Being good to the planet has become a much more popular, mainstream trend, in part because there are so many easy ways to go green.

You can recycle and make minimal changes in what you do every day: use less water when you shower, for instance, or buy green building materials, furnishings and products that consume fewer natural resources, are produced closer to home and are made in ways that are environmentally friendly.

But another prime reason sustainability is surging is that being environmentally smart is healthier for you, your family and pets because green items have few or no toxic chemicals, which means you pollute the environment less. You’re also helping future generations meet their own needs by preserving resources, says Jessica Jensen, co-founder of a Low Impact Living, a Web-based clearinghouse for all things green.

Yet, concerns remain that taking this course initially will be more expensive, not offer a sufficient payback in the future and will be time-consuming to pursue.

Wrong on all accounts.

While it’s tough to guarantee a specific payback and time frame to recoup dollars, green advocates say doing so will prove financially worthwhile. Moreover, some choices are no more expensive than their nongreen counterparts, says Laura Turner Seydel, daughter of media magnate Ted Turner, who with husband Rutherford built the first green home in the Southwest (Atlanta), to be certified by the green council Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, which is dubbed EcoManor.

William “Billy” Hallisky, vice president at Meridian Design Associates, an architecture and interior design firm in New York, concurs. “It really isn’t more expensive, but part of the reason people think it is, is because the process may seem mysterious,” he says. “It has to be demystified. Start with the right planning so you make smart choices from the start. Select items that don’t drive up costs. For example, I’m retaining gray water in a cistern for washing clothes and watering. I’m also saving money because of tax abatements since I’m generating my own power with solar cells.”

Hallisky, who is building a green house in Florida, advises anyone building or remodeling to check their town, village or city’s Web site for possible incentives and rebates. “Everyone nowadays has a green page on their Web site,” he says.

Costs also depend in part on where you live and how much heat, air conditioning and electricity you use, says Seydel. Compact-fluorescent light bulbs are 66 percent more efficient than incandescents and can reduce the lighting portion of your electric bill by 75 percent, she says. They’ll also last as long as 10 years, which helps you pare trips to the hardware store to replace them and perhaps forgo an extra trip to the gas station. Moreover, as fuel costs get more expensive, your payback will be quicker, she says.

Costs also can be lowered by your point of purchase. If you buy bricks from a local resource, for instance, your transportation costs will be less. Even the packaging can make a difference if it’s recyclable and doesn’t have to be trucked to a landfill. Ask what products are made of and what the company does with its packaging, says Hallisky.

Finding items also has become easier, thanks to a growing host of green-oriented Web sites and retailers that have hopped on the bandwagon by stocking everything from organic sheets that contain no chemicals to shower aerators that conserve water, tankless water heaters that heat water on demand and low- or no-VOC paints that have few or no toxic chemicals, which can cause respiratory, skin and eye irritation, headaches, nausea, muscle weakness and other ailments, according to the GreenHomeGuide.com, another online resource for all things green. Another good resource is www.greenfeet.com.

Green Web sites also offer specific recommendations. For wall treatments, for example, EcoManor recommends Benjamin Moore’s EcoSpec paint and AFM Safecoat paint and stain.
Some products also have labels that indicate sustainability, says Seydel, such as Energy Star appliances, which use less water and energy, and Forest Stewardship Council wood, which is from forests that practice responsible management. Even some builders’ work comes with a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval through the EarthCraft House certification program, which is a voluntary green-building program that serves as a blueprint for homes to reduce utility.

More recommendations are expected, since the International Code Council and the National Association of Home Builders announced an agreement to develop and publish a residential green-building standard that reflects the architecture, geography and weather of the place where the home is built. The standard will be based on the NAHB’s Model Green Home Building Guidelines. According to the NAHB, by the end of 2007 more than half of its members, who build more than 80 percent of the homes in this country, will incorporate green practices into the development, design and construction of new homes.

Going green also will put you ahead of the curve and give you a marketing edge if you sell. Some buyers already are seeking homes with green features such as energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and appliances, or going to green builders for new construction.

There’s no better time than to start with a personal commitment than today. “Don’t drink from plastic cups; sleep on natural sheets; and use more real plants that contribute to your health,” Hallisky suggests.

And when you finish this newspaper, remember to toss it in the recycle bin.

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