One day, an off-the-cuff comment by a radio host tempted me to put the “small measures list” to the test. You know what I mean: it’s a list of all those little things you’re supposed to do (and not do) with your car to help the environment that will reduce your gas bill too. My original intention was to disprove the claims of the green gurus, but as it turns out, Kermit was wrong. It isn’t so hard to be green.

The easiest first step involved taking better care of my car. I started checking my tire pressure more regularly – though I had to find that tire pressure thingy rattling around somewhere at the bottom of my glove compartment first. I keep closer to the scheduled oil changes and even go a step further by replacing my spark plugs more frequently than suggested.

Improving my driving habits proved to be more difficult. I wouldn’t survive on Quebec highways driving at the optimal fuel-conserving speed of 90 km/h, but I have trained myself to set the cruise control at 110 km/h instead of 120.

As for the fuel-burning, short-haul city drives, I now go easier on the brakes, coast a lot more and watch the quick accelerations. Fortunately, the green gurus didn’t say anything about a link between the use of the horn and gas consumption.

I’ve also tried to limit those short, but expensive, city trips. Rather than go out in the evening for groceries and errands, I make a single stop on the way home. I pull into a strip mall with a branch of my bank, a drycleaners, a grocery store, the post office and just about any other amenity I need. This change has also improved my diet since those late evening runs for errands were more often prompted by the munchies than by necessity.

I also made a few simple changes in my sales route. My two-week cycle used to include a full day of calls in downtown Montreal and several days around my home office on the South Shore. Instead, I divided my Montreal accounts over two days. Now I start with a few South Shore accounts, cross the bridge when traffic has quieted and leave Montreal before rush hour. This gives me time to finish the day with a couple of South Shore calls. Driving into Montreal twice has added 30 kilometres to my overall weekly driving log, but avoiding traffic congestion more than compensates. Incredibly, my total gas consumption is actually reduced.

An added benefit is that my blood pressure is nice and even since I quit spending my afternoons sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Asking around, I discovered that several of my clients in more remote rural areas actually prefer email and phone meetings. In several cases, I can actually service them better with one personal visit per quarter, which I follow up electronically. Turns out my phone is great on gas.

None of these actions are heroic measures, but they add up. In just one year, I stretched the average mileage I cover on my 1999 Honda Accord’s 60-litre gasoline tank from just under 600 kilometres to a little over 725. That’s better than a 20 percent improvement. Maybe the big oil companies won’t like it, but I feel pretty good about what I’m doing for the environment.

Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency offers tips for fuel-efficient driving:

Joel A. Coppieters lives in St-Hubert, just south of Montreal, where he researches, writes and sells for a number of clients.

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