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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

People’s Climate March and the UN Climate Summit 2014

Posted by SEPCO

9/25/14 9:30 AM

peoples climate march 2014

Last Sunday was one of the largest climate rallies ever, the People’s Climate March in New York City. Climate changes have been on the mind of people since the 60’s and 70’s, but realizing that we need to do something now is pushing people even harder, as we have already damaged the climate permanently and there is worse to come.  Many big names were out there in the crowd along with everyday citizens to demand action in the UN Climate Summit in New York on Sept 23.

Leonardo DiCaprio made one of the best speeches I’ve heard in a long time, see here:

I think my other favorite video this week was Jon Stewart’s video Burn Noticed:

So now what? Well some great ideas were put up and set to be put in action. The Green Climate Fund, which was established in 2009, was set into place to help developing countries move away from fossil fuels; however, it has not been kept up with and is not meeting the goals set forth. Pledges were taken at this year’s Climate Summit to push this program further ahead; however, most of the wealthier countries, including the US, needs to get on the boat and make their pledge.

Carbon emissions were of course one of the largest topics. Countries including Ireland and Chile are working towards reducing their carbon emissions; however, we need large industrial countries such as China and India to jump on board to make a real impact. So are they doing this? 2014 Was the lowest coal consumption year in the past decade for China and they are working to lower their consumption even more. As for India, no one knows as they didn’t show up to discuss their input, but we will see in time what they do.

Food security was another hot topic on the list along with deforestation. Deforestation is on a track to be cut in half by 2020 and finally ended in 2030. Will there be forests or even trees left by 2030? I guess we will see. One of the worst deforestation is due to the Palm Oil industry; however, large companies are finally getting involved and making zero-deforestation pledges and deforestation-free sourcing of palm oil.

As for the future, The UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants leaders to strike a deal in Paris. He states “We must agree to a global deal in Paris next year, we simply cannot afford to put it off any longer.” Maybe this is a good idea, a yearly meeting instead of every 5 years; help keep everyone accountable of their actions and on track for a global change.

All in all, the rally helped raise awareness and showed the people’s support  for action as well as showing  the UN how much everyone (well most everyone) wants change to happen immediately. We all want a green and clean world for our children for generations to come, but we need to start somewhere. Every drop in the bucket towards making the world better is a step in the right direction.

For more information, check out: UN Climate Change Summit, Vice News, The Guardian, Mashable

Img Source: Grist

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles, Alternative Energy

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: What about Repair?

Posted by SEPCO

8/14/14 9:30 AM

Repair

I know since I was a little kid that we have been learning about the 3 R’s of living a more green life; Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Something that seems to have fallen into the shadows many years ago is Repair. Instead of getting rid of that broken item, repair it to allow it to continue to be useful. A lot of things you can repair at home, others may have to be taken into a shop or have a technician look at it, but in almost all cases, the item can be repaired.

I came across this great article, The Forgotten ‘R’: Repair by Elizabeth Royte a while back and it got me thinking. How much stuff do I myself, a green professional and person, get rid of over the year that is broken but can actually be easily repaired? Now, instead of just throwing out that carpet shampooer that won’t do what it needs to, or the drawer of the fridge that is cracked, it is time to get out the tools and fix this stuff. If I can’t do it, I’m sure there is a repair shop somewhere in my town that can fix things.

One thing noticed in the article is the disappearance of repair shops. Manufacturers are making products that they want you to throw away once they break so that you purchase new products. There is something really wrong with this mentality. We have become a wasteful society, and with the increase of global warming and waste being a huge contributor to this, we should be looking for ways to reduce our impact by repairing items. Now, repair shops are starting again, popping up all over.

What to do with that item that just isn’t repairable, where no amount of glue, wiring, screws, etc. will ever make it perform the way it was intended again? We recently looked into Upcycling where you take unusable items and turn them into something new and amazing. If that item really can’t be repaired, look at it from a different angle and see what it may be able to become and breathe some new life into it. Save the unused tiles from a project and create a new top for that scratched up table that you don’t know what to do with. Go online; there are thousands of ideas all over the internet. Don’t know what to do with that broken item and don’t have the time to turn it into something new, advertise it on Craigslist or Freecycle and let someone else take a crack at it.

The takeaway: Let’s all work together to expand the iconic 3 R’s and add a forth by repairing items that break. 

photo credit: Daniel Y. Go
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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles

Amazing Changes Happening Now for Sustainable Living: Tiny House

Posted by SEPCO

7/17/14 9:30 AM

Tiny-HomeHomes have become larger and more spacious as time progresses; however, there is a new movement away from those expensive and inefficient homes towards tiny houses. This is great for single people or small families that want to utilize every inch of their home and have more freedom than we’ve had in years. Instead of spending $450k, more and more people are opting to spend $30k or less to build a tiny house that they can even pick up and move wherever life takes them.

Tiny homes are on a huge up rise. These homes range from under 100 sq ft to around 350 sq ft. It is amazing what you can do when you slim down all your “stuff” to your most basic needs, compact your requirements to fit into such a small place, and then build the most functional, multipurpose spaces you could even imagine. There are many benefits to a tiny house including environmental friendliness, easier to clean and cheaper to heat and cool.

Tiny homes can be powered by traditional grid by plugging in to a power outlet, or be completely off grid by installing solar power. Since these homes are so efficient, they do not require a lot of power and only need a 1k solar system or less to completely power the requirements of the home. This combined with some propane or other form of fuel for heating and cooking is about the only costs associated with living in a tiny home.

There are tons of resources available online if you are interested in building a tiny home. You can purchase complete blueprints to just inspirational ideas to create your own unique custom design. Make it as functional as possible to fit exactly what you would need and listing the most important features to the least important to get the most from the space.

If you have a family, maybe you can’t build your tiny house on the back of a trailer like some mobile tiny homes; however, you can still stay with the smaller ideals and have plenty of room for everyone. Or live in an urban area; turn your studio into a lot more by maximizing its design. There are so many options that allow you to live more efficiently in less space than ever before. You just have to look around and get your creative juices flowing to find what would fit your lifestyle best.

What are some of your favorite tiny home resources, ideas and designs? Share them with us in the comments.

Img Credit: Over Grow the System

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles

Amazing Changes Happening Now for Sustainable Living: Fair Trade

Posted by SEPCO

7/3/14 9:30 AM

I-Supporting-FairtradeFair trade is starting to become more popular all over the world. Purchasing products from farmers and workers who are compensated fairly and work for companies that have sustainable business models helps everyone from the top down. Purchasing fair trade also has a great impact on the local communities where the products are being produced. Many organizations are working together to help with the fair trade movement. Here are some of the ways that you can help.

Purchasing Fair Trade Items

Fair Trade USA network certifies coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa, fresh fruit and vegetables, sugar, beans and grains, flowers, nuts, oils and butters, honey and spices, wine and apparel, and certified ingredients are now used in ready-to-drink beverages, body care products and spirits. These products are available in over 50,000 retail locations including big box stores you already shop at. Looking for the logo on your favorite type of products will ensure you are purchasing from a fair trade company. You will typically receive a better product while helping someone in the end.

The World Fair Trade Organization also works with producers, marketers, exporters, importers, wholesalers and retailers for their products. They make sure companies adhere to their 10 WFTO principles of fair trade in their daily operations and demonstrate 100% commitment to fair trade. Looking for their logo on products will ensure that you are purchasing a product coming from a fair trade company, no matter where in the world they are located.

Certify Your Products as Fair Trade

Certifying your products as fair trade means that you adhere to higher standards in your products production. Not every product is on the fair trade list; however, the more companies that list their products, the larger this movement will become and the more socially aware companies will become. Contact the local fair trade organizations and see how you can get involved.

Difference between Fair Trade and Free Trade

Free trade is an economic theory where marketable items can flow without government intervention. Fair trade helps free trade work for the world’s poor by paying everyone from the bottom up a fair cost on their product. These two systems work hand and hand to ensure that, especially in developing areas, people are being allowed to improve their lives by earning a decent wage for their products.

What Difference Will This Actually Make

If we all work together to start purchasing more fair trade products, companies that do not follow these standards will move towards a more socially aware way of doing business. Just like buying organic produce versus other produce will not have immediate impact, but as time goes on, more and more options will become available and more companies will join in the change.

What are your thoughts on the fair trade movement?

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles, Conservation

Go Green for the 4th of July

Posted by SEPCO

7/1/14 9:30 AM

Going green is great to do every day of the year but with the 4th of July being a popular holiday for friends and family to celebrate with picnics, fireworks and maybe even a pool party these are some ways to think about doing it.

green_4th_uncle_sam

First things first, when it comes to picnics the easiest thing to do is instead of using all those disposable plates, cups and utensils opt for a more eco-friendly option They may be convenient for party guest but they are not so great for the planet. The best solution to this would be to use normal tableware that can be washed and reused. If you must go the disposable route try to clean them up after use.  Another option would be to shop for biodegradable tableware. These sometimes cost a little extra but leaving a cleaner environment for our future is worth the extra pennies. If you are using water bottles instead of plastic cups be sure to opt for reusable bottles instead of the usual bottled water from the local store. If you do use them be sure to recycle them instead of just tossing them in the regular garbage.  Speaking of reusable try to use reusable bags to bring all those dishes and food to the party, don’t forget them when you go to the store to buy your supplies either.

green_utensils

The next thing seems like an easy and obvious idea but try to eat organic and buy local. This helps because organic food does not use pesticides which in turn leave fewer chemicals in the air, water and our bodies. By buying locally you know that your food has not been altered to preserve it and also has not had to be trucked across the U.S to be delivered to the local grocery store, not to mention is supports the local economy. In fact if the entire U.S were to eat vegetarian for 1 day it would save an estimated 100 billion gallons of water and 70 million gallons of gas. We are not saying do not eat meat but if you do make sure you buy genuine grass-fed beef which is not loaded with antibiotics and is easier to digest. Don’t forget to buy some organic beer as well and bring out the juicer for the kids.

The third item on the list is how we are going to cook all of the food for the party. When I first thought about this I thought the obvious answer was to use charcoal, but after doing some research the better option is actually propane. This is because charcoal is usually made from mesquite trees that have to be cut down contributing to deforestation and also using of fuel for transport. Charcoal also releases more CO2 into the air; it is actually almost 3 times more than propane. As always with propane make sure you choose the trade-in option which will allow you to exchange your empty tank for a new one and usually will get you a discount. If you would still rather use the charcoal for the flavor aspect look for a sustainably-produced briquette which are made from industrial scrap wood or are produced using clean-energy turbines. Did you know that if you rub the racks of your grill with onion it actually helps food to not stick better than that chemical spray that most of us use?  No matter which form of cooking you are using try to cook as much food as possible at once since this will make it more efficient not to mention you will be able to spend more time with friends and less time standing over a hot grill.

sky_orbs

Who could forget the best part of the 4th of July, the fireworks? Now we could go on and on about how fireworks leave many things in the air that pollute the environment but let’s be realistic this is the one thing we look forward to when we think of Independence Day.  A way to help make less impact of those 4th of July fireworks is to go in groups to a local fireworks show and not buy your own to shoot off at home. Not only can this be dangerous but if every household were to shoot off their own it would be that much more smoke and chemicals being released. If you would still rather stay home there are some companies making perchlorate-free fireworks or you could use sky orbs. Sky Orbs can be lit at night and an added perk is that they are biodegradable.  Speaking of going in a group if you were to car pool to the show you would help by only using one or two car versus everyone driving individually.

Our last recommendation is to basically just get outside. Being outside helps reduce the use of electricity and also lets you just enjoy mother nature. Use the available day light for the start of your party and the cooking part then when nightfall comes and the bugs start to come out opt for a green solution for bug repellent. There are plenty of Eco-friendly bug repellents on the market and you could even make you own. An easy recipe for your own repellent is a combination of a few essential oils like lavender, mint, lemongrass and even basil. Mix the oils with either an oil, like coconut oil for oil based repellent and alcohol or witch hazel for water base one. As far as keeping the area around you bug free grow plants like marigolds, lemon basil, or catnip. Buy soy based candles instead of the regular paraffin ones at most stores.  During the day don’t forget the sunscreen and try to pick out a brand that is Eco-friendly or cover up as much as possible. If you want to take a dip to cool off try to find a natural body of water like a beach or a nearby lake versus going to a pool, which uses a lot of water. Decorate with natural items like flowers or string some berries. Also try to save whatever decorations you can so they can used again next year.

happy_4th_2

While I could go on with this list I will stop here. The most important part of this holiday is to remember why we celebrate and share it with friends and family and do your part to make sure that the generations to come can do so as well. We here at SEPCO would like to thank all of our veteran and current military as well as wish everyone a happy and safe 4th of July.

 

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles, Holiday, Conservation

Tips for Maintaining Small Solar Walkway Lights

Posted by SEPCO

6/24/14 9:30 AM

battery_for_walkway_lightsNow that summer is upon us some of you are digging out those solar lights to put along the sidewalk again to make a nice shining light on your walkway. So you put them all in the ground let them charge the whole day only to find out that night that most of them don’t work and the ones that do are very dim and not doing much. Even though they don’t cost much who wants to go out every summer and buy new lights, I know I don’t.

Working in the solar industry we sell batteries with our systems, so it would only make sense that these lights would take batteries too. Upon some investigations of my walkway lights I found some screws in the bottom of them, and me being the tinkering type of person, decided to see just how these little lights worked. What I found upon removing the screws was simply a little AA battery. I guess it never occurred to me that all I would have to do to fix these lights is just replace the battery inside and the next night when dawn came upon us my lights were working again.  Replacing all the batteries in my lights only cost as much as it would have cost to replace about 2 of the lights I currently had. 

nail_polish_on_lightsAnother quick tip that I found is that if the lights are still not bright after replacing the batteries you can try to put some more life into the cell itself. Looking at my own I noticed the plastic on the top looked a little cloudy, this would prevent the sun from being able to give a full charge to the battery. After looking into it I found a really neat idea that made sense so I tried it. I got out some clear nail polish and put a thin coat on top of the solar cells and once again they looked shiny and new like the day I bought them.

I really don’t know how much longer this will extend the life of my lights but it has saved me money for at least one more summer. I think the elements alone will probably affect the lights before they go out themselves so I guess we will see.

pathway_lights

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles, Pathway Lighting

Amazing Changes Happening Now for Sustainable Living: Upcycling

Posted by SEPCO

6/19/14 9:30 AM

Instead of throwing things away after they have been used, upcycling takes what would typically become another added piece of trash in our landfills and turns it into something new. Upcycling is literally taking waste materials or useless products and turning them into new material or products. Upcycling has become a large part of the sustainable living movement happening today.

Finding Ideas

Upcycle-1

There are thousands of websites that exist today to help you upcycle just about anything and everything. My favorite place to look for inspirations is definitely Pinterest since it puts tons of different ideas in an “at your fingertips” fashion and there is never a lack of inspiration. You can even narrow down your search easily to find what to do with something you have left over or ideas for something you may want to do in the future. Or want to watch videos on how to turn that junk into something new, YouTube is always a great place to check out for tons of how-to videos.

Fad or Way of Life?

Pallets-resized-600

Upcycling isn’t just a fad; it is a way of life for a lot of people. Instead of throwing away what you think is useless junk, turning it into something new can give you a sense of pride and ownership of that new item, much more than running to the store and buying the same thing. And what you make doesn’t always have to be something useful, it can just be something artistic to show your passion for making the world a better place and being an eco-conscious person.

Finding Cool Stuff

yard-sale

If you don’t have something you are ready to upcycle at home, there are tons of great places to find things that you can upcycle. Craigslist, garage sales, thrift stores and local classified ads are the perfect place to start. You can usually get things at a really low cost or even free in a lot of cases. You can either upcycle what you get or use it as part of a larger project. Who knows, maybe you can even sell some of your amazing projects.

Now go forth and find all that cool stuff you can make into something new.

Img Credit: Dishfunctional Designs & Old Towne East

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles

Amazing Changes Happening Now for Sustainable Living: Gardening

Posted by SEPCO

6/5/14 9:30 AM

With all the changes in the world today, we are seeing a shift towards sustainable living like never before. Developments in renewable energy and lowering our impact on the earth or need for store bought items is changing how we are working and living. This series will take an in-depth look at some of the largest movements going on in the world today. Stay tuned for a new post every week!

Urban Gardening Movement 

small__3756078760Urban gardening has taken over small porches, rooftops and yards in cities and urban areas all over. These gardens are allowing families to take control of what they produce at home and lower their dependency on stores for their produce. It allows them to provide healthy fruits and vegetables for their family and controls what they use for maintenance and keeping their plants pest free. With the rise of studies against using harsh pesticides and GMO seeds, and wanting to become healthier, urban gardens are a movement in the right direction. What is not able to be produces at home is now being pushed to organic purchases when having to go to the store.

Gardens can be containers large and small, and placed in just about any location that has sunlight available. If you can fill it with dirt, you can grow in it. Popular sites like Urban Organic Gardener are filled with ideas and information on how you can grow your own food from the smallest of areas. Don’t want to scour the web looking for information and ideas, check out sites like Pinterest that puts everything in one place.

Suburban Gardening Movement

Suburban_GardenGrowing food not lawns is becoming the movement in suburban areas. The cost of maintenance of a lawn that basically provides no value back to a homeowner is high. It is much less to turn that green carpet into something that will give back year after year. The reasoning is the same as urban gardens; however, with larger areas to cover, the production can be huge and allow a single family to provide all needed produce for their family as well as share with their neighbors.

These larger areas can also provide small animal farms for fresh eggs and other small animals such as rabbits and dusk to help fertilize the garden. Check with your local statute to make sure that your garden is not located where these animals are prohibited though. Vegetable Gardener has tons of great resources and information on suburban gardening, pest control, small animal and so much more to get you started.

Community Gardening

Community_GardenCommunity gardening approach is for a small neighborhood that can get together and all work together as a community for everyone to share the crops. This can be done in one place such as an empty section in a neighborhood, or in one or more person’s actual yard. Community gardens can also be started in public areas with the approval of the local government. There is a ton of information and resources available online. One of my favorites is the American Community Gardening Association where you can get information on setting one up in your area or even find one that already exists for you to get involved in.

 

Guerrilla Gardening Movement

Guerrilla_GardenThe guerrilla gardening movement is adding a little color or food to unused or abandoned plots of land. These plots range from a space in concrete along a sidewalk to larger areas around town. Instead of just leaving the area without anything but some dirt, people are stepping up and planting something. This ranges from flowers to a vegetable patch and they are being planted late at night in secrecy or during the day to publicly show that the land can be used for something. Guerrilla gardening has become a form of activism that does not create any harm but provides a little bit of life back into the area. There are even seed bombs that can easily be made and then placed just about anywhere.

Keeping the Bees

What about the bees? Urban gardening supports these amazing creatures that we wouldn’t survive without. Bees are essential to sustaining our gardens and keeping food crops alive. By planting gardens, especially organic gardens, and reducing the chemicals used to keep pests off, will ensure the bees will survive and keep our fruits and vegetables keep growing.

What other changes are you seeing in the gardening movement happening now?

photo credit: Bad Alley davidsilver {studiobeerhorst}-bbmarie urbanwild
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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles

Solar Powered Pizza Oven for Fun with Kids

Posted by SEPCO

6/3/14 9:30 AM

Have you ever wondered what you could do with that leftover pizza box when all the pizza has been scarfed out of it?  Most of us will just toss it in the trash or recycling bin but next time keep it for a fun project that can teach kids about solar power and is fairly simple to put together. While you won’t be using the pizza box as your new oven it will be fun to see how it works and kids will love making simple things like hot dogs or even s’mores.

The Things you will need:

  • 1 empty pizza box  
  • Scissors
  • Aluminum foil                                                                    
  • Black paint and brushes
  • Shredded paper
  • Clear plastic wrap
  • Duct tape
  • Simple food (ex. Hot dogs, s’mores that leftover pizza that needs warmed up)

Instructions

pizza-box-solar-oven
  1. Cut a flap in the top of one pizza box. The flap should be cut on three sides, with the fourth side being closest to the lid's "hinge." Cut the flap quite large so that there is only 1 to 2 inches of lid surrounding the flap.

 

  1. Line the entire inside of the pizza box with foil (shiny side up), then spread the shredded paper across the bottom.

 

  1. Seal the shredded paper layer with another foil layer, shiny side up. This creates insulation to trap the heat inside the solar oven.

 

  1. Paint the top layer of foil with black paint. Let it dry completely. You can also paint outside of pizza box or even cover the whole box with foil

 

  1. Bend the lid flap up. Cover the underside of the flap with foil, shiny side up. Use the duct tape to secure the foil around the back of the flap. Pull the foil as smoothly as possible.

 

  1. Create a tight seal over the opening in the lid with the plastic wrap. Secure it with duct tape on the underside of the lid. Pull the plastic wrap tight so that the covering is smooth and wrinkle-free.

 

  1. Place the food inside the pizza box on the black-painted foil. Close the lid and ensure that there are no gaps for air to escape. If desired, lightly tape the lid seams with duct tape.

 

  1. Angle the lid flap towards the sun, so that the sun's rays are reflected into the plastic-covered opening. The solar oven will reach approximately 200 degrees on a sunny day

 


Now all you have to do is wait for the snack to warm up and viola your very own pizza box oven.  A little side note: Your pizza box oven takes about twice as long to cook something as a regular oven so patience is a virtue with this project. Also make sure it is above 60 degrees and sunny or the oven will not work as well or maybe not at all.

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Topics: Fun Green Articles

5 Tips on Celebrating Arbor Day 2014

Posted by SEPCO

4/24/14 9:30 AM

Arbor_Day_2014

Friday is the 135th Arbor Day, a time to do something as simple as plant a tree to celebrate. Trees provide clean air by trapping carbon from the atmosphere and storing it. Trees also add shade, fruit and can be a focal point of a landscape project. Here are five things you can do to get involved.

 

1 Visit your local nursery and pick out something new for your yard. With so many choices available, you can pick something that is beautiful such as a jacaranda tree to something that is fruit bearing that you can harvest and enjoy. Or you can just get a tree that will stay green, no matter what time of year it is or something that will change to a beautiful rainbow to enjoy every fall. No matter what your preference is, your local nursery will have just the perfect tree available for you.

 

2 Volunteer at a tree planting event or get involved in local community event. From community beautification projects to working on a community garden, there are tons of ways for you to get involved in planting trees or vegetation to make the world a little greener.

 

3 Talk to your local government, school or green group and find out what local activities are happening or get one of your own started. Schools love getting their classes involved and teaching new ideas and lessons to their students. Local government offices can help you get involved in a local park or set you up with the correct people to make change happen.

 

4 Get your family involved by teaching them about the importance of making the world a little greener, set up a recycling program at home, plating a garden for you to enjoy year around and so many other ideas. Check out Nature Explore for some great information and resources on getting your family involved and activities going on near you.

 

5 Maybe you live in a city, far from nature. Go out and spend a day in nature by taking a hike, visiting a local park for a picnic, swimming at a local lake or at the beach, etc. There are so many things you can do go enjoy nature even when you live in a concrete forest.

 

For some more tips and ideas check out the Arbor Day Celebration Guidebook for great ideas and tons of other useful information. So what are you going to do for this Arbor Day?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” – Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles, Holiday, Green Websites

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