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The remarkable natural environment of the San Francisco Bay Area, which enriches the lives of every Bay Area resident -- all seven million of us -- is suffering under the strains we place on it. But each of us, through our own individual actions, can help slow the stream of pollution and cut the rate of habitat destruction in our area; each of us, especially in combination with our friends and neighbors, can take steps to protect our natural surroundings. Below are NRDC's top ten recommendations, and some tips for getting started. For more detailed suggestions and how-to information, follow the links to the Green Guides.
Use less energy
During the winter, turn thermostats down to 68 degrees or below during the day and 55 degrees at night and when you're away from home. In warm weather, set thermostats to 78 degrees or above. If you have access to it, set your water heater's temperature at 120 degrees (140 if your dishwasher doesn't have a temperature booster), and put an insulating jacket on your heater if it's more than five years old or feels warm to the touch. Use compact fluorescent lightbulbs -- they cost more at first but save energy and money in the long run. If your refrigerator is more than nine years old, consider replacing it with a new Energy Star model. New models use about 50 percent less energy than older refrigerators do. Make sure that your home is properly insulated, and when replacing windows, choose double-paned models.  Link to guide to reducing energy use
Use less water
Don't leave the water running while you're brushing your teeth or shaving, and check your pipes and faucets for leaks or drips -- even a small drip can waste thousands of gallons a year. When you buy a dishwasher or washing machine, look for high-efficiency models. Call your local water supplier about conducting a residential audit of your home -- many will do it for free. Also ask if it has a rebate program for low-flush toilets and washing machines. Landscape your home with drought-resistant plants.  Link to guide to saving water and keeping it clean
Drive less and drive smarter
If you drive to work alone, switch to public transit, carpooling, biking or walking. Start with one day a week and try to work your way up. Save gas by keeping your car tuned up and the tires inflated (at least a 10 percent savings combined). And next time you buy a car, consider a clean, high-efficiency hybrid vehicle -- you won't believe the mileage and they even look good.  Link to guide to driving less and smarter
Move to a compact neighborhood
If you are planning to move, consider a dense, urban-style neighborhood with good access to public transportation. You'll save yourself a lot of driving and enjoy the benefits of having shopping and services nearby. You'll also be helping to reduce sprawl. If you're buying a new home in a compact neighborhood, you may qualify for a Location Efficient Mortgage, which increases the borrowing power of buyers in efficient neighborhoods.
Reduce your use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals
Don't apply pesticides unless you have an actual problem -- never use them to "prevent" pests. If you do have a pest problem, try baits and traps instead of sprays, and talk with your local nursery about natural solutions to outdoor problems. If your pet has a flea problem, use pills from your veterinarian instead of flea bombs, dips or collars. Cleaning solutions that contain lye, toilet bowl deodorizers and many spot removers contain harmful chemical solvents; use baking soda and diluted vinegar instead as all-purpose cleaners. Use water-based instead of oil-based paints, and never pour paint thinners and varnish down the sink or toilet. Consider trying "wet cleaners" instead of dry cleaners that use harmful solvents. If you do choose to dry-clean, air clothes outside before putting them in your closet.  Link to guide to reducing toxic chemical use
Recycle and reduce
If you don't recycle, start. If you recycle already, take stock of what you routinely throw away and see if there's more you could recycle. Re-use products before recycling them -- paper and plastic bags at the grocery store, for example (better yet, carry a cloth bag). At the office, re-use paper by printing onto the blank side of used paper; then recycle. Re-use manila envelopes, and don't print out email unless it's necessary.
Use the power of your purse
Make sure that your buying habits -- for everything from cars and lumber to pesticides, packaging, food and more -- reflect your values. Buy products in containers that are already recycled, or that recycle easily, for example glass or aluminum beverage containers and glass condiment bottles instead of plastic. Avoid over-packaged products -- fruits and vegetables in cardboard and plastic, lunches from the sandwich shop near the office that come in foam containers. When it makes sense for you, buy food and other products in bulk to save money and packaging. For home projects, buy lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Buy organic foods
Not only will you reduce the amount of chemicals you consume, you'll also support farming practices that protect the soil and groundwater. Buying local products will help even more -- you'll bolster the local farming community and help cut down on packaging as well as pollution from long-distance transportation.  Link to guide to local farmers' markets
Get to know the Bay Area, then protect it
Get out and enjoy the Bay Area's many green spaces and natural wonders. Hike. Go to the beach. Take kids to parks around the bay. Get to know the natural richness of the Bay Area. To know it is to love it, and to love it is to want to protect it. Join a community group that is protecting a place or resource you love.  Link to guide to Bay Area conservation groups
Join NRDC/use our resources
The Natural Resources Defense Council is one of the most effective environmental groups in the Bay Area -- and the country. What's more, we can help you be effective in your efforts on behalf of the environment by giving you information and action tools, and by combining your voice with thousands of others (in California alone) who also want to make things happen. So take your pick, or pick them all: become a member of NRDC, join our California Activist Network to receive email action alerts, visit our online action center, read our green guides.