Living green isn't out of renters' reach

By Tiffany Hsu
Saturday, August 28, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- So you're a renter and you want to green your space, but your landlord won't splurge on solar panels.

Don't fret. There are plenty of low-cost ways for apartment dwellers to be eco-friendly.

You can unplug appliances or use chemical-free products. It's as easy as fixing leaky faucets or installing window treatments to conserve heat in the winter and keep your place cool in the summer without cranking up the furnace or air conditioning.

"There's a myth that there isn't a lot that renters can do," said Paula Cino, director of energy and environmental policy with the National Multi Housing Council. "Our individual behavior has a huge impact on sustainability. The resident has a lot of opportunity to make big differences themselves without any input from the landlord whatsoever."

Take it from Colin Beavan. The 46-year-old New York writer embarked on a year-long experiment to see how much he could shrink his environmental footprint. He used candles instead of electric lights. He gave away his air conditioner. He unplugged his freezer and reduced his trash. Beavan chronicled his efforts on a blog, No Impact Man. In addition to cutting his power bills, he figures he and his family eliminated 4,000 gallons of garbage that would have otherwise ended up in dumps.

"The problem for apartment dwellers is that you can't change the infrastructure of the building," he said. "So it comes down to using less."


Americans are consumers to the core, rapidly accumulating and discarding belongings that gobble up energy as they are manufactured, delivered and then eventually dumped into landfills.

"Many of us have just been flying through things, purchasing at alarming rates and making no commitment to the things we already have," said Wanda Urbanska, author of "The Heart of Simple Living." She added, "People have not considered that purchasing all new products involves a heavy carbon cost."

But the recession stopped some people in their consumerist tracks. Enter, green renters, like Leslie Gant, 27.

"I don't have the budget to get a Prius, so I use all the other little things to make a difference," said Gant, whose airy, split-level condo in Los Angeles's Westwood neighborhood is filled with reused and recycled items.

Her seven-piece dining room set and other furnishings are hand-me-downs or used items plucked from Craigslist, garage sales, even recycling bins. Her wardrobe comes from thrift shops and clothing swaps.

"It's not difficult at all," said Gant, who shares the 900-square-foot space with a roommate. "It's fun for your inner scavenger. Oh, and it gives me peace of mind."

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