Tips and Guides

RL Tips: Eco-friendly Ideas for your Home

Interior designer Jennifer Adriano-Martinez talks about choosing sustainable options for your personal space


Last week, I called my husband at work and asked him to pick up a few things from the supermarket: eggs, milk and coffee. "Cage-free eggs, organic milk and fair-trade certified coffee only," I reminded him. After I hung up, I was certain he'd diligently look for each item, even though it might take him twice the amount of time than grabbing the store brand.

My husband and I are "light green"-average consumers who have tweaked their lifestyle and reformatted their habits, with the simple aim of reducing their carbon footprint. Our efforts may seem superficial to the darker green eco-warriors, who freecycle, lobby for policy change and only eat food grown within a 100-mile radius of their home. Nonetheless, we have morphed into born-again environmentalists. Deluged by an outpouring of media dedicated to greening one's lifestyle, we find ourselves reassessing just about every choice we make in our daily lives.

Read the original article ("Project Greenlight”) in the May 2008 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App now! Log on to for more details. 

Start at home

We figured that buying eco-friendly household and personal care products would be an easy, no-brainer contribution to the welfare of the planet. There is more variety now than ever; even mass-market brands like Lysol and Tide are offering everything from plant-derived detergents to chlorine-free baby wipes.

It's downright cheaper to buy regular, chemical-laden products, which are quite efficient at getting the job done, toxins notwithstanding. Organic, natural stuff costs more money, and sometimes, unfortunately, smells like bug spray. I have tried the gamut of environmentally friendly household products, to weed out which ones smell good and work as well as traditional products. So far, Seventh Generation and Method cleaning products have been adopted by our household.

We also tried buying only 100% post-consumer recycled paper products, such as coffee filters and envelopes.

Choose an eco-friendly car

In retrospect, we were at our eco-friendliest when we lived in New York City. Mass transit, awesome farmers' markets, small-space living - we lived green without even being conscious of it.

Moving to the suburbs meant acquiring a car. After careful deliberation, we chose a partial zero emission vehicle (PZEV) with good gas mileage. A PZEV runs at least 90 percent cleaner than the average new car, releasing only about one pound of smog-causing emissions per 15,000 miles. We also found out later that our car's maker, Subaru, was the first auto assembly plant to achieve zero landfill status - meaning nothing from its manufacturing efforts goes into a landfill.

Change your light bulbs

Using less energy results in less pollution and less global warming. We finally got around to replacing our regular light bulbs with those corkscrew-shaped compact fluorescent bulbs. A compact fluorescent light bulb has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light bulb. It uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, and produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants. On the other hand, it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, and gives off a harsh light that approximates a gas station bathroom. Not flattering, but we'll live with it.

A choice with more aesthetic rewards: using sleek laptops over hulking desktops. A laptop computer requires less energy and fewer materials to produce than a desktop, and uses fraction of the electricity to run. It's a worthwhile thing to consider if your old machine is giving out and you're in the market for a new one.

Say yes to eco bags

One of the efforts I'm happiest about is bringing canvas tote bags on my grocery runs. I am heartened to see other shoppers starting to do the same. Some stores actually charge a nickel per plastic bag requested by customers, in an effort to encourage people to haul their merchandise out of the store in reusable bags instead. My trusty totes serve a dual purpose: I limit my spending to what can fit into the four bags I regularly bring, and I also avoid taking home all those plastic bags I'd otherwise get at checkout. It is actually more convenient to just lug four full bags out of the car instead of 10 to 12 plastic bags containing just a few items each.

These canvas bags, once emptied of groceries, are promptly returned to the trunk. I grab one before going into the bookstore, the mini mart, and the drugstore. If somehow, a plastic bag does make it through our front door, it must be reused at least once (as a waste can liner, wet umbrella holder, repository for vegetable peelings, etc.) before it's trashed.

See more photos and view the full home here:


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