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Sun, Jun 14, 2009 - Page 12 News List

Make me greener

Eco-consultants are greening up the US by evaluating people’s homes and lifestyles and offering advice on how to reduce their environmental impact

By Mireya Navarro  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Eco-consultant Jason Pelletier checks a toilet for Alina Sanchez and George Bryson at their home in Westwood, California, last month. They hired a consultant to tell them how they could do better at home in helping the environment, and although they did very well on energy use, water was another matter. Environmental savings can be elusive, and the benefits and costs confusing. To help households wade through the information, consultants armed with stepladders and gadgets are selling advice on energy efficiency, indoor air quality and even methods for creating an eco-conscious wardrobe.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

George Bryson and Alina Sanchez flunked the test on water consumption.

They had hired a consultant to tell them how they could do better at home in helping the environment, and although they did very well on energy use, water was another matter.

“I do a lot of thinking in the shower,” Sanchez offered as a possible explanation, but the culprit turned out to be the sprinklers.

Environmental savings can be elusive, and the benefits and costs confusing. To help households wade through the information, consultants armed with stepladders and gadgets are selling advice on energy efficiency, indoor air quality and even methods for creating an eco-conscious wardrobe.

The field of personal and home eco-consultants is relatively new. GenGreen, a Colorado company that offers a national directory of businesses marketing themselves as green at gengreenlife.com, says it has just over 3,000 listings under the umbrella term environmental consultants, up from 657 when the database was started in 2007. They include energy auditors, health and wellness experts, interior designers and “eco-brokers,” real estate agents who specialize in green homes.

While real estate agents can get training and certification as “eco” or “green” by trade organizations, and states like New York run energy audit programs with accreditation rules, there are no industry standards for most eco-consultants, who can range from environmental engineers to the self-taught.

Urvashi Rangan, the director of greenerchoices.org, a Consumers Union Web site that gives information on environmentally friendly products and labels, said that homeowners should exercise caution, and if they are thinking of hiring such a consultant they should do some research first and decide which areas they want to focus on before deciding if they want to pay for visits that can cost hundreds of dollars.

Bryson and Sanchez, business owners in their 40s who own a three-bedroom house in Los Angeles and who recycle and compost, said they hired Jason Pelletier, a co-founder of Low Impact Living of Los Angeles, to identify what they could do to be more environmentally sound. His three-year-old company offers eco-consulting and runs a green resource Web site that is supported by payments for advertising and for listings.

They were considering insulating their garage — where she has set up her office and which he wants to also use as a music studio — and wondered about the best environmental options.

Compared with doing their own research on the Internet, they said, a consultation offered the advantage of analyzing their needs in a short time.

“This is specific to us,” Bryson said. “It’s a great check-up and it gives you a baseline for improving things going forward.”

Two-and-a-half hours and US$200 later, after an inspection of the 134m2 home they share with their two children (in addition to the 280m2 backyard and the garage), Pelletier gave them suggestions like switching to low-flow shower heads and to compact fluorescent light bulbs, and later followed up with a detailed report that compared the couple’s consumption with the average for their region. He advised them to cut the use of sprinklers by between 30 percent and 40 percent, insulate the attic and replace the old water heater.

In addition, Pelletier said the couple would save US$1,200 a year in gas and cut their car-related emissions by 50 percent if they sold their cars — his, a 1997 Saab, and hers, a 1998 Volvo — and bought hybrids instead. Bryson and Sanchez said they were holding out for electric cars some day. In spread-out Los Angeles, their daughter’s school is a 32km round trip, they said, and they are often caught in traffic.

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