A CONVENIENT TRUTH

The Baltimore Sun

The Oscars did it. Designer Stella McCartney is known for it. Former Vice President Al Gore has made a political comeback documenting why we should all do it. And now, even Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown is getting all sorts of attention for doing it.

We're talking green, baby.

More and more people are going green, and by green, we mean eco-loving, tree-hugging, socially conscious, environmentally friendly, save-the-Earth green. Earth-savvy consumers are dropping loads of green to buy green products such as low-polluting hybrid cars, floors made of highly renewable bamboo or Energy Star appliances that use less power to warm, cool or light your home.

From organic foods to natural personal-care products, consumers dropped a cool $79 billion on green packaged goods in 2005, a 15 percent jump over the previous year, according to the Natural Marketing Institute. Consumer demand for green building, such as the energy-efficient Great Seneca Creek Elementary School built with recycled products, has increased significantly over the past five years, according to Green Builder Media.

Now little ol' you can go green, too.

Not sure where to begin? We've got some suggestions to get you started.

For those overwhelmed, think small at first. Keep the car tires inflated and swap out the incandescent bulbs in your home. Over time, start building your eco-power by recycling and buying recycled and organic products, whether they're the paper you print on or the milk you drink. Before you know it, you'll be preaching the good green word to those less aware as you zip around on your bike, wearing your second-hand clothes and munching on your pesticide-free apple.

What are you waiting for? Get to it already.

Are you ready to lead the movement like a true warrior, to do your part diligently out of love or just to skim the surface like the moderately aware slacker that your are? Whatever your level of commitment, let's embrace the inner-granola girl or boy in you and give Mother Earth a healthy squeeze.

MOBILITY

EcoWarrior: Drive? Who needs to own cars, SUVs or any other fuel-burning vehicle, for that matter? A secondhand bike, public transportation and hoofing it will do just fine when it comes to saving the Earth.

EcoLover: Say hello to hybrids. Better yet, satisfy your need for wheels with a Honda Civic GX powered by natural gas. The Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the car, which is sold only in California and New York right now, as the cleanest internal-combustion vehicle on Earth. The GX has zero-evaporative emissions and a plastic resin fuel tank. A full tank of gas (made possible by a contraption connected to a home gas line) will keep you going for 220 to 240 miles. Prices start at $24,590.

EcoSlacker: Yeah, yeah, you care, but let's keep it within a reasonable budget. Start just by keeping your vehicle tires inflated, changing the air filter regularly and getting routine tuneups, because basic maintenance will get you better gas mileage and help reduce emissions.

ENERGY

EcoWarrior: Go solar. Installing a solar photovoltaic system that hooks solar panels to your house and connects to your utility company can produce more than enough energy for your needs. On sunny days, the system might even make enough for you to sell back to the electric company for credit. Companies such as Chesapeake Wind & Solar of Jessup sell 100-watt panels for about $3,000, installation included. Of course, you need more than one panel. On average, the total price for a typical installation is about $30,000. It's pricey, and it'll take you a while to recoup your costs, but think about how good it will feel to tell your power company to take a flying leap.

EcoLover: Buy alternative power. In Maryland, Pepco Energy Services and Washington Gas Energy Services offer power made by wind and landfill gases for prices between 1.3 cents per kilowatt hour and 2.53 cents per kilowatt hour. It costs a little more than fossil-fuel-produced power, but you'll feel better turning on that light switch.

EcoSlacker: Can you say fluorescent? If every American home replaced just one incandescent bulb with one of these funny-looking lights, we could save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars. How do we know? Energy Star says so. Six 60-watt equivalent bulbs sell for about $10.

FOOD

EcoWarrior: Cultivate without chemicals. From composting to pest control and planting to harvesting, launch a project to grow your own greens organically. For a little help to get you started, reach for Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening in paperback by Anna Kruger; it retails for about $16.50.

EcoLover: Shop locally. Head to the closest farmers' market to buy your organic meat, vegetables, dairy and other products from area growers. Good deals and fresh food are huge paybacks for going a little out of your way for groceries. Eating out? Look for restaurants that use organic products, such as the Black Olive in Fells Point and Great Sage in Clarksville.

EcoSlacker: Who has time to run around for food? It's hard enough finding time to sit and eat. If you're cooking at home, look for organic brands offered by supermarkets. Safeway has O, Giant Food has Nature's Promise, Wegmans has Wegmans Organic, and so on. Products cost slightly more, but it's a two-fer - they're readily available at your market and good for you. At the very least when ordering takeout, recycle the restaurant's packaging.

REHABBING

EcoWarrior: When adding a new wing or rebuilding from the ground up, give nature a chance by using plants in weird places, some straw and the sun. Baltimore's Furbish Co. can help. It offers expertise in building straw bale homes, living roofs (a garden on the roof), living walls that filter air, and energy systems using solar geothermal, heat pump and tankless water heaters.

EcoLover: Think plastic for the floor. One hundred percent recycled plastic lumber is great for decks, basements and patios. It runs about $5.20 per square foot. Better yet, cork it if you're talking about a floor inside. Cork sells for about $5.45 per square foot. If you must do wood, look for products with a seal of approval from the Forest Stewardship Council, an international body that promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests. They cost about 10 percent more than normal wood.

EcoSlacker: Watch the paint dry. Indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the EPA, which considers indoor air to be one of the top-5 hazards to human health. So slap a coat of zero-Volatile Organic Compounds paint on the walls - such as products from Seattle's Best Paint Co., Sherwin-Williams' new Harmony line and Benjamin Moore's Pristine EcoSpec, to name a few - and breathe easier.

CLOTHING

EcoWarrior: Au naturel, ma petite cherie. No, we're not talking naked. Look for retailers who specialize in organic clothing. Forest Keepers, in Ellicott City, is a natural-fibers boutique that sells men's, women's and children's clothing made of hemp, organic cotton and clay-dyed fabric. The Joshua Tree, a Towson-based Web site (starstoearth.com), offers a line of bags and pants made of 100 percent hemp, and T-shirts made of 55 percent hemp and 45 percent organic cotton. In general, search for products produced under fair labor conditions. Got money to spare? Race off to Saks Fifth Avenue and load up on clothes from Edun, a line produced by U2 frontman Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, who pledge higher standards for labor practices by hiring family-run businesses in Africa and South America to sew garments.

EcoLover: Go online to Massachusetts-based Cottonfield (cottonfieldusa.com) for organic cotton clothing for women and men, or try Oregon-based Greenloop (thegreenloop.com) for organic cotton denim, bamboo shirts and handbags made from recycled jewelry. No money to spare? Snub the extravagant consumer culture and head for Goodwill, the Salvation Army or any other second-hand retailer to expand your wardrobe. Why buy new when there's perfectly good used clothing available at cheaper prices? Added bonus: Not only could you look the part of an urban, savvy hipster, you're actually putting your money where your mouth is, too.

EcoSlacker: Avoid buying any clothing produced by sweat-shop labor. Go to coopamerica.org/pubs/realmoney/articles/nosweatshops.cfm for more information.

dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

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