 3.0 liter diesel engine. Let’s see what auto reviewers are saying about the 2011 Q7 TDI.

2011 Audi Q7 TDI Diesel Reviews
2011 Audi Q7 TDI

Automotive Addict – 2011 Audi Q7 TDI Quattro SUV Review & Test Drive (5/31/11)

Automotive Addict says the Q7 TDI “is one of the best looking, comfortable, luxurious, fuel efficient and safe full-size sport utility vehicles in the segment.” Continue reading “2011 Audi Q7 TDI Diesel SUV: Review Roundup”

Best Environmental Non Fiction Books

If you want to know more about the natural world and all the ins and outs of the debates surrounding it, pick up a book. There’s a lot out there, so we’ve compiled a list of the best. By no means exclusive, this list is meant to be a broad sampling of interesting, diverse green titles.

Happy reading!

The mother of muckraking environmental books about the effects of pollution. Carson’s book received endless criticism from chemical manufacturers and policymakers, before everything she proposed about the danger of pesticides was proven true and their use was finally curtailed or, in the case of DDT, banned. Continue reading “Best Environmental Non Fiction Books”

Best Energy Efficient Freezers 2011

Searching around for the best energy efficient freezer for your home? Good idea.

If you’re considering buying a new freezer, look for an Energy Star-approved model. They use less energy to power them, so they help the environment and save you money on your utility bills.

The Energy Star program recommends that when you purchase a new freezer, you choose a manually-defrosting model, as they use less energy than automatically-defrosting models. Also, buy an appropriately-sized model that fits your needs. Larger-capacity freezers need more energy to keep cold, so if you don’t need a lot of space, get a smaller model. Freezers also use less energy when they are full than when they are empty. And choose a chest freezer over an upright freezer, as the top-mounted door allows less cold air to escape.

Most energy-efficient freezers
Summit model CF11ES

This list was compiled in May 2011 from data on the Energy Star website, and models were ordered by percentage of less energy each consumes, compared to the mandated energy usage for a unit that size. Some of the most efficient are small, refrigerator/freezer combos, but we only list dedicated freezers here.

Please note that entries with asterisks (*) denote characters in the model codes that deal with color, or other factors that have nothing to do with energy use.

10. Danby DCFM425WDD** freezer

This is a 14.8-cubic-foot model with an insulated cabinet and lid. It will defrost manually and has an easy-access drain. Energy Star estimates that it will use 354 kwh of power a year. This model is 11% more efficient than standard units of this size. It costs $580. Continue reading “Best Energy Efficient Freezers 2011”

2012 Hybrid Cars in the USA: Here’s the Lineup

Update: We have now published the 2013 Hybrid Cars in the USA article.

In the market for a vehicle and thinking about buying a new hybrid car? 2012 is shaping to be an important year in the story of hybrid vehicles, as almost every major manufacturer will be offering, releasing, or announcing a hybrid product.

While the Tohuku earthquake in Japan has affected 2011 plans, the Japanese are muscling ahead with 2012 hybrid launches. The Germans have finally entered the hybrid market in a serious way, with BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche all offering a hybrid product – especially on their SUVs. Of the domestic manufacturers, GM is still evolving their hybrid full-size SUVs, but is readying some car hybrids for 2012 that should give Ford’s dominance in domestic hybrid sales a strong challenge. Chrysler’s recent reorganization with Fiat means hybrid drivetrains won’t be expected from them until 2013 however.

The most exciting thing about the 2012 lineup is that hybrid technology has been embraced by the mainstream as an important way of improving the environmental impact of car usage. One study predicts that all new cars will have some level of hybridization by 2020.

So here is the lineup of 2012’s hybrid cars, SUVs, minivans and pickups. Please note that we define hybrid vehicles as ones that have a drivetrain that can be powered by its gasoline engine. See our 2012 Electric Car Lineup for vehicles with drivetrains powered only by their electric motor.

Audi Hybrids

Audi, as part of the massive VW universe (along with Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Skoda and Seat) has committed resources for hybrid models after witnessing their success here. While European markets are still more interested in diesel engines, Americans have been clamoring – and will now get – hybridized Audis, albeit slowly. Audi continues to maintain, though, that diesels are the superior engine of choice for efficiency.

2012 Hybrid Cars USA
2012 Audi Q5 Hybrid

Q5 Hybrid Quattro car – The first Audi hybrid car to reach our shores for sale, the Q5 mates a compact crossover body with an efficient all-wheel drivetrain. Utilizing a 208hp 4-cylinder engine as its base, Audi mates a 44hp electric motor to give its first hybrid the scoot of the V6 (0-60 in 7 flat) with economy better than the base 4 (an estimated 33 MPG combined). Audi claims the Q5 is able to run for almost 2 miles on electricity alone at speeds under 62 MPH, but few reviewers have been able to achieve that. Expect a 15% price premium, at an estimated MSRP of $48,000 when it goes on sale.


A6 Hybrid car (2012 or 2013) – At the January 2011 Detroit auto show, Audi unveiled an A6 sedan with a hybrid powertrain borrowed from the Q5. Despite the combination being showroom ready, Audi has not released an on-sale date for the hybrid sedan. Continue reading “2012 Hybrid Cars in the USA: Here’s the Lineup”

2012 Electric Cars in the USA: Here’s the Lineup

Mitsubishi MiEV electric car
Mitsubishi MiEV

Update: Our 2013 Electric Cars in the USA article is now available.

In the market for a vehicle and thinking about buying a new electric car in 2012? Electric vehicles (EVs) are coming into their own, and 2012 is a great year to be considering one.

While Nissan and Chevrolet are the mainstream muscle making up the meat of 2011’s electric car sales, newcomers like Tesla are still surging forward, with sales of over 1500 of its revolutionary Roadster model. Strong sales of conventional luxury cars and increased consumer interest in alternative energy have given confidence to the major luxury brands to develop electric vehicles. Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Infiniti and even Rolls Royce have shown a commitment to releasing electric automobiles in 2012 and beyond.

For the rest of the population, Ford is on track for 2012 launch dates of two EVs, Mitsubishi is launching the diminutive i MiEV, Toyota pushes ahead with its EV development and the Chinese are tipped to break into the American car market with an all-electric product. Other smaller players have announced 2012 on-sale dates as well.

If you’re in the market for an electric vehicle, don’t forget to check its “MPGe.” In November of 2010 the EPA announced the MPGe — a new equivalent mileage rating based on EPA’s formula, in which 33.7 kilowatt hours of electricity is equivalent to one gallon of gasoline. Look for the new rating in reviews and on window stickers in showrooms. Please note that we define electric vehicles as ones that have a drivetrain that is only powered by its electric motor. See our 2012 Hybrid Car Lineup for vehicles with drivetrains that can be powered by a gasoline engine.

Aptera Electric Cars

The unusual airplane-like Aptera 2e has been in gestation longer than the Volt, but currently does not have a firm on-sale date. Reservations are being accepted, but company spokespersons declined to offer any further information on availability. We suspect you’ll never see this car for sale, as we’ve been reading about delays for years.

Audi Electric Cars

Audi has shown a spate of concepts, all called e-Tron, featuring all-electric drive trains. The mighty R8 sports car has been converted into an all-electric concept, which is rumored for 2012 production. Audi has declined to comment on an on-sale date, but expect a price in excess of $150,000 for this gorgeous electric sports car. Continue reading “2012 Electric Cars in the USA: Here’s the Lineup”

Best Energy Efficient Dishwashers 2011

Looking at reviews to find the best, energy efficient dishwasher for your home? Good idea!

Your home appliances can really add to your energy bills — and your carbon footprint.

If you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, look for a model that’s Energy Star certified. Energy Star is a program that was started by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the 1990’s. It created a certification standard for energy-efficient computers and appliances. The EPA says that in 2006, $14 billion were saved in energy costs through the implementation of Energy Star products.

Most energy-efficient dishwashers
Bosch Model SHE68E05UC

Here’s a list of the top ten best dishwashers available in the U.S. in 2011, ranked strictly by efficiency. Most of these are premium dishwashers, so you’ll also get a quiet dishwasher that cleans well too. Model numbers with asterisks (*), contain characters that denote color, or another variable unrelated to energy efficiency. This list was compiled using Energy Star’s Energy Factor criteria, which is a measurement of energy use per cycle. The higher the Energy Factor, the better. Continue reading “Best Energy Efficient Dishwashers 2011”

Truly Organic Kids Clothes: Where to Find

GOTS-certified logo
GOTS-Certified Logo

You’re probably wondering if buying organic kids clothes is better for your children. The answer is: it depends.

You may be surprised to learn that the current U.S. label of “organic” on clothing only refer to how the fabric was grown — it does not cover the processing and manufacturing that the fabrics undergo after harvest. The USDA  clearly states this on page 11 of the National Organic Program Final Rule [PDF].

So just because that cute onesie you bought for your baby says “made with 100% organic cotton” it does not mean it is nontoxic. Harsh chemicals can be used in the processing and dyeing of the clothing. While organic growing methods are clearly best for the environment, you’ll need to dig a little deeper to make sure the end product is also good for your family. There are several certifications out there that do cover the processing of fabrics. Look for the following when purchasing organic clothing and bedding for your family: Continue reading “Truly Organic Kids Clothes: Where to Find”

2012 Diesel Cars in USA: Here’s the Lineup

2012 Volkswagan Passat Diesel
2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI courtesy of

Update: Our 2013 Diesel Cars in the USA article is now available!

In the market for a vehicle and thinking about buying a new diesel car in 2012? It’s an idea worth considering.

From images of long-haul trucking, to nightmares of sitting in the back of a grandparent’s noxious Olds vista cruiser diesel, Americans haven’t shown too much interest in diesel cars in the past. Yet with the economy still in the doldrums, and gas prices rising faster than an express elevator, diesel cars are suddenly getting a lot more attention.

The good news is that many of the world’s manufacturers make great diesel products. The bad news is that lack of domestic demand and tightening budgets mean that few have been certified for sale in the U.S. The EPA has more stringent requirements than Europe does for controlling NOx – Nitric Oxide, the key compound that produces smog. The technology to meet these standards exists, but it’s expensive (to develop, manufacture and certify), which is why many of the diesels you see on the market in the U.S. are at the high end of the price range.

This issue is also the reason why there are so many diesel cars available in other countries that are not available in the United States. Simply put, it’s so expensive to develop a diesel engine that meets US emissions standards that most manufacturers don’t bother. Particularly since diesels have never been a popular engine choice in the US market.

It also doesn’t help that the average price per gallon of diesel in the U.S. (as of June 2011) is 25 cents more than gasoline. However, a diesel’s increased miles per gallon means that it usually comes out ahead on overall savings, thus the new surge in consumer interest. Check out this article for more on the differences between American and European diesel markets.

Nonetheless, there are some excellent diesel alternative cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks for sale in America right now.

Here’s the lineup. We’re still adding photos of these cars as the 2012 photos become available. Continue reading “2012 Diesel Cars in USA: Here’s the Lineup”