It’s not easy being green. Kermit the Frog said it — even sang it — but it might as well have been the motto of the first wave of eco-conscious consumers. Scratchy sheets, anemic showers and weird-looking lightbulbs were the norm as people tried to do their part. To add insult to injury, these clunky green products used to cost more green cash.
No longer! When consumers started demanding environmentally friendly products, manufacturers started delivering better, cheaper ones. Today, it’s entirely possible to be eco-conscious without giving up comfort or breaking the bank.
The key is to consider how you can positively affect the environment, in addition to how you negatively impact it. “Every person has a carbon footprint. As hard as we try to reduce it, we cannot exist without one,” said Leigh Stringer, author of “The Green Workplace” and “The Healthy Workplace.” Stringer has been collaborating with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which is trying to change the conversation from reducing our footprint to increasing our “handprint” — our positive influence on the environment.
“I like this principle and use it to guide my clients,” Stringer said. “I find it a more inspiring way to tackle my personal life, too.” You can use the EPA’s carbon footprint calculator (epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator) and the Water Footprint Calculator (watercalculator.org) to assess your impact. Yes, you are looking for your biggest obstacles, but also your biggest opportunities. With that in mind, here are several categories and comforts you may not want to live without, along with environmentally friendly solutions so you don’t have to.
Comfort: Powerful heating and cooling.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter told Americans to turn down their thermostats and “put on a sweater,” but today it’s possible to stay warm — and be environmentally conscious — without bundling up.
Solutions : Here are several ideas, from least to most involved.
• Programmable thermostats : “This technology has really helped us to go green while actually increasing our comfort,” said Ted Trabue, managing director of the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility, which works to bring energy efficiency to the District.
• Green power: If you live in one of the states that have deregulated their power companies, you can choose one that promises green power.
• Solar: The federal government will give you a 30 percent tax credit for installing solar panels. Once you’ve paid them off, you’ll get electricity free.
Comfort: Attractive lighting.
Compact fluorescents, the first alternatives to traditional, incandescent lightbulbs, were funny-looking and slow to warm up, and they put out a harsh light. The first LEDs were huge and crazy expensive. It’s all changed.
Solution: Edison-style LEDs. I’ve already written about how switching an average house to LEDs will save you as much as $600 a year. But did you know that some manufacturers make LEDs that have the cool retro look of Edison bulbs? Plus, you have to change them only about every 30,000 to 50,000 hours .
Comfort: Strong water pressure.
I like my showers strong and long. They are my coffee and masseuse rolled into one. But I lived through the California drought of the 1970s, so I don’t like the idea of wasting water. What to do?
Solutions : Once again, here are several solutions, from least to most expensive.
• Collect shower water: Most of us waste water while our shower is heating up. In California in the ’70s, we all collected that water in five-gallon buckets and used it to water our houseplants. Find an attractive water-collection basin if it makes you feel better.
• Low flow, high pressure: Look for shower heads that bear the EPA’s “WaterSense” label and are low flow but high-pressure. The EPA worked hard on these and even brags that you can “shower with power.”
• Save water elsewhere: Just as corporations buy clean-energy credits in exchange for being naughty, if a strong shower is your priority, you could work to save water elsewhere. National Geographic estimates that fixing leaks can save you 10 gallons of water a day. Believe it or not, toilets use the most water in our homes, so switch to low-flow or dual-flush toilets. When your appliances conk out, you can save water with Energy Star-rated washers or dishwashers, which use about half as much water.
Comfort : A nice house.
Judging from the explosion of magazines and blogs about home improvement and decorating, we are in love with our houses.
Solution : A tiny house. Millennials are buying tiny houses instead of McMansions, so much so that this is considered a “movement.” Even if yours is small, not tiny, it’s easier to transform a little place into a jewel. Plus, if you save money on power and water (see above), you can put that money back into home upgrades.
Comfort : A lush lawn.
Solutions : I like these ideas because two out of three are free and the other saves you money.
• Cut the grass: Cut, as in have less of it, not as in mow it. If you must have a lawn, shrink it and surround it with native plants that need less water.
• “Grasscycling”: This is 21st-century speak for leaving your grass clippings on the lawn, which helps return valuable nutrients to the soil.
• Water early: To save money and water, sprinkle your lawn before 10 a.m., when it’s cooler out and the water won’t evaporate so fast.
Comfort: A powerful car.
Gas-saving vehicles used to be wimpy and strange, but manufacturers have responded to consumer demand with many more choices.
Solution: A record number of auto manufacturers make hybrid versions that look just like their most popular vehicles. And, as an example, Consumer Reports says the Tesla Model S all-electric car has more horsepower than many gasoline vehicles.
Comfort : Acquiring stuff.
Let’s face it: Shopping is sometimes an activity, not just a means of getting things.
Solutions : There are several ways to shop more responsibly.
• Buy lasting products: Power shoppers, allow me to enable you: Your No. 1 excuse for shopping is to buy longer-lasting products to replace the disposable ones you used to buy (once you’ve used them up). Think cloth napkins instead of paper ones.
• Buy in bulk — to a point: Environmentalists want you to avoid single-use products to cut down on packaging. But it’s also important to buy only what you will use to cut down on waste.
• Buy “eco-chic”: “Design and sustainability often go hand in hand nowadays,” Trabue said. “For example, products made of recycled materials are very trendy.”
• Buy discriminatingly: Then again, sometimes the best way to be green is to not buy anything at all. Don’t forget the “reduce” and “reuse” parts of the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra. Reduce how much you buy. Reuse what you own. And then you’ll have more money for the stylish stuff.