In a short, funny, data-packed talk at TED U, Catherine Mohr walks through all the geeky decisions she made when building a green new house — looking at real energy numbers, not hype. What choices matter most? Not the ones you think.
First of all, I’m a geek. I’m an organic food-eating, carbon footprint-minimizing, robotic surgery geek. And I really want to build green, but I’m very suspicious of all of these well-meaning articles, people long on moral authority and short on data, telling me how to do these kinds of things. And so I have to figure this out for myself. For example: Is this evil? I have dropped a blob of organic yogurt from happy self-actualized local cows on my counter top, and I grab a paper towel and I want to wipe it up. But can I use a paper towel? (Laughter)
00:51 The answer to this can be found in embodied energy. This is the amount of energy that goes into any paper towel or embodied water, and every time I use a paper towel, I am using this much virtual energy and water. Wipe it up, throw it away. Now, if I compare that to a cotton towel that I can use a thousand times, I don’t have a whole lot of embodied energy until I wash that yogurty towel. This is now operating energy. So if I throw my towel in the washing machine, I’ve now put energy and water back into that towel … unless I use a front-loading, high-efficiency washing machine, (Laughter) and then it looks a little bit better. But what about a recycled paper towel that comes in those little half sheets? Well, now a paper towel looks better. Screw the paper towels. Let’s go to a sponge. I wipe it up with a sponge, and I put it under the running water, and I have a lot less energy and a lot more water. Unless you’re like me and you leave the handle in the position of hot even when you turn it on, and then you start to use more energy. Or worse, you let it run until it’s warm to rinse out your towel. And now all bets are off.