Archive for the ‘Money Savers’ Category

Interview with a small business owner

I think it’s great when I come across a small business owner that is doing good things for the environment. In a paper driven industry, Liz Thomas has found a way to “go green.” Although the changes were prompted by necessity, her business has flourished and customers are happier.

I have always hated the amount of paper accumulated in the tax preparation process. But more and more I find that employers (including LIFE) are providing employees with electronic W-2’s and electronic filing with the IRS is easier than ever. My goal this year is to have a paperless tax return. Through scanning and email I’ll try to see if I can do everything electronically. Wish me luck!

If you know of a small business owner doing great things for the environment contact the Office of Sustainability. We’d love to share their story!

 Tell me about your business:

Thomas Tax Management Service is an online tax service for individuals and small business. I started the business inCaliforniain 1987 after owing the IRS a large sum of money due to an inexperienced tax preparation services I used.  I have clients all over theUnited States, many that I have never met face to face. I advertise very little so my business feeds on referrals.

This year Thomas Tax Management Service has gone paper free. Tax preparation has traditionally been a very paper laden industry….as a small business owner what prompted you to go green? 

Thanks to modern technology, Thomas Tax management Services (TTMS )went paper free in 2011.  I have been gradually taking the business to less and less paper over the past 4 years. A move toNorth Carolinain 2006 had me considering closing my small tax business, since my clientele was inCalifornia. When I realized that 90% of myCaliforniaclients were more than willing to “snail mail” and email me their tax documents, I decided to keep the business open. Since then myNorth Carolina,South CarolinaandGeorgiaclientele has grown as well as myCaliforniabase. For the local clients, I may meet with them initially face to face, with the majority of their documentation being sent to me via email. For clients that are too far to meet with, a consultation is done on the phone, a tax organizer is sent to the clients (via email), and then all the info is returned to me completed with tax documents (via email).

With the IRS encouraging taxpayers to file electronically and in some case making the practice mandatory, my paper usage was cut down by 65%.  I am able to file a tax return electronically and send a copy to clients via email.  So not only is going green helping the environment, I am saving money on paper, printer ink, and postage. This past tax year a few of my clients insisted on filing paper returns, so I updated my fee schedule to include e-filing in the price of preparation. . .  so for the first time since 1987 all 100% of my clients filed electronically.

What challenges did you face in making the transition to be “paper-free”?

Very few challenges were faced outside of clients wanting paper returns. It’s been a win-win situation over all.

Have you always been eco-conscious, for example do you recycle/compost at home? 

I have become more eco conscious since moving toNorth Carolina. . . While inCaliforniaI can’t say that I did much recycling.

What type of feedback have you been receiving from your customers?

Many times customers don’t comment on how smooth a process is (it’s almost expected). . . my customer base continues to grow, so I take that as my feedback. . . all positive.

Change is not always easy….or convenient….what tips do you have for other companies that would like to “go green”?

Many times change equates to spending money. . . I think if small changes are considered first, many times you will find you are saving money.

Do you have plans to implement other “eco-friendly” policies? 

I’m looking into seeing what else I can do as an internet business

How has going green improved your business? 

I have been able to save money in regards to postage, paper and printer ink.

Pilots to go Paperless

I have a love/hate relationship with flying. I love how fast I reach my destination (versus driving) but I hate the restrictions (like liquids) and all the baggage fees.

American Airlines has plans to ditch 35-lb paper flight manuals and replace them with 1.5 lb Apple iPads. This change is expected to save $1.2 million in fuel annually. A news release states that “By eliminating bulky flight bags filled with paper, (electronic flight bags) mean less weight for pilots to carry, reducing the possibility of injury on duty. In addition, they enable pilots to immediately download updates, rather than waiting for paper versions of required documents to be printed and distributed.”

The airline has run trials on flights from Los Angeles to Asia. The iPads are also equipped to provide an electronic tracking function for electronic charts. However, the FAA still requires pilots to carry a hard copy of the manual as a backup.

Reducing paper and fuel is great for the environment for obvious reasons, but does it compromise safety? Do you feel that the benefits to the environment outweigh the possible issues that may arise from moving from paper to iPads onboard planes? We all know that computers and cell phones malfunction at the most inopportune times. Tell me what you think.



Do pennies make “sense”?

Mike’s Bikes a small franchise in California has banned pennies in its stores. Mike’s states “The world we live in is the world we ride in. To help take good care of it, we have decided to eliminate pennies from our stores. For all cash transactions where pennies would have been used, we will be rounding down in favor of the customer to the nearest nickel.”
Why you ask??? It’s not necessarily for obvious reasons (like pennies weigh your pockets down which was my initial thought!).

Producing pennies uses valuable resources – Pennies are 3% copper and 97% zinc and mining these metals usually means bad news for the environment.

Producing pennies wastes taxpayer money – As of 2010 it cost 1.79 to make each penny!

Rounding down is good for business – Since all transactions will be rounded in favor of the customer, its like getting up to a 4¢ discount.

Dealing with pennies wastes time and money – Its estimated that we spend 12 hours a year handling pennies and it adds 2 to 2.5 seconds per cash transaction.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m not necessarily attached to pennies so their elimination wouldn’t devastate me but it seems like if they were really “unsustainable” they would have met their demise long ago. I also can hear my grandmother’s voice saying “pick up those pennies and save them, pennies make dollars!” I’m very interested to know what you think…..let me know how you feel about the extinction of the penny.

Source: Triple Pundit

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How to save money at the gas pump

gas pump

I have stopped looking at gas prices; I just purchase it when I need it. Has money become no object to me? Not even close, but my sanity is important and constantly watching prices rise was taxing my mental health. One thing I am doing is taking steps to save money on gasoline. There are the obvious tips like reducing your driving time, carpooling or biking but here are some tips you may not be aware of…or may have slipped your mind.


  1. Take your time – For every 5 mph you drive over 60 mph you’re essentially paying an extra 24¢ per gallon of gas. To avoid this try using cruise control and maintain a constant speed.
  2. Keep your “road rage” in check – Aggressive driving, speeding, swerving, impulsive acceleration and braking can lower your highway gas mileage 33% and city mileage 5%. Revving your engine also increases these numbers….
  3. Roll down the windows???? – Please use this tip at your own discretion, not sure how well this will work in Georgia. Air condition can empty your tank at an alarming rate so use it wisely. Don’t leave it on when you don’t need it and never while the windows are down…even cracked. On the other hand when driving over 55 mph for long periods (think road trip) having the windows open increases air resistance and decreases fuel efficiency. Using the AC on road trips can actually improve gas mileage by up to 20%.
  4. MOVE – Not only is idling bad for the environment it’s also bad for your pockets.
  5. Tune it up – Repairing a car that needs a tune up, has a bad oxygen sensor, and changing your oil can boost your fuel efficiency.
  6. Pump it up – Keeping your tires properly inflated can improve gas mileage by more than 3%. The makes for a safer ride and extends the life of your tires. Making sure your tires are aligned is also a good idea.
  7. Drop the weight – Carrying extra weight means burning more gasoline.  For every extra 100 pounds your fuel efficiency is cut by 2%. So while most of us aren’t hauling 100 extra pounds of “stuff” you may be carrying something in your trunk that you could remove to reduce the weight of your vehicle. Every little bit helps.
  8. Cap it – Make sure your gas cap has a secure fit and is tightened after each fill-up. If you don’t have a gas cap…make sure you replace it ASAP.

Source: Mother Nature Network

Photo: Washington State

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Making toilet paper at the office

While the article doesn’t give many details, it looks like the White Goat machine turns traditional office paper into toilet paper. In about 30 minutes, the machine converts approximately 40 sheets of office into a fresh roll of toilet paper. The process involves shredding the paper, dissolving it in water, thinning it, drying it and winding the paper around a roll. According to the manufacturers, the White Goat is pricey, retailing at $100,000.  The cost to produce one roll of toilet paper however is cheap at 12¢ per roll.

White Goat machine

Definitely a steal at 12¢ a roll, I wonder how it compares to Charmin or Cottonelle? Can you think of one item that you wouldn’t buy recycled?

Source:  Mother Nature Network

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Meatless Monday


Mushrooms as a meat substitute?

Although mushrooms are an edible fungi, they have a hearty texture comparable to that of meat. Mushrooms are an affordable meat substitute which offer nutritional benefits that can help strengthen the immune system and provide antioxidants. Mushrooms are also fat-free and a good source of dietary fiber, B-vitamins and other minerals.

Looking for easy ways to incorporate mushrooms into a meal? Try these options…..

  • Portabella mushrooms (one of the larger varieties) have become a menu staple at many restaurants. Portabella caps can be marinated, grilled and eaten on a bun like a burger.
  • Sautéed with onions and peppers, mushrooms make a great addition to burritos, enchiladas, tacos or fajitas.
  • Instead of meatballs or ground beef  try mushrooms in spaghetti, lasagna or stroganoff.


  • Fact: The first mushrooms were thought to be cultivated in Southeast Asia, but it is not known why for sure. It is possible that someone discovered that mushrooms grew by accident or perhaps there was a demand and someone sought out a growing method.


  • Fact: Whether mushrooms are wild or cultivated they continue to grow after they are picked. People sometimes mistake a thin white material called mycelium for mold, but rest assured it probably is the mycelium growing!


  • Fact: While mushrooms are canned, pickled and frozen, drying mushrooms is the oldest and most commonly used way to preserve mushrooms.


  • Fact: One Portabella mushroom generally has more potassium than a banana.


  • Fact: Mushrooms continue to gain popularity, especially the specialty mushrooms such as Portabella, wild Morels, Oysters and Shiitake. Mushrooms, particularly the Portbella are often used in place of meat in many dishes.


  • Fact: Commercial mushroom farming began in the early 20th century. Pennsylvania and California are the largest mushroom producers. 

  • Fact: Mushroom “farms” are climate controlled buildings; airflow, temperature and light are all constantly monitored.


  • Fact: Wild mushrooms can range in price for reasons such as taste, historical significance and availability. European truffles can sell for over $1,600 per pound!


  • Fact: Wild mushrooms can be found in many wooded areas. If you do choose to harvest wild mushrooms, make certain you have a professional identify your pick. Many mushrooms may resemble safe mushrooms (they are called false mushrooms) and can be poisonous.

 Source: Associated Content, Forest Mushrooms


Have telephone books become extinct?

With all the technology that surrounds me, I no longer have a need for a phone book. Actually, I think it would take me longer to look up a number in a phone book than to find it on the internet. (A side from my personal opinion)…..From an environmental standpoint, about 19 million trees and 7.2 million barrels of oil are used annually in the production of phone books. This equates to a lot of resources being used in the production of an unwanted product.

It seems like the City of Seattle shares my sentiments.

Seattle is on the verge of passing the  nation’s first phone book “opt-out” law. The “opt-out” registry will be funded by publishers through a 14-cent fee for each book distributed. The publishers are upset that the law does not apply to other forms of media and the Yellow Pages Association offers its own “opt-out” option and disagrees with the city maintaining a separate registry.

Seattle officials state that the “opt-out” registry which will be managed by a third party will reduce clutter, increase residential security and save the people of Seattle, money.  explains the nuts and bolts of the new ordinance

THE DETAILS: The Seattle city ordinance would require the various publishers of yellow pages phone books to establish a city-administered opt-out website so people can choose to receive which of the three business phone directories they want, or none at all. The publishers would also be required to pay a licensing fee to cover the cost of operating that site, as well as a $148-per-ton fee for any books that are delivered to residents; that fee is the amount it costs the city to recycle phone books. (The law doesn’t apply to standard residential phone directories, as Washington state law requires that phone companies publish those.)

Not surprisingly, publishers of yellow pages phone books aren’t happy about the new law. Two companies that publish the books, as well as an industry association, have sued the city on the grounds that it infringes on their First Amendment rights to free speech and being able to communicate with whomever they wish. Adding to their complaint, the industry association has already developed a nationwide opt-out site, so a second city-administered site would be redundant. And they’re concerned that, should other cities follow Seattle’s lead, multiple city-administered sites would just create confusion.

WHAT IT MEANS: The ordinance is still being debated in city courts, but it’s scheduled to take effect on January 1. Who will win remains to be seen, but it is a sign that city and local governments are increasingly weary of coping with cumbersome recyclables.

What do you think about Seattle’s new law? Should it be passed? How often do you use your phone book and would you opt-out of receiving one if  you could?


What does “building a green economy mean”?  features an “Earth Talk” column which answers questions about the environment. A Sustainable Life will occasionally share some of these Q&A’s with you.

Dear EarthTalk: What does it mean when one uses the phrase, “building a green economy?” I’ve heard it repeated a few times lately and would like to have a better understanding of the concept.

— Rosie Chang, Islip, NY

The phrase “building a green economy” means different things to different people, but in general it refers to encouraging economic development that prioritizes sustainability—that is, working with nature and not against it in the quest to meet peoples’ needs and wants—instead of disregarding environmental concerns in the process of growing the economy. The primary way governments around the world are trying to “green” their own economies today is by increasing investment in—and, by extension, creating jobs in—industries on the cutting edge of non-polluting renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind power.

Website Alert: offers lots of choices on ways to browse and search for products


The motto is Buy, Sell and Live Handmade. Founded in June 2005, Etsy is the Ebay of homemade crafts and other goods. Their mission is to enable people to make a living making things! Buyers and sellers can connect on the site to trade goods and to relate to a community of crafters.

New uses for silica gel packets

It has been said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure….well this article is a perfect example. When you get a new ________________ (fill-in-the-blank) it usually comes with a silica gel packet. This unsuspecting packet of tiny beads is usually just thrown away, mainly because the packet says “THROW AWAY” but there are uses for these tiny little beads.


Silica gel is a desiccant, a moisture absorber which keeps our purchases from spoiling or molding due to humidity. The gel is nontoxic unless it is mixed with certain chemicals (at that point it must be disposed as hazardous waste). Instead of throwing these packets away try using the silica gel in your home…….

  • Store silica packets in camera bags and with film to absorb moisture, or in the backs of photo frames to protect photos against humidity.
  • To make a natural air freshener, open the packets and soak the beads with essential oils and place them in a bag or bowl.
  • Need to protect documents? Try storing them with silica gel packets.
  • Place gel packets in your tool box to prevent rusting.
  • Protect your silver from tarnishing by storing your jewelry with silica gel.

Preserving Leaves with Silica Gel

  • Use the gel to dry flowers or place with seeds to keep them dry until you’re ready to plant.
  • Rather than mothballs, store your next season’s clothes, shoes and handbags with silica packets to preserve the fabric. This also works with luggage!
  • Place packets on the dashboard of your car to help maintain a clear windshield!

Since the silica gel can absorb up to 40% of its own weight, it can offer some serious moisture protection. We’d like to hear from people who have tried some of these tips… did it work for you?