Washington Area Residents Take Green Living to the Extreme, Perturbing Families

A green-living expert from Eco-Coach, Inc., gives a room-by-room home audit to teach a home owner how to improve energy efficiency and living habits. Video by Fan Bu/washingtonpost.com
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 20, 2009

Near Leesburg, a woman parks her hybrid car and erases its computer memory. She doesn't want her husband to find out she's getting just 30-something miles per gallon.

In Takoma Park, a dirty plastic to-go container forces a woman to face down her brother. He thinks she should wash it out and reuse it at another restaurant. She thinks . . . no.

And in western Loudoun County, a family quietly defies a mother's rules. She likes locally raised bacon, whole-grain bread and raw milk. But somebody keeps smuggling in Chef Boyardee.

This is life on the dark -- or at least the cranky -- side of green.

Across the Washington region, a few residents have embraced eco-friendly living with a fervor that makes Al Gore look like an oil company lobbyist. They give up everything from furnace heat (too many emissions) to store-bought meat (too much factory farming) to plans for a second child (too much of everything, given the average American's environmental impact).

But for the people who have to live with these enthusiasts, this much green can sometimes be hard to take.

In many households, the result is a bubbling mix of bemusement, tension and furtive resistance. But the Washington area has already had at least one green divorce.

"You're kind of in a perpetual state of feeling like you're not measuring up," said Janet Tupper, 50, of Cheverly, who is still happily married to her environmentalist husband. Because of his convictions, they layer up indoors during the winter: The house's heat usually comes from a single stove burning wood pellets.

"I'm behind it. I'm supportive. I wish, you know -- I wish it was easier," Tupper said. "Our kids complain about us living like the Amish."

For those Washington area residents trying to give their families an eco-overhaul, the idea is that Earth Day -- or at least the plant-a-tree, change-a-light bulb way Earth Day will be celebrated Wednesday -- isn't nearly enough.

They say that such problems as climate change and polluted waterways demand immediate shifts in the rhythms of modern living.

"The American way of life, as we've come to know it, just uses -- wastes -- too many resources," said Sat Jiwan Iklé-Khalsa, 31, a green-building consultant who lives in Takoma Park. Iklé-Khalsa said he wants his home, where he lives with his wife, his 2-year-old daughter and his sister, to be an example to others that "you can have a pretty normal and happy life by making these small changes."

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