Save cash. Be greener.

Remember when your dad would always tell you to turn off the lights when you leave a room? And your inner sassy self would say, “Daaaad, it only costs 6 cents a year to keep a light on all day, every day. Don’t be so cheap.”

Well, it turns out that Dad may have had more on his mind than penny pinching. In these hazy days of going green, we’re learning more and more about how our greedy energy practices are affecting not only our children’s futures, but also the lives of our global neighbors.

The trouble is… we like soft clothes dried in the dryer. We hate doing dishes. We prefer not to feel helpless and the deeper we dig, the more impossible saving the earth seems. But, as Zan Dubin Scott has learned, going green doesn’t have to be black or white.

“The exciting thing about living a greener life is that we can all do something,” she said. “And most of the things we can do are simple and won’t cost anything. In fact, they typically end up saving us all money.”

Here are a few things you can try to lessen your family’s footprint and put some extra cash in your pocket.

  • Connect the dots.

“For every action we take, we must make a connection,” said Zan. “When I go to the gas station, and I buy that gas, I am funding the war in Iraq. I am responsible for the young men who are dying in Iraq. I am contributing to that problem. Do I want to do that? I can shut my mind and decide to be in denial and not make that connection, but that connection still exists.”

Zan said that the best way to make those connections is to stay informed. Read the paper, watch the news, listen to the radio. It’s all there for us, but we have to open our minds to the information.

  • Turn off the lights.

If you’re leaving a room for more than 10 seconds, flip the switch. Zan credits her husband with teaching her this habit when they first got married, and now, to remind her of its importance, she always visualizes a smoke stack when she leaves the room. Not wanting to be responsible for polluting the Earth, she makes this small gesture, which ends up making a big difference.

  • Dry your clothes on a line… most of the way.

No one wants stiff blue jeans, but Zan’s found that if you dry your clothes most of the way on a rack or clothesline outside and then throw them in a dryer for 5-10 minutes to finish the process, you get the same amount of softness as if you dry them entirely in the dryer.

“It’s a great compromise,” she said. “I get softer clothes but that luxury doesn’t cause as much damage to our environment.”

  • Use reusable bags.

Zan said a lot of cities are banning plastic bags, so whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to make the switch to reusable bags. Buy a few canvas bags or organic cotton bags or keep an eye out for sturdier bags from conferences or special events. In many cases you can build quite a collection of bags without spending one penny.

  • Water your plants less.

“I heard from a local utility that you don’t need to water three times a week, that the plants can do just fine on twice a week,” said Zan. “I cut back on my watering, and my plants are doing just fine.”

  • Drive consciously.

It was a bit of a political joke when Barack Obama suggested fighting global warming with inflated tires, but maybe it was only funny because it’s true. Appropriate tire pressure is key for good gas mileage; better gas mileage means using less gas.

Zan also suggests pacing yourself in driving. Don’t accelerate too quickly and don’t brake too hard. Try to coast as much as you can.

  • Buy in bulk.

If you start looking at packaging –cardboard, and then plastic wrapping, and then paper instructions that you’re just going to throw away – it becomes more obvious why there’s a panic over landfills. By buying in bulk, you’ll reduce the amount of packaging headed to the landfills. And if your favorite items don’t come in bulk, you’re not a green failure if you buy them.

“I love string cheese, and I love the individually wrapped string cheese,” she said. “And I’m an environmentalist. To make up for my individually wrapped string cheese, I try to buy in bulk in my other choices at the market.”

Really what is all comes down to, Zan said, is common sense. We all know to reduce, reuse and recycle, but knowing and practicing it as much as we can are two different things.

“It’s amazing how once you start getting into the habit of using less, of reducing your consumption, how easy it is. You start really thinking about what you need,” said Zan. “If I can just make one change in my life, that will make a vast difference. And if each of us just made one change today that we weren’t doing yesterday, you add up all the numbers across the country and we can vastly improve our planet because of the power of numbers. That’s all. Simple.”

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Supporting my family with a home-based beauty business

Tara will tell you… she was cheap before cheap was in style. She enjoyed luxury salon treatments, but she didn’t enjoy their inflated prices.

Why was it that having healthy, soft locks should cost a car payment?

Tara felt there had to be an easy way to deep condition her hair the way they did at the salon in her own home. Of course she couldn’t bring in a salon size dryer, so she set out to find the right mix of materials that would create the same effect.

After finding the secret ingredient while watching a marathon race, she had 100 of her deep conditioning caps made and sold them to different salons and beauty shops in her city. An infomercial company saw the product and began to market it along with some shampoo.

That’s when her need for deep conditioning started to fill her need for some serious dough. Tara realized that she had a business on her hands. Something that would be able to make money for her family and herself.

“Once the infomercial was on the air and did fairly well, I realized that this work could go from the realm of a fun hobby, something to do in my spare time, to a real business,” she said.

Soon afterward Tara came up with her second invention.

“Ever since high school, I had always had the idea of putting nail polish in a pen, like a felt-tip marker,” she says, “I was working on an art project with my daughter, with poster board and pens, and the idea came back to me. That was my genesis for a manicure pen.”

Trusting in her ideas helped Tara become successful. Follow her pointers and you can be a successful inventor too–in due time. Inventions take patience.

1. Create a prototype. Nobody buys an idea.

It’s important to get your idea to the prototype stage. Find something that’s like the product, even though it might be in a completely different industry.

For example, Tara contacted the manufacturers of the pen that she used in her daughter’s art project, and while they couldn’t do cosmetics because they weren’t cosmetic-qualified, they sold her the pen parts that she used to create the first prototype of Manicure Magic.

2. Have your prototype priced out.

Take a look at the marketplace to determine a reasonable cost to create your product.

3. Ask yourself, “How much do I want to invest?”

It’s usually not expensive to get to the point of a prototype, so after that, you need to figure out where the manufacturing money is coming from, and how much of the product you want to produce initially.

4. Figure out where to sell it.

Could you sell it on the internet? Could you present it to one of the shopping channels and sell it that way? Could you take it just down the street to your local store and see if they would carry it? Since Tara’s product was a manicure pen, she knew that if she could demonstrate it and explain it, it would sell. That’s why QVC was the perfect way to launch her product.

If you’re interested in taking your product to a large manufacturer or a large retailer that you think would have an interest in it, find an agent or a consultant to help you get in the door.

5. Define success on your own terms.

“You have to define success for yourself,” said Tara. “You don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to be successful. If your vision of success is just to supplement your family’s income, or just to make enough money to take a really nice vacation, or help pay for tuition for the kids, then you should be proud of that success.”

For those of you with a fascination for new inventions, there’s always something new at the Inventor Spot, a blog that targets new creations from the worlds of food, technology and fashion.

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Living on Sunshine

You’ve probably heard about the rotating skyscraper cloaked in solar panels that’s being built in Dubai. Basically it’s an unmatched feat of architecture and engineering, a sci-fi modernity that makes the suburbs seem otherworldly.

Still not impressed? Consider this: it’s the first skyscraper that’s also a power plant.

The Rotating Tower is what happens when possibility gets more attention than practicality… and what happens when what’s most practical gets incorporated into the what’s possible daydream.

Although Zan Dubin Scott’s house is less than 1% what the Rotating Tower will be, her passion for alternative energy is just as big.

Zan and her husband Paul have added solar panels to the rooftop of their Southern California home and started literally living off sunshine.

“My husband survived bladder cancer, and we decided we didn’t want to put off our life’s dreams anymore,” said Zan. “Having solar panels was on the top of the list, so on his 50th birthday, we had them installed.”

The completely hidden solar panels on the roof of their modest home give Paul and Zan all the electricity they need to run their washer, power their computers, light their rooms and even charge their electric car.

And, as an extra bonus, they’re actually making money of their investment.

“I took a look at the numbers and they actually made sense,” said Paul. “You actually make money with these. It’s an investment. If you put money into the stock market, you expect to get a return. We put money into solar panels, and we’re getting a really high return on our investment.”

Paul and Zan financed their solar panels and expect to have them paid off in less than 10 years (assuming 100+ mph winds don’t blow by and steal them). At that point, they’ll never have to pay for electricity again. They won’t have to worry about Enron scandals or blackouts because they’ll have their own energy source stored neatly on their roof, soaking up rays and turning it into power.

So what’s the biggest burden that comes with solar panels? Hosing off the bird poop once a year.

With companies like Solar City stepping up to the plate to provide leasing options for solar panels and cloudy countries like Germany proving that it doesn’t require year-round sunshine for solar panels to get the job done, electric companies are starting to offer energy alternatives to keep people from skipping off the grid. All you have to do is call and ask for it and agree to pay a couple cents more per kilowatt hour. Or, if they don’t offer clean energy options, demand that they start.

“The whole idea is to break down the barriers to widespread solar adoption,” said Zan. “You know, we’re sitting on this tremendous asset — our own roofs, which can be producing our solar energy.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Soul Crushing
See Zan and Paul in action in Who Killed the Electric Car?

Join the club!
Want to find some like minded electric car fans? Take a look at the Electric Auto Association and get info on how to rally for the cause.

A Trusted Advisor
Get the latest news and advisories on green automotives through Edmund’s Green Car Advisor.

Public Relating
Find out more about Zan through her business website.

Secrets for Building an Eco-Friendly Business

Even as a child, Summer was interested in saving the earth.

“Growing up, it was just my mom and me, and she instilled environmental awareness in me,” she said. “Even when I was really young, I’d knock on my neighbors’ doors and tell them to not use so many plastic bags.”

Summer carried her passion for the environment with her through college at UC Berkeley, where she majored in sociology and conservation and resource studies.

After graduation, Summer took a job as a 6th grade teacher. She loved teaching and the lifestyle that it afforded, but soon she found herself going through the motions a little too comfortably.

“I was busy all the time, grading papers constantly at coffee shops, and just living my life,” she said. “But at some point, I realized I had gotten away from those things that had been really important to me.”

As she concentrated her efforts more on reconnecting with her passion, she found she was spending a lot of her free time researching what she bought and what products were good for the earth. Especially when it came to buying clothes, it was difficult to shop responsibly.

“There was nothing I could wear to work. There was nothing I could wear out, going out to clubs or going out to dinner. Frankly, I couldn’t find anything I liked,” she said. “I decided to stop complaining about the fact that nobody had changed this and be the change, create my own resource.”

Summer is passionate about the environment because she cares about what happens in the future.

“Everything that I sell is certified organic, which means a third party comes in and certifies how it’s grown,” she said. “It’s also either domestically made by artisans who create their own wage, under U.S. labor laws, or it’s sourced through the fair trade federations. Every single product has a sort of certification that makes it definitely earth-friendly.”

Being able to help others make better decisions more easily is far more rewarding for Summer than she ever imagined it would be. She feels like she is living a life of purpose, that she is following the admonition on her favorite refrigerator magnet: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

“I feel really happy for what I’ve done,” she said. “I am proud of myself that I’ve really been true to what I believe in but have also made a livelihood in doing that, in doing something small to benefit the bigger picture.”

Check out Summer’s online store BTC Elements, it’s got everything from organic cotton tablecloths to recycled fleece winter coats.

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