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Greenify Your Commute: Even a Little Bit Helps

Gridlock

Americans, on average, spend 25.5 minutes on their way to work according to the US Census Bureau. That's only one way. Which means most of us are spending nearly an hour a day traveling to and from work. 10.8 million Americans travel an hour each way. For 600,000 unfortunate souls, called mega-commuters, an average commute is at least 50 miles and 90 minutes one way.

Spending that much time in the car each day isn't very green. Using all of that gas, running air conditioning, idling in traffic — none of it is good for you or the environment. How much can you make your commute greener?

Choose the Right Route

How often do you feel like you're stuck in gridlock traffic?

Gridlock is bad for your mental health and productivity — that much is obvious. Traffic congestion has also been quantifiably tied to negative health effects. Scientists at Harvard's School of Public Health reported in 2011 that more than 2,200 premature deaths are annually caused by air pollution from traffic congestion.

It stands to reason, then, your best best is looking for less congested roadways for your daily drive. You can try listening for updates on your local radio stations or employing your smart phone. The Nexus 4 is one of only a few phones offering Google Now's real-time traffic updates. You might not miss every accident or road closure, but open roads will lead to less pollution and less stress.

Minimize Waste

The longer you spend in your car, the more you try to do in it. Maybe you eat breakfast in the car, maybe you shave at red lights, whatever you do is your business as long as you do it safely. All of that trash sitting on the floor of your passenger seat? That's going into a landfill. 

You can also reduce pre-packaged goods for homemade snacks and replace paper towels with cloth napkins. It might sound radical, but it's easier than it sounds and you'll have far less garbage to clear out of your car.

Leave Your Car Home

If you're serious about reducing the environmental impact of your commute, you'll have to leave your car at home. Carpooling cuts your emissions and gives you access to the HOV or carpool lane for even less stress on the road. Carpooling can be stressful if participants aren't on time or are poor company. Just think happy thoughts about how much money you're saving on gas and the good you're doing for the earth.

Cities like New York and Chicago are infamous for bad traffic and worse parking, but have excellent public transportation. It's common for workers from all levels of society to take the bus or train to work, regardless of the weather. You may need to invest in a good umbrella and some galoshes, but you'll have idle time to read a book, catch up on the news or just sit and listen to music. With reliable enough public transportation, you may not even need a car.

Too hardcore for public transportation? Ready for the ultimate green commute? There's nothing greener than biking to work, unless you're close enough to walk. 

You'll want to ride a good quality street bike and always wear a helmet. Be prepared to wear athletic clothing for your commute and bring your business wear to put on at work. You may spend a little more on deodorant, but you'll get a daily workout and seriously reduce your carbon footprint. Biking is easier in some cities, like Portland, Ore., than others, like Los Angeles, so plan your route carefully.

** Photo from Flickr user zoonabar / Chris Brown.