You've decided to go green, but you don't know where to begin. Which changes do you need to make, and which are the most important? Which best help the planet? Which save the most money? • Research on the Internet may help (you didn't print out a big stack of pages, did you?), but if you're looking for a personal touch, a guide to help you get started, you're in luck. • The green trend has grown enough to sprout several eco-preneur options in the Tampa Bay area. They have the same basic goal in mind — developing and maintaining green practices for the home, home office and small and large business — but they aim for it with different styles.
Natalie Calleja operates a Tampa branch of the Chicago-based Green Consulting Firm. The company offers audited certification that allows membership in the Green Business League. Under that umbrella are Green Home and Green School certifications. Green practices have to be kept up or the certification will be revoked.
"At home, we address the entire home because it is the right thing to do," Calleja said. "We'll have our energy auditor come in. We'll have an air quality test done. Within a week, we'll have your footprint analysis. We'll tell you how much you drive, how much you travel, and address those issues together. We'll ask you for your bills, summarize everything and tell you exactly what you need to do. No two houses are alike. It's customized to the needs of whatever home we're working."
Water usage, recycling and purchasing habits are reviewed as well, but Calleja said her company focuses on energy usage, which she said was the No. 1 reason for going green.
"Even if they're not 'Save the tree,' they realize how cool it is to save so much money," Calleja said.
An example from a highly wired home: The glow of computers, modems, routers, DVD players, video games, electric razors and more let you know power is being consumed in your home even when everyone is asleep — and your electric meter is counting every watt.
"That's phantom energy," she said. "We calculate the amount of phantom energy used when we do the carbon footprint analysis. When something is connected, there is energy being transmitted."
Calleja suggested plugging electronics into a power strip with an on/off switch. Other appliances can be unplugged individually.
"We don't want to be extreme about things like flushing the toilet once a day," Calleja said. "We keep a realistic approach, so it doesn't become difficult for people to put it into practice."
When it comes to purchasing that power strip or other energy-saving device, Calleja said her company will make endorsements but does not make any income off those endorsements and does not sell any products.
Green Irene, another national company, does sell products in addition to performing in-home consultations. Suzanne Haerther is one of several eco-consultants working for Green Irene in the Tampa Bay area.
The company offers green home and office makeovers as well as "Go Green" parties.
"Through the home and office, there would be a consultation fee and I would come in and go through your entire house and give you recommendations for each room: lightbulbs, water efficiency, a power strip that actually helps save energy and all sorts of other recommendations. Some things are products that Green Irene sells and some things are free suggestions, little things you can do."
After the consultation, customers get a report detailing the suggestions and listing suggested products, but they do not need to make a commitment to purchase products. People who get a makeover of either home or office get three months of access to the Ask Green Irene database. Haerther described it as a Consumer Reports of how to be green.
"They can give you recommendations and they've researched what's the best — obviously Energy Star, but they'll go beyond that as far as good reputations, what's the best of the Energy Star appliances."
Haerther said Go Green parties are like Tupperware parties. You don't get the specifics you would in a makeover, but you have the opportunity to buy Green Irene products, including lightbulbs, aerators, canteens to use instead of bottled water, room filters and shopping bags.
"We also sell the carbon footprint reduction offsets," Haerther said. "You can purchase a carbon offset for your vehicle. Basically, it's making an investment in a company that helps reduce the carbon to replace what you've done with your medium-sized car or your house."
Lisa Assetta adds another dimension to going green through her Tampa company, Office Assistance Plus. When she makes an assessment, she tells clients not to buy containers in advance of her visit.
"What we're really going to do is go in and reduce the paper and the things that surround them, and then find a way to keep only what is needed, and then find the right containers or the right storage mechanism to contain it all," she said. "A lot of times, that's recommending that they do e-business and e-banking and things like that so that we can actually eliminate paper from accumulating again. That reuse/repurpose area actually helps with saving as well."
Assetta then echoed Calleja and Haerther about the incorrect perception that green practices were expensive.
"A lot of people think that being green costs a lot of money and I am out there to dispel that myth," she said. "You can actually reduce your costs and expenses by going green. A big part of that is using what they call the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. That's really my guiding mantra through all of my services."
Those include green organizing and green office makeovers.
"The green office services are for people who really want to focus on being green and doing an overhaul of not only their physical space but also the business practices they use," Assetta said. "All of those things will help people — whether they are in business or not — be more efficient, more productive, more creative and really just feel better. You want to walk into your space, no matter what space it is, and have it feel good.
"I feel that's really one of the biggest benefits of what I do. I'm helping people enjoy a more peaceful and healthier environment, save time, save money and then do the right thing for the environment at the same time."
Lawrence Hollyfield is a freelance writer in Tampa. He can be reached at email@example.com.