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Green your commute

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By Dana Goeglein
From Green Goes Simple

You don't have to completely give up your car to prove how much you care about the environment. Simply changing the way you commute can radically reduce the amount of air pollution, greenhouse gases and carbon emissions you produce each day. And what's more, alternative modes of transportation can benefit your health, save you money and even lead to new friendships (hello, carpool buddies!).

Here, Brian Carr, director of communications for the Clean Air Campaign, shares a variety of ways for commuters to green their rides:

1.  If you live in an urban area, choose public transit. It's one of the greenest ways to travel -- plus, it allows you to spend your commute reading a book, catching up on work, following the news or even napping, instead of sitting in traffic. "Public transit allows commuters to engage in a hobby or get work done en route, so you arrive at your destination more relaxed and ready to begin your day," says Carr.

2.  Walk or bike whenever you can. Statistics show that nearly 50 percent of trips taken in a day are 3 miles away or less. Consider going without the car for these short trips, and you'll contribute considerably to reducing carbon emissions. Bonus: Choosing to walk or ride lets you squeeze in a workout without taking time to hit the gym.

3.  If you have to drive, forming a carpool to make a big difference. Even if you only carpool a few days a week, you can save thousands of dollars annually on gas costs and reduce your carbon footprint by 50 percent. You can also shave time off your commute by using designated carpool lanes. "Communities have really formed around carpooling," says Carr. "One group of Georgia commuters, calling themselves the Rolling Readers, formed a book club on wheels." While it's is a great way to get to know co-workers and neighbors, Carr points out that you can also designate your carpool as a quiet ride, giving passengers time and space to relax rather than socialize.

Even as a solo driver, there are a number of ways to clean up your act:

1.  Slow down and avoid sudden starts and stops. According to FuelEconomy.com, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, speeding, jerky acceleration and braking can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town.

2.  Turn off your engine when idling for longer than 60 seconds.

3.  Keep your car tuned and your tires full. CarbonFund.org has found that a tuned car and full tires help to keep 400 to 700 pounds of carbon out of the air each year.

4.  Turn off the AC. It'll reduce the amount of greenhouse gases your car gives off, plus save you money at the pump by cutting down on your gas use.  

5.  Consolidate car trips. Lumping errands together reduces car time. "Every mile we don't drive takes 1 pound of pollution out of the air," says Carr.

If you green your commute, you might receive a big bonus for it: Many community organizations have formed incentive programs, offering gas cards, refunds and other benefits to those who reduce the environmental impact of their commute. Check out your city's or town's official website for more commuting information or ask your employer if your company has any transportation programs in place -- if not, be the first to start one!

Dana Goeglein received a bachelor's in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a master's in food studies from New York University. She is a writer, yoga instructor and whole foods educator in New York City, where she strives to help others create harmonious, connected lives.

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