09/16/2011 10:05 am ET | Updated Nov 16, 2011

I Am Green

I had the recent pleasure of meeting two strong forces behind the forward-looking non-profit organization, Global Green, USA. Matt Petersen (President and CEO) and Ruben Aronin (Director, Communications) are incredibly complimentary in their strengths and experience, with equal passion and logic fueling their approach of expanding global awareness to reconnect to our environment, reduce waste and to increase our levels of sustainability.

Hearing of their successes and continued initiatives to rebuild our current building paradigms was quite inspiring, and it left me with a desire to understand more. How can I live a greener life? Sure, I recycle. I brush my teeth without running water. I clean my home with vinegar and other natural, biodegradable cleansers, I bring my recyclable shopping tote to the grocery store and I use candles for lighting in the evenings whenever I can. Yet, after meeting Matt and Ruben, I realized I was only grazing the surface of what is necessary to make a global impact sooner. Their approach to change is unique and intelligent. They not only care about educating consumers and influencing legislation, they are getting down and dirty to implement "greener" building projects.

Like many people, over the last six years, when I thought of the devastation that affected the New Orleans areas after Hurricane Katrina, I felt a deep sense of sadness at the loss and destruction that occurred there in 2005. Yet, my perspective changed when I heard how Global Green, USA re-built the New Orleans communities. The organization offered "green" educations and built sustainable living homes for 10,000 homeowners -- even adopting an entire neighborhood and building a Design Center as a means of continuing education for locals and visitors alike. Now when I think of the New Orleans area, I think of the possibility of radical change globally, and how we often need to destroy to re-create. It inspires me with hope that we can clean up the mess we've made here on Earth.

With a desire to increase my awareness of "green" habitats and daily living, I asked the experts (Matt and Ruben) what one should incorporate when building a "green" home, what to look for when home or apartment hunting, as well as how to incorporate these green concepts in our children's school environments. Showing their true innate natures of being change-makers for a better world, Matt and Ruben not only shared 10 amazing tips, they gave 20. The first 10 focus on home-building, and the second set of 10 share positive reasons why we should create green schools:

1. Use Compact Florescent Lights Indoors and Outdoors -- The easiest way to cut your energy costs is to swap regular light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones, called "CFLs." Compared to regular bulbs, CFLs:
• Use ¼ of the energy of incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer.
• Save you $25 to $45 for each bulb over its life span.
• Give off 90 percent less heat, lowering utility bills. While regular light bulbs cost less to buy up front, they cost you a lot more money in the long run.

2. Seal Air Leaks With Weather-Stripping and Caulk -- More than 30 percent of the cooled and heated air escapes a house through leaky windows, doors, fireplaces, recessed lights, drain lines, vents and electrical outlets.
• Seal with caulk, install foam and weatherstrip.
• It cuts down on pollutants, noise, pests and moisture.
• Up to 20 percent percent saving in energy bill. Purchasing cost is offset through energy bill savings within one year.

3. Seal the Leaks in Your Ductwork -- Leaky ductwork may account for up to 30 percent to 50 percent of cooled and heated indoor air loss. Seal all joints and connections with mastic, available at most hardware stores. NEVER use duct tape. Sealing your ducts can:
• Save money on yearly utility bills since more conditioned air is directed into your living area.
• Greatly reduce dust, mold and humidity in your home. If installing new ductwork, put it in an air-conditioned space, instead of in the attic or under the house.

4. Install High Quality Insulation -- High quality insulation in walls and attic reduces AC and heater usage.
• Reduce your energy bills by more than 15 percent through installing quality insulation.
• Roughly 50 percent of your energy bill is to cool and heat your home. Fiberglass batts are the least expensive ($1.45/sf) and easy to install yourself. Choose formaldehyde-free batts. Wall insulation should be a minimum of R-13. Install insulation with an R-value of at least 30 in your attic but install R-38 if affordable. Blow-in insulation, like cellulose, is more effective but more expensive ($1.90/sf). Open cell foam is the most efficient, but costs the most to install ($3.75/sf).

5. Seal-Up and Insulate Your Home's Attic Hatch and Knee-Wall Doors -- A home's attic hatch is typically uninsulated, and it serves as a large hole in the ceiling.
• To prevent air leakage to and from the attic, weather-strip and insulate the attic hatch.
• Knee¬wall doors can also be weather-stripped and insulated to greatly reduce leakage. The attic access can be covered with an attic tent or rigid foam board box to help reduce utility bills.

6. Install a Radiant Barrier in Your Attic -- A radiant barrier is an aluminum foil-coated material that can:
• Reduce your summer-energy bills by more than 15 percent.
• Block as much as 50 percent of the heat radiated through the roof and into your house.
• Lower attic temperature 20-40 degrees. Radiant barrier can be stapled to the underside of the roof rafters in existing buildings. In new construction, roof decking can be installed that has radiant barrier factory-applied to one side.

7. Shade Your Windows -- Windows on the east, west and south side of a structure greatly increase the temperature in your house. Plant trees, install overhangs or Venetian blinds, and use solar film or screens on your windows to block sunlight.
• 50 percent of the increased temperatures during summer months enter through windows.
• Install shutters or ENERGY STAR low-E high impact windows if affordable. They also provide a defense against hurricane winds. Shading windows reduces summer overheating, decreasing summer cooling bills.

8. Choose Energy Star Appliances and Electronics -- Home appliances and electronics account for about 20 percent of the energy bill. Lower your monthly utility costs by purchasing models with the Department of Energy's blue ENERGY STAR label.
• Energy Star appliances use 10 percent-50 percent less energy and water than standard models and can save up to $400 per year on utility bills.
• Energy Star refrigerators and freezers use at least 15 percent less energy than conventional models.
• Energy Star clothes washers use at least 50 percent less energy, dishwashers use 40 percent less energy.
• Energy Star room air conditioners use at least 10 percent less energy, and televisions, DVD players and VCRs at least 30 percent less energy. The purchase cost may be higher, but you will get that money back in energy bill savings in two to five years.

9. Install Water-Efficient Toilets and Fixtures -- The average household spends about $500 each year on water and sewerage bills. Water-efficient toilets use 1.6 gallons per flush, compared with standard toilets that require 5-7 gallons.
• Purchasing a water efficient toilet could save a family of four up to 22,000 gallons per year.
• Save up to $200 a year by switching to low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads.
• Flow reducers that fit onto the tip of existing faucets and showerheads cut the water-flow rate and can save you as much as 40 percent on your water bill. Water-efficient fixtures rarely cost more, and they pay for themselves in a short period of time.

10. Choose Healthy Paint, Carpet and Cabinets -- Paints, carpets and cabinets can contain harmful chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOC) that can cause skin rashes, headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, and eye, nose and throat irritation. Some of these toxins may be linked to cancer.
• Indoor-air pollutant level may be two to five times higher than the level outdoors.
• Most people spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors so we should be concerned for indoor air quality.

As I mentioned above, Matt and Rubin also shared some intelligent reasons why we should be creating greener schools:

1. Increase Student Performance -- Studies have shown that student test scores can improve up to 20 percent when kids learn in green classrooms that provide more natural daylighting, improved classroom acoustics and healthier paints and carpets that don't release toxic chemicals into the air.

2. Protect Health -- Schools built with more natural daylight, better ventilation and healthy green building materials such as non VOC carpets and paints, can improve student and teacher health and result in fewer sick days, higher teacher retention and improved student attendance.

3. Save Money -- Operating costs for energy and water can be reduced by 20 percent to 40 percent, allowing more money to be used for teacher salaries, textbooks and computers

4. Provide a Unique Educational Opportunity -- Buildings can become teaching tools and important features of science, math, and environmental curriculum when green features and advanced technology and design in schools are used to excite kids about learning real world applications of green technologies.

5. Reduce Carbon Emissions -- Green schools significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In Los Angeles alone, building 34 new green schools will reduce 94,000 tons of CO2 or the equivalent of eliminating more than 15,000 cars from the road every year or planting more than 280,000 trees!

6. Reduce Water Usage -- On average, a green school reduces water usage 32 percent. This reduction has direct savings for the building, as well as substantial societal benefits from lower pollution and reduced infrastructure costs to deliver water and to transport and treat wastewater.

7. Improve Teacher Retention -- A green school can reduce teacher turnover by up to 5 percent, which results in financial savings for the school, as well as a more positive experience for students

8. Create Green Jobs -- Investing in building green schools is an investment in green jobs including green construction, building product manufacturing, and green architecture.

9. Improve Daily Attendance -- Students in green schools are absent less frequently. By reducing absenteeism just 15 percent, a typical elementary school would save from $40,000 $60,000.

10. Improve Equity -- Greening public schools creates an opportunity to improve the health and educational settings for all students, regardless of income or background.

Matt and Ruben also suggested planting an organic edible garden at school, creating school-wide composting programs at the cafeteria and auditing how much energy is used in a classroom -- are lights left on? Heat/AC? Computers left on overnight? It truly is all of these little changes that result in the big changes we need globally to shift our earth's state back to a natural, sustainable existence.

In addition to changing my personal habits to be more mindful of consumption and waste, my company, AZIAM, created a beautiful "Mother Lover" tank specifically for Global Green, USA. The tank reads: "I Am Green" on the center chest. It is made from an organic supima cotton lycra blend, free of dyes. The inks are water-based and phtlate-free. There is a hopeful image of a woman meditating under a tree. AZIAM is committed to donating 10 percent of every tank sold to Global Green, USA, as a way of showing support to Global Green's awesome initiatives and edifying programs.


"Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth." ~Henry David Thoreau