That is, to come up with your own ideas about how you can be green, even in your own home, with a small budget. I think about going green all the time. It’s an occupational hazard when you work for a conservation organization like the Indianapolis Zoo. But I live in a small 25-year-old house, and with a tight budget, making major energy efficient renovations just isn’t practical.
But the recent renovation of the Zoo’s Gift Shop has given me a renewed inspiration about the decisions we all make when opportunities do present themselves. You don’t have to install solar panels and geothermal heating to contribute to saving the environment. A simple action the next time I replace a light fixture can make a difference, and all you need is some inspiration. Here’s how I got mine.
When the Indianapolis Zoo’s new Gift Shop opened during spring break 2012, it was an immediate hit with visitors, due in part to the greatly expanded number of items available, as well as their quality and consumer appeal. A number of items are “green” by definition – made from sustainable materials and purchased or imported from companies, and countries, that practice environmentally responsible production. What’s really different about this Gift Shop, however, is that it was constructed using the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle, the same philosophy that the Zoo follows in its daily operations and that are maintained throughout the Zoo grounds.
The Zoo collaborated with the vendor that operates the Gift Shop, Event Network, to devise a plan in which the new building would be both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally conscious. A major addition was the installation of LED lighting. The lights use only 7.2 watts of energy and produce only 7.2 watts of heat, reducing the operational energy consumption as well as the energy needed to offset the heat-load produced by traditional light sources. Spotlights in the store are likewise energy friendly, with each producing a similar amount of energy to a 90 watt halogen bulb while using only 16 watts of heat. Each lamp has a lifespan of 50,000 hours (20 times longer than the typical halogen light bulb), which means waste-stream impact is reduced at the landfill.
Can you affect that kind of difference in your home? All it takes is remembering to replace your old incandescent light bulbs with LED or halogen lights. If you do it one bulb at a time, the cost is way manageable, and the extended life you get from the new bulbs more than makes up the difference. I like the light difference, too – the LED lights are bright and clear!
Along with the LED lights, low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint and cultured stone were also used in the construction in an effort to reduce waste and make use of recycled material. Examples include recycled wall boards reclaimed from the fencing once used in the Encounters Biome, custom floor fixtures created from recycled barn wood, and cultured stone comprised of 54 percent pre-consumer recycled material with low emissions.
How could that translate to your home? Well, if you have to paint, you have to paint. Choosing a low VOC paint is a no-brainer – many brands are comparable in price, and they are way better for the environment inside (and outside) your house. Some VOCs are greenhouse gases and therefore contribute to global warming and others are just bad for your health. They also create that “new paint” smell that can give you a huge headache!
The “reuse” part of the equation in the Gift Shop is the fact that they constructed wall supports and feature tables utilizing refurbished, authentic wood as their base. In order to create the wall supports, the builders used recycled naturally fallen tree trunks foraged from local Indiana forest floors and re-tasked as decorative elements. The feature tables also were constructed from recycled wood. Could you do something similar? You bet. Natural elements like tree branches, pressed leaves, shells, and pine cones are free for the collecting in your back yard or the beach. There's also the opportunity to recycle some of those garage and yard sale finds, like old cabinets, dressers, tables and chairs. A little sanding and painting and you've got a whole new look, or if you prefer, just clean them and leave them as they were for a rustic look. If you – or your friends and neighbors – are doing some remodeling, make sure you save the wood – recycling it can be cheaper than purchasing new wood, and more attractive and interesting, too.
Here’s another idea sparked by the Gift Shop construction. They decided to use vinyl floor tile, which was chosen because it uses less energy in manufacturing, transportation and installation than other natural flooring products. In addition, vinyl flooring lasts longer and is one of the most resilient flooring materials available. Its long life reduces the waste stream because fewer energy and resources go into replacing the flooring, and the product itself is characterized by low VOC emissions of product and adhesives.
Were you thinking of hardwoods or stone, perhaps, for that floor that needs replacing? Why not consider vinyl flooring? Today’s vinyl is beautiful, durable, easy to clean, and better for the environment. And, here’s a super hot trend in decorating – LVT, or luxury vinyl tiles and planks that look and install like laminate floors. Plus, they call these floors “resilient” because they give a little when you walk on them, which is easier on the feet. Hey, I’m sold.
Significantly, none of these “green” decisions adversely affected the aesthetics of the Gift Shop, and in fact, enhanced its atmosphere by adding the ambience of natural materials to reflect exotic places. I suspect they would do the same for your décor, as well.
So, what do you think? Send comments and ideas for going green in your household, one (small) step at a time.