It's one thing to say you want to live a green lifestyle. But what exactly does it mean to be green?
The Star-Telegram spent several weeks seeking answers from academicians, home builders, energy-efficiency experts and a former federal Environmental Protection Agency chief of staff.
These experts consistently said that to live green, you must focus on these five categories:
1. Travel. The average American drives roughly 12,000 miles a year, according to the EPA, and all that driving results in pollution that contributes to ground-level ozone and global warming.
2. Water. Millions of gallons can be saved each year by simply turning off the faucet while you shave and brush your teeth, and by opting to take a shower instead of a bath.
3. Food. Much of the food you eat has traveled more than 1,000 miles by the time it arrives on your dinner plate, requiring a great deal of energy to transport and producing a great deal of pollution.
4. Recycling. Increasing what you recycle keeps more waste out of already crowded landfills.
5. Energy. Reducing energy use means big power plants have to produce less energy, which in turn cuts pollution.
The Star-Telegram outlined these points in a one-page checklist for our families to follow during the two-week challenge. Before they started, the families met with Dallas architect and green-living expert Gary Olp, who instructed the wide-eyed participants on what they could do to meet each one of the points on the checklist.
Then, representatives from TXU Energy and Reliant Energy conducted energy audits at each of the participants’ homes. The experts recommended actions they could take to cut down energy use and save money.
But the plan we gave them was just the beginning.
During the two weeks
Each family was visited by an expert who advised them in an area that they identified as a specific trouble spot for their household: recycling, composting, reducing waste and water use.
The participants identified additional challenges they faced as a family: getting spouses on board, teaching their children what it means to be green, dealing with apartment-complex restrictions.
They kept a daily log of their mileage, thermostat settings, recycling efforts, food-buying habits and appliance use.
Choosing a winner
Based on what they were learning and how they were living during the Green Challenge, we asked each family to develop a five-year plan for going green. It was to include all family members and consider the potential effect on their household, their community and the Earth.
A panel of judges -- including Star-Telegram managing editor Larry Lutz and three green-living experts: Olp, who helped us develop the Green Challenge; Dotty Woodson, the water-resources specialist at the Texas A&M University Research and Extension Center; and Rex Johnson, manager of Fort Worth’s Environmental Collection Center -- judged the plans on creativity, feasibility and difficulty.
The Star-Telegram awarded the winning family $1,250 and each runner-up $250 toward making their long-term plans a reality.