Starting small can lead to bigger decisions and bigger savings.
WASHINGTON — Going green has become a national priority, but for many Americans, especially those who have lost jobs or have credit card debt, cost can be a major deterrent.
In fact, 69 percent of consumers who had not gone green thought green products were too expensive, according to a survey by Grail Research.
Environmental experts acknowledge that some green products can be costly. Depending on the size of your house, installing a solar heating system can cost up to $100,000. A hybrid car can cost more than $20,000, and it can take a while to make up the savings from buying a cheaper, less-fuel-efficient vehicle. Sure, there are tax advantages — most energy-efficient improvements to already-built homes qualify for a tax credit of 30 percent of the project cost, for instance — but the upfront costs can be steep.
"Going green at home can cost a lot if you want it to, but it doesn't have to," said Glenn Croston, author of "75 Green Businesses" and "Starting Green." "There are plenty of eco-luxuries available that are quite costly, but there are plenty of green choices you can make that cost little or save you money."
When it comes to living an environmentally friendly lifestyle without breaking your budget, experts have three words of advice: reduce, reuse and recycle.
Peter Krull, president of Krull & Co., a socially and environmentally conscious financial services firm in Darien, Ga., said two of the most basic actions people can take are installing an inexpensive, programmable thermostat and turning off the lights when leaving a room for a long time.
"In this economy, someone who is struggling, someone who is not sure they will have a job next month, probably will not pay money on insulating their entire home," he said, "but they can turn off the lights and get programmable thermostats."
Consumers can take other small steps to help the environment.
Take Zaccai Free, a northwest Washington resident and vegetarian for 15 years. The 37-year-old author of children's books finds multiple uses for items. When he buys lemons, he makes lemonade, then uses the rinds as deodorizers. Rubbing alcohol doubles as glass cleaner. He also walks or takes public transportation everywhere, and he buys clothing at thrift stores.
"Going green is not about buying the latest high-end cleaning supplies and exotic foods," he said.
Shel Horowitz, author of "Painless Green: 110 Tips to Help the Environment, Lower Your Carbon Footprint, Cut Your Budget, and Improve Your Quality of Life — With No Negative Impact on Your Lifestyle," lists a few simple tips to help the environment.
Wet your toothbrush, then turn the water off while you're brushing. Use fans instead of air conditioners. If you have drapes, close them to help keep heat in on cold winter nights.
Tips from other experts: Turn down your thermostat a few degrees and don a sweater. Hang-dry your clothing. Walk, bike or take public transportation to run your errands. If you have to drive, bundle your errands together so you can do them all in one trip. Repair old cellphones instead of tossing them away.
Indeed, there are ways to be environmentally savvy and save money, experts say.
Valerie Reddemann, founder and president of Greenfeet.com, doesn't mind buying a cup of coffee at a shop, but she'll take her own coffee mug because many places offer discounts if you do. Reddemann is also strategic about food containers. For instance, she washes and reuses plastic storage bags at least a dozen times before tossing them. "It just takes a little bit of practice," she said.
Diane MacEachern, a Takoma Park, Md, resident who wrote "Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World," cleans her home with inexpensive baking soda, puts her lunch in reusable containers, recycles her clothing and makes her own compost for gardening. "I practice what I preach," she said.
Some good green practices might cost money up front but will pay for themselves in a few years, some experts said.
Matthew Grocoff, founder of www.Greenovation.TV, offered three tips for starters, each under $100. High-efficiency shower heads can cost $25 to $85 each but use a gallon per minute less than traditional shower heads, he said. Your old shower head could cost you an extra 300 kilowatt hours annually, enough electricity to power your television for about a year, he said.
Even when your television is turned off, it draws some electricity. But "smart" power strips, which cost $30 to $100, cut off that electricity, thus shaving dollars off your electric bill, Grocoff said. Vacancy sensor light switches cost $20 to $40 each, but you can recoup that money in 16 months of savings on your electric bill, he said.
One other way to support the environment: Be strategic with your investments. If you're going to have a 401(k) anyway, buy into companies or mutual funds that are environmentally conscious, said Krull, a financial adviser.