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Four families take the challenge

It was August. It was hot. And we wanted them to walk more, turn up their thermostats and minimize their time in the shower.

And that was just for starters.

It was sort of an eco-friendly boot camp. Four families from across Tarrant County were selected from more than 200 that applied to take the Star-Telegram’s Green Challenge. And in those households, for two weeks, conservation trumped comfort and Earth-friendly won out over convenient.

The result: They all learned something about living greener lives. And you might learn something from them.

The four families weren’t chosen because they were the most eco-savvy. Some were eco-maniacs already, while others struggled to find the recycling bin. For one couple, going green meant harvesting rainwater; for another, it meant skipping the drive-through.

We gave them the basics -- guidelines for reducing water use, maximizing fuel efficiency, buying locally grown food, recycling and using less energy in their homes. (See "About the Green Challenge competition”) We gave them experts to consult and resources to turn to.

We also asked them over the course of two weeks, to dream up ways their families could live greener for the next five years. Write them down. Develop a plan. And we told them their plans would be judged -- and there'd be money at stake.

The Green Challenge, they soon realized, would require more than just keeping the soft-drink cans out of the trash. They had to be green in ways they hadn't even thought of before.

They spruced up their homes, switched up their routines and pushed past their comfort zones.

Some of their efforts worked; others didn't. But by forcing themselves to pay attention -- to count the miles they drove, to analyze what they threw away, to really try to cut down on water and energy use -- the families became aware of the little things that make a difference.

"Changing light bulbs, managing car trips, reducing energy, eating organic, planning Earth-friendly activities and recycling -- all elements of going green -- aren't hard things to do," Melissa Gault wrote to us after the family challenge ended. "They're just easy things not to do."

And sometimes, easy to forget. Beverly Davis stowed canvas totes in her car to use at the store, hoping to save some plastic bags.

The only problem: She couldn't remember to take them inside the store.

"I have on three separate occasions now," she said, "left my shopping cart ... and gone back to my car to retrieve my bags."

But that's what the Green Challenge was all about: experimenting, learning, picking up new habits.

And now that the two weeks have ended, each family is putting a long-term plan into action.

In the next five years, you'll likely find the Davises driving a hybrid car. You'll see Gil Ledesma riding his bike home from the office. You might see Amber and Jonathan Price at a Euless City Council meeting pushing for more recycling bins. And if you're a friend of the Gault family, watch out: Their holiday gift to you might be a worm farm to help you start your own kitchen composting.

The Green Challenge families learned a lot about saving the Earth. But here's what we learned from our four families: Nobody goes green exactly the same way. And what's best for one household isn't necessarily the solution for another.

Read their stories to find out what worked for them; it might work for you, too.