While driving in my four-door sedan last week with my preteen sons--and whizzing by service stations with $4-plus gas signs out front--my head-strong kids told me that I should trade in my six-year-old car for a hybrid vehicle. They chastised me for not driving an ultra fuel-efficient car and for polluting Mother Earth with excessive emissions. I tool around in a Honda Accord, which certainly is not a gas guzzler, but my boys did not buy my argument that we cannot afford a new car--let alone a hybrid.
What struck me as funny is how duplicitous my kids are. For example, if I and my husband doze off before our nearly 13-year-old twins, they leave almost every light in the house blazing. They also fill multiple glasses of water and leave them all over the house (I save the water for the cat and the house plants), soak in a bathtub filled to the brim, and leave the TV blaring even when no one is watching. Meanwhile, they refuse to walk a mile to the community shopping center because it's "too far," instead preferring to have Mom chauffer them to and fro.
If my kids, who were born in an era that espouses "green is good" don't truly care about the environment, how can we expect most adults to care? I think it's going to take government mandates, in addition to prodding by housing industry professionals, academics, environmental activists, and other advocates, to make significant inroads.
That's already happening in some parts of the county. Water is being rationed, compact fluorescent bulbs are being required, and 1.2-gpf toilets are being installed. California enacted Title 24 in 1978 in response to a legislative mandate to reduce the state's energy consumption. Today, the Golden State still is the most progressive when it comes to environmental initiatives. Even the state's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a staunch supporter of reforms.
But Schwarzenegger is far from a tree hugger. He knows that saving energy and natural resources is a wise business decision--and he understands, like a growing number of politicians, business owners, and builders, that green creates green.
"These steps are great for the environment and great for our economy, too," Schwarzenegger wrote in a commentary in The Independent. "Many people have falsely assumed that you have to choose between protecting the environment and protecting the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. In California, we will do both."
My house is living proof. Ten years ago, it took me a very long time to cajole my husband into buying a front-loading clothes washer because the machine cost nearly $1,000. Nevertheless, we quickly saw the payback: Even with two toddlers and 10 loads of wash per week, our water bill plummeted and we recouped our investment in five years.
In recent years, we've changed most of our incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents, we beefed up the insulation in all rooms and installed a super-efficient zoned HVAC system, low-E, argon-filled replacement windows, heat-repelling window treatments, and much more. I don't know exactly how much more we spent on these items than traditional wares, but I can say that our heating and cooling bills are the same, even though we added 1,200 square feet to the existing structure two years ago.
As a green advocate, I am happy because I am saving energy and water—but I am even more elated to not be paying higher bills on an editor's salary.
Now if I could only get my kids to shut off the lights.
Jean Dimeo is co-chief editor of EcoHome.