Make neighbors green with envy

There’s a green movement that’s in bloom and more people are becoming interested in ways to shrink their environmental impact.

Individuals who want to implement a little Mother Nature into their own place don’t have to worry about breaking the bank. It can actually pay off, for them and the environment in the long run. Although renters can’t make changes to the apartment’s existing structure, they can make changes in their own living spaces that are environmentally friendly.

“People who rent have a real problem because most of the things that affect whether or not a place is green or not, they can’t do,” said Lloyd Alter, correspondent for the environmental blog TreeHugger.com.

However, making an apartment more green really comes down to being a little more conscious of a few things like watching what is bought, used or brought into the apartment, said Jessica Mondo, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professional at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architectural firm.

There are even local stores like Greenmaker Building Supply Co., 2500 N. Pulaski Road, and resources like the Chicago Center for Green Technology, 445 N. Sacramento Blvd., that can help.

If a building’s landlord isn’t attentive to making sure things are running efficiently, there are things to check for, said Meghann Maves, a resource librarian at the Chicago Center for Green Technology.

Check for open cracks in the spaces between windows and doorways that allow heat to escape in the winter. Weather proofing strips are available at home improvement shops to solve the problem.

“Renters can be more involved by checking their appliances, see if they’re Energy Star or are being maintained efficiently,” Maves said.

Changing regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, is one of the most important things renters can do, Alter said.

“Lighting is usually 6 to 7 percent of your utility bill,” Maves said. “By using CFLs, you’re saving money in the long run.” Maves said in order to get the most out of the bulbs, be sure to use the bulbs in “high-frequency areas” where they’d be on for long periods of time.

Plugging in gadgets, or “ghost energy consumers” like a cell phone charger, mp3 player charger or a computer into a surge protector and turning it off when not needed can also save a little on the electric bill, Mondo said. There are also things a renter can do to cut down on water usage. Switch out existing fixtures like shower heads or add a component called a retrofit handle for the toilet, which allows the renter to control how much water goes with each flush, said Josh Hirsen, a sales associate at Greenmaker Building Supply Co. The shop sells goods like environmentally friendly products for the home and garden, remodeling and building supplies.

Changing an existing shower head in the bathroom for a low-flow, oxygen-infused shower head aids in water conservation, Hirsen said. The bonus to these products is that the water pressure isn’t lost, but water is saved.

Furnishing a place can be fun, but knowing what that sweet chic couch is made from might not be worth it. Alter recommends avoiding purchasing cheap furniture made from particle board because it contains formaldehyde. Vinyl is another material to avoid, Alter said. Vinyl is made with chlorine, which Alter explained is a “bad greenhouse gas” made from oil. When vinyl is disposed of it emits harmful chemicals.

Instead of going for the new stuff, take advantage of thrift shops or look on websites like craigslist.org or on a free-cycle website to see who is giving away furniture for free that they no longer need, Alter said. The reason to buy used items is that new items, fresh out of the box are full of chemicals. By reusing old items, they have already emitted many of their chemicals, Maves said.

Even decorating can translate to being green. Greenmaker sells a line of paint called low VOC, volatile organic compound, whichdoes not have an odor like regular paint.

Another concern for renters is their indoor air quality. Mondo recommended opening the windows and letting fresh air in. A space’s indoor air quality can improve if plants are placed around the room, Mondo said. A good tip to go by is one house plant per each 100 square feet, Maves said.

It’s also important to watch what cleaning substances are used in the space.

“It’s best to buy products that say they are non-toxic, biodegradable or safe enough for a baby to be in an environment with. A bleach smell does not always mean clean,” Maves said.

Seventh Generation is a company that makes a line of eco-friendly household cleaners and recycled paper goods which are available at stores like Whole Foods, Walgreens and online. The products might cost more on the shelf, but the cost toward protecting the environment pays off.

“Being green does not have to be difficult,” Mondo said. “Just think smart.”

The Columbia Chronicle, September 17, 2007

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High-tech complaints in hopes of better commutes

Thanks to grassroots community activists, commuters riding on any of CTA’s trains have a new way of voicing their frustration with its service via text message.

Riders can now text message their name to cta{their ZIP code]@npjt.org and a a message will be sent on their behalf to their elected officials urging them to make improving public transit one their priorities.

Neighbors Project, a grassroots group comprised of individuals ained at bettering urban life, is responsible for establishing the new method of communicating concerns regarding CTA.

“If enough of us complain to the right people, we might finally get a train and bus system that we’re proud to use,” said the group on its Web site.

The combination of deterioration in CTA service, crowded trains, slow zones and the overall commuting experience worsening were all motivations for the project, said Rick Maloney, a member of Neighbors Project. But there was not one specific event that served as a catalyst.

After a commuter sends a message, Neighbors Project’s servers then extract the sender’s name and ZIP code, and on his or her behalf forward an automatically generated e-mail to the alderman in their ZIP code, the mayor and state legislators.

The group also allows users to send a letter online at NeighborsProject.org.

The site allows users to personalize the letter or cite a certain example of their frustration, Maloney said.

CTA says the most efficient way to voice a comment, positive or negative, is through its customer service.

“We make sure all relevant comments are directed to the appropriate CTA officials, as they know what our customers are saying,” said Ibis Antongiorgi, a CTA spokesperson.

Neighbors Project started the CTA idea nearly five months ago by passing out fliers at el stations across the city asking commuters to write their elected officials. The problem was that many people didn’t know the names of their elected officials. This sparked the idea of setting up a system to allow commuters to text message and let them do the rest, Maloney said.

Jacqueline Leavy, who helped to organize the Campaign for Better Transit through the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, said she is excited to hear about the group’s efforts.

“I hope they kick butt,” Leavy said.

Leavy said she feels as though the CTA and Mayor Richard Daley refuse to listen to the public’s concern and find the group’s efforts very encouraging.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” Leavy said. “CTA needs to change, so does Metra and RTA needs real teeth to oversee and regular ‘transit service boards.'”

“Despite significant investments we continue to make in the system, the reality is we are operating service on aging infrastructure that requires a consistent level of funding to keep pace with the necessary maintenance and improvements,” Antongiorgi said.

Slow zones on Howard-bound Red Line trains and Blue Line trains to O’Hare are due to deteriorating infrastructure and the lack of capital funding, she said.

There do not seem to be any quick fixes, the CTA said.

“The investment we are making in the system will have long-term benefits, but does result in inconveniencing customers,” Antongiorgi said. “There is a lot that needs to be addressed on the system and that requires much in the way of capital funds. Even as existing slow zones are addressed, new ones will continue to appear as the rail infrastructure continues to age. ”

Maloney said he would love to see Daley, who hasn’t publicly said if he rides CTA, get aboard a train on a hot day and ride to Addison in the midst of Cubs season to how things really are.

The group does not have a target goal but hopes enough people voice their frustration. So far, Neighbors Project has received a total of 500 text and online messages.

The Columbia Chronicle, February 19, 2007