As we think about how we can be more "green" in 2011, one topic is a conundrum: cars. While driving is a necessity for many of us, it isn’t a very environmentally friendly activity. The United States has 30 percent of the world’s cars, yet those cars emit 45 percent of automotive carbon dioxide, the primary gas that contributes to global warming. The good news is that you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to controlling your automotive pollution, which affects both air and water quality.

One of the most important things you can do is to dispose of used motor oil properly. Did you know that just one gallon of used motor oil can contaminate 1 MILLION gallons of drinking water if it gets into the environment, through storm drains or landfills? Luckily, oil-changing centers like Jiffy Lube properly dispose of your oil for you. To reward you for being green, Shedd has teamed up with Jiffy Lube to offer two free general-admission passes to the aquarium and $7 OFF a Signature Service® Oil Change! Through March 31, visit ChicagolandJiffyLube.com to download your coupon or text jiffy to 55678. Service includes checking tire pressure, because driving on a tire that’s 20 percent underinflated can increase fuel consumption by 10 percent.

Here are more tips on how your driving and car-care habits can have less impact on the environment:

- Winterize your vehicle by checking your air filter and fluid levels, checking tires for tread wear and proper inflation, and checking the condition of your windshield wipers. Ensuring your vehicle is ready for weather changes will reduce damage, which prevents waste and inefficiency.

- Keep your engine tuned! Just one damaged spark plug can decrease your fuel efficiency drastically.

- Avoid idling for longer than 30 seconds, even for warming up your car. Idling is an ineffective way to warm up your car, even in the winter. The best way to warm up your car is to just drive it. You need no more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days before driving away.

- Don’t keep unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. Trunk junk can eat up miles per gallon.

- In the summer, be sure to fill your gas tank during cooler evening hours to cut down on evaporation.

- Carpool when you can. And consider taking public transportation just one day a week. For every passenger mile traveled, public transportation uses about half the fuel as private autos because of the greater efficiency of carrying dozens of passengers in a single vehicle. You could save several hundred gallons of gas a year—and almost 20 pounds of carbon emissions for each gallon!

Follow these tips, and whatever color your car is, you will be a green driver!

Posted by Joe Kantor, web editor