Greening the household

Greening the household

My husband, Richard, and I have been working to decrease our carbon footprint and increase our "green" index for years. ... Recently though, I realized that going green also has a more immediate, very personal benefit: it saves us green--money, that is.

Susan J. Tweit
Published: 02/09/2009

My husband, Richard, and I have been working to decrease our carbon footprint and increase our "green" index for years. We live at 7,000 feet elevation in the high-desert climate of the southern Rocky Mountains, in a house we designed to take advantage of the abundant sunshine, which provides the bulk of our heat in winter. We both work at home, thus avoiding commuting, and walk for most of our errands. We eat as much local food as possible—some of it we raise ourselves in our organic kitchen garden; our "lawn" is a restored native grassland with a summer-long wildflower display that passers-by sometimes mistake for a public park.

Living lightly has always been a philosophical decision for us. It seems the generous thing to do, a way to share the planet's resources more equitably among all of the species who travel with us on the globe Buckminster Fuller dubbed "Spaceship Earth."

Recently though, I've realized that going green also has a more immediate, very personal benefit: it saves us green—money, that is. We actually make money, freeing our cash for uses, by conserving our household energy expenses. That connection between conserving energy and conserving money didn't dawn on me until Richard and I thought about what we could afford to invest in an array of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity on our roof. I was stunned by the impressive size of the total on the bid from our local solar-panel installer, even after the good-sized rebate from our electric utility. But Richard, ever the economist, pointed out that our savings would earn a better return over time by generating our own power and selling the excess to the utility than they would in today's stock market or most mutual funds. That was my "Aha!" moment about the relationship between saving energy and saving money.

(The photovoltaic system won't go in for a month or so, but I'm already looking forward to watching our electric meter run backwards, and to receiving checks from the power company instead of paying them.)

After that, we started to look for other ways we could save money—while still living a comfortable life—by making our household greener. I canceled our weekly trash pickup: we now recycle or "re-purpose" almost everything we once threw away. That's $210 a year freed for something much more fun than trash removal. I plug my computer, printer, and other non-essential electronics into a power strip and turn them off at night. That and other small measures saved enough electricity to offset the energy used by the small chest freezer we use to preserve our garden produce through the winter. The freezer saved us money on our grocery budget, and it's a joy to cook with the fresh-frozen fruits and vegetables we grow ourselves. They not only taste better, but we know how they grew and how they were treated. I started doing our laundry with cold water, and saw an immediate decrease in our monthly gas bill.

Going green to conserve our own green is our new household investment strategy. It's certainly yielding a better financial return than we would get from the stock market, and I can't begin to calculate the intangible returns. I can only say that it feels just right.