I'm lucky - I work about two miles from home, so I bike to work at least three days a week. Not everyone can do that, but if you can, I highly recommend it. It's fun! The rest of these tips? We can all do some, if not all, of them and make a difference.
Ten Fresh Ways to Eco-nomize
Being green doesn't have to mean investing in solar panels or a new hybrid. "It's just about taking that little extra step," explains Eszter Rabin, the founder of EmmaRose Papery, an eco-friendly stationery line in San Francisco.
When Eszter and her husband, Dan, moved into their rented San Francisco apartment five years ago, one of the first things they did ― after painting the interior with nontoxic paint, adding energy-efficient lightbulbs, and converting the wood-burning fireplace into a candle haven ― was to get rid of their second car. "Once I saw a whole family on a bike ― dad, mom, two kids ― and the guy was holding an umbrella," Eszter says.
"If that's possible, what can't we do?"
1. Free yourself from matchy-matchy Used furniture doesn't often come in sets. Don't be afraid to mix and match: Choose pieces with the same general shape and materials for a look that's both eclectic and cohesive. (See photo at top.)
2. Become a one-car family "We use the car only when carrying something heavy or if we're going out of town," says Eszter. Otherwise it's pedal power and an easy-to-park Vespa.
3. Turn your fireplace into a decor statement Woodsmoke contributes to air pollution; candles don't. "I got this idea in Amsterdam," Eszter says. "It creates a warm feeling without having to burn wood."
4. Support green businesses Seek out local, eco-friendly companies. "It's important that I set an example with my own business," says Eszter, whose home office is furnished with a salvaged desk. "We use mostly recycled paper and soy inks."
5. Forgo disposables Think beyond the canvas shopping bag. "Even for vegetables or fruits, we don't use plastic," says Eszter, who has a closet full of colorful reusable bags collected on her travels. "We also reuse containers ― just wash them and refill at the bulk-food section."
6. Buy local food Strawberries in January? Be aware of how far your edibles travel to get to grocery shelves. Shopping for food at farmers' markets can take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. But even at the supermarket, all you have to do is ask.
7. Compost and recycle "I take the trash, recycling, and compost bins out every week, and the lightest container is always the trash can," Dan says. Get a head start by putting an end to junk mail (one option is stopjunkmail.org). Keep a lidded container sink-side for easy compost collection.
8. Clean with natural products Use nontoxic cleaners (we love the Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day line), or go DIY. "I try to clean most things with water, vinegar, castile soap, and lemon," says Eszter. Her recipe for pristine glass surfaces: 1 cup white vinegar to 1 cup water in a spray bottle.
9. Unplug Invest in central switches so electrical equipment doesn't keep humming when you're not home. Eszter's favorite energy-saving tip? "Wash only full loads of laundry and line-dry whatever you can." It's eco-friendly and easy on your clothes.
10. Garden wisely Conserve water by choosing plants that thrive in your climate. "All our plants are low-water or native," says Eszter. "We have succulents in the backyard and lavender and rosemary on the patio."