By Elizabeth Caldwell, USA TODAY
Greg Whitmore isn't saving any time by going green at home. But that's all right with him.
"We spend about three hours a week on recycling alone, probably. Maybe about 15 hours overall on things like that," says the 29-year-old resident of Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
Whitmore is an ecologist for the Trustees of Reservations, a Massachusetts conservation group. He and his wife are avid gardeners and recyclers. "It's amazing how much of your trash is recyclable. We probably reduce down to a bag or a bag and a half a week."
Whitmore represents a growing number of Americans who are willing to sacrifice time and money to make their home life less damaging to the environment. A Gallup Poll reported in March that 78% of Americans believe that spending several thousand dollars to make their homes more energy-efficient is a good idea.
"Everything environmentally friendly costs more time and money, but it'll change," Whitmore says. "We're definitely not saving any money growing our own vegetables. But it's nice knowing where it came from, what's on it. It didn't travel a long way."
The ultimate goal, environmentalists say, is to reduce your "carbon footprint," the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that you generate while going about the activities of your daily life.
Experts offer these tips for people who want to shrink that footprint at home.
An important first step, says Matt Clouse of the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Network Partnership, is to assess how power is being used at home.
After that is determined, a good way to save energy is to buy appliances that have earned the Energy Star rating. Energy Star is a program run by the EPA and the Department of Energy that recognizes more energy-efficient appliances, as diverse as battery chargers and furnaces.
Jill Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says the amount of energy saved by Energy Star products varies, but overall, they can be 10% to 20% more efficient than their unrated counterparts.
According to the Energy Star website, that adds up to the emissions equivalent of 25 million cars and $14 billion saved on homeowners' utility bills each year.
Another tip Notini has for saving energy with appliances is to always wash your dishes in the dishwasher rather than by hand.
"Modern dishwashers average about 6 to 8 gallons of water vs. the much larger amount that would be used in washing by hand," Notini says.
To power up those appliances, try green power, generally defined as power generated by renewable sources such as wind, solar power or even landfill gas.
These produce less pollution than "brown" sources of power, such as coal.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates there are 750 utility companies now offering green power programs.
In most cases, consumers pay a small extra premium for the green energy that varies according to location and resource type. For example, wind resources may be more plentiful in Texas than on the East Coast, says Clouse.
"You have to think of it like a swimming pool," says Brian Ward of Palo Alto Utilities in California, which is ranked No. 1 in the USA for participation in its green power program. "The more green energy there is in the pool, the more the brown gets turned down.
"The whole philosophy of the utility is just to get greener," Ward says.
Purchasing green power can be just a click away, too. Internet sites such as The Green Power Network (eere.energy.gov/greenpower) offer search options that list green power providers state by state. In most cases, all it takes is a phone call to a provider to sign up.
Alan Vogel didn't go green for fashion's sake.
The South African native set up a reclaimed-wood furniture business in Bainbridge Island, Wash., because he loves the look and feel of aged wood. All of his pieces, mostly dining room tables, are constructed from wood that's been torn down from old, abandoned barns outside of Seattle.
"My wife works for an environmental organization. It's not that my family isn't concerned with the environment, but that's just not the reason I do it," Vogel says.
Nevertheless, Vogel is a part of a burgeoning "green furniture" industry that features everything from seats made of cork to love seats made of used seat belts. The philosophy is that the furniture is much more fashionable than what can be found at the usual garage sales, while still being environmentally friendly.
These furnishings aren't made at throwaway prices, though. The cork lounge, for instance, runs $4,988 through Branch furniture.
"If you can't afford it, I would try and buy furniture that has been made locally," says Terri Bryant of Dana's Showhouse, a furniture store in Bainbridge Island that sells Vogel's designs. "Ask yourself how far the product has to travel."
For all other household needs, it's now possible to purchase goods only from companies that use environmentally friendly practices.
The EPA's Green Power Partnership lists on their website the companies that use the most renewable energy. Among the top 25 are Pepsi, Johnson & Johnson and Kohl's department stores.
Other sites, such as Stonyfield Farm's climatecounts.org, rate companies in a number of categories to tabulate how well they are doing in combating global warming. Procter & Gamble, Nike and Canon are among the companies topping its lists.
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