Series Overview: How Green Is It?

Messages abound telling you to do your part to prevent climate change and to save the environment. Turn off the lights, drive clean cars, buy Earth-friendly products — those are just a few of the things we hear and read about.

But how do we know if what we're doing really has the impact on the environment we think it does? Are we making the best choices? And are we being fully informed about the costs and downsides?

Throughout August, All Things Considered will examine some of the things Americans are doing — and buying — to help the environment and whether those steps really are as "green" as they seem.

In This Series

Green Cars The new "cash for clunkers" law is designed to get Americans to replace old cars with new ones that get better gas mileage. So is it really more environmentally friendly to buy a new hybrid car to replace your perfectly good 5-year-old gasoline-powered vehicle? What's the environmental impact of building a new car and of manufacturing nickel metal hydride batteries that many hybrids use? NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on the carbon footprint of automobile ownership.

Bring Your Own Bags Reusable shopping bags are popping up everywhere — from the grocery store to the home improvement warehouse. Ikea now charges a bag fee to customers who don't bring their own, and some cities are imposing taxes on plastic bags or banning them altogether. Are these totes as environmentally friendly as they seem? NPR's Tovia Smith reports on whether shoppers are making a difference by using their own bags instead of picking paper or plastic.

Green Electricity If your electric company offers you the chance to buy power generated from wind, solar or other types of renewable energy, should you do it? Many utilities offer that option, and as prices have come down, more and more people are signing up. But what are you actually buying? Does that mean your home is running on clean energy, while your neighbor still powers his with dirty old coal? NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports on how green green power is.

Replacement Windows The federal government will give you a tax credit of up to $1,500 to replace your old, drafty windows with new energy-efficient ones. But that's a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of dollars you'd spend to buy and install the windows. Are there other alternatives that could help save energy without costing so much? And if you do decide to replace your windows, does it matter what the new ones are made of? NPR's Cheryl Corley tackles those questions.

Energy Star So, you're patting yourself on the back because that new refrigerator or TV you just bought comes with a bright blue Energy Star sticker. But does that star automatically translate into lower electricity bills and less impact on the planet? Energy Star products are supposed to be 30 percent more efficient than standard products, but some still use a lot of power. Shogren reports on how to tell whether your new appliance is really as green as it seems.

Bamboo It seems like everything from cutting boards to sheets is made of bamboo these days. It's touted as an ecological material. There's no question it's a renewable resource. Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth. But how green is it really? Shogren examines what factors into this equation, such as whether a native forest was cut down to make room for a bamboo farm, or whether the bamboo was grown with pesticides and sealed with formaldehyde. There's also the transportation question: Was it shipped all the way from China on a ship spewing diesel exhaust?

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