As green as money will buy
The Irish won’t be alone in going green today.The notion of living a green life for the sake of staving off the effects global warming seems to be getting hotter by the minute. Especially among those who can afford the steep price tags for the ever-expanding list of environmentally responsible products and services.Here in Aspen, climate change is an especially fiery topic. The city of Aspen and the Aspen Skiing Co. issue press releases (via e-mail, obviously, not fax) almost daily, trumpeting their respective efforts to put figurative green stamps on their business practices. Clearly, both have wisely recognized that their largest revenue sources – tourism and skiing – will likely be depleted in a matter of decades if the warming trend continues.But the eco-buzz is no longer limited to ritzy mountain resort towns. The green concept has now spread to large metropolitan areas like New York and Seattle. Several glossy ads in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine touted the very latest in environmentally correct living. And fortunately, caring about Mother Earth is no longer limited to NPR listeners, women with hairy armpits and men who wear Birkenstocks and wash the dishes while talking about their feelings.One advertisement hawked a LEED-certified residential high rise on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that “combines the prestige” of its tony neighborhood with the “ultimate” in lavish modern amenities and a “high level of eco-conscious features.” The apartments boast filtered fresh air, private elevators, fireplaces and bicycle storage “to encourage alternative modes of transportation” (although presumably bicycles aren’t recommended as substitutes for the private elevators). The building includes a fitness-wellness-spa center, an exclusive playground, a game room, private lounge, wine cellar, refrigerated lobby storage and, on every floor, recycling centers (otherwise known in less environmentally-evolved buildings as trash rooms). Living this green starts at just under $2 million for a 1,445-square-foot two-bedroom unit.Some guy in New Jersey (go figure!) recently designed and moved into the nation’s first solar-hydrogen house. Through the use of solar panels, a hydrogen fuel cell, storage tanks and an electrolyzer, he’s figured out how to completely eliminate carbon-dioxide emissions from his 3,500-square-foot home. And even when factoring in the hot tub and large screen TV, his monthly utility bill is zero. Unfortunately the system he created – which might make even Al Gore and his annual $30,000 electrical bill green with envy – cost half a million dollars, a sum probably higher than that which most people in most small cities pay in residential energy bills over their lifetimes. Combined.Still, the rest of the well-heeled who move into their green Shangri Las can seriously assuage a good deal of global warming guilt by simply using compact fluorescent light bulbs. While pricier than standard lighting fare, they use nearly 75 percent less energy and last 10,000 hours longer than regular bulbs. Of course, the real savings comes to those who choose to live in literal darkness once they’ve installed the bulbs, rather than endure the torture of the heinously unflattering fluorescent lighting.When wealthy tree huggers need to get away from it all, they can buy TerraPasses – the carbon credit certificates distributed to Oscar presenters last month – to counterbalance the damage to the environment caused by jetting off to vacation via private plane. Unfortunately, though, one hour in a Gulfstream GV, for example, burns as much fuel as an entire year of driving, so it would take a $600 TerraPass to offset the carbon dioxide emissions from a single 3,000-mile flight.However, for just $1,500, a moneyed traveler who flies commercial can buy a TerraPass to offset 1 million airline miles, or 450,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Plus TerraPass will throw in a free folding bicycle, which can then be conveniently stored in a private bike room.Certainly, not every environmentalist chooses to travel by air – some drive instead. Which is why it’s fortunate that a TerraPass offsetting the carbon emissions of a Lexus hybrid SUV actually costs the same as the one for the regular Lexus SUV. But the best news for penny-pinching nature lovers? At just around $43,000, the Lexus hybrid SUV is barely $6,000 more than the comparable non-hybrid Lexus SUV.And, in a heartwarming tale refreshingly devoid of corporate waste, last year Whole Foods Market not only looked out for the health of their customers, but for the well-being of the Earth when it became the first Fortune 500 company to buy wind energy credits equal to 100 percent of its projected energy use for the entire year. No word if the supermarket chain had enough leftover after purchasing 458,000 megawatt-hours of the renewable energy credits to afford a pound of organic asparagus at one of its own stores without taking out a mortgage.Kermit had it all wrong. It is easy being green. Just as long as you have some in your wallet.E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.