Barack is talking about putting in a basketball court. Michelle is picking out china. And their daughters have plans to redecorate their rooms. When the Obamas move into the White House on January 20, they'll immediately start putting their mark on the nation's most historic residence. Environmentalists are hoping that mark will be a bright shade of green.
The new first family would hardly be starting a revolution. As far back as June 1979, Jimmy Carter attempted to increase the energy efficiency of the 132-room building when he had a $28,000 solar water heater installed on the roof of the West Wing. In 1993, President Clinton commissioned a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute that identified a number of improvements that could reduce the White House's environmental impact, such as upgrading the HVAC system and improving the energy-efficiency of the windows. In 2002, solar photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof. By 2007, the White House also sported compact fluorescent light bulbs, "smart" lawn sprinklers and energy-efficient mini-vans.
But the Obamas could make greening the White House even more meaningful by taking steps that reflect their willingness to change their lifestyle as well as the building itself.
Here are my top ten recommendations for what they should do, inside and out.
This standard offers meaningful guidelines to help buildings and, increasingly, homes reduce the amount of energy they consume.
Many bulbs in the White House have already been replaced with compact fluorescents. But LEDs save even more energy, and because they contain no mercury, pose no health concerns to consumers.
Plug computers and other office equipment into power strips that turn on and off automatically. Install light sensors in offices to do the same thing. Use programmable thermostats to turn the heat down in the evening and up (but just to 68 degrees in winter) during the day.
Choose cleansers that are free of phthalates (synthetic fragrances), antibacterial agents, phosphates (especially for dishwashers) and other toxic ingredients. Green Seal can provide a list of environmentally-friendly products certified "green" for buildings the size of the White House.
Favor organic towels, bedding, and fabric for the reupholstering that will go on as the Obamas update the decor. Every president gets a new rug for the Oval Office. Obama could have his woven from fibers made from 100% recycled soda bottles.
Repainting? Use paints free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to contribute to respiratory illness, headaches and air pollution.
Every member of the first family, and all Cabinet members should regularly use their own BPA-free reusable water bottles. This should be true not only at Cabinet and staff meetings, but when the president takes to the basketball court, too.
Eat less meat, and serve organic, locally grown food for the White House mess and state dinners as well as the residence.
Retrofit faucets, showerheads, toilets to use water as efficiently as possible.
The Obamas can show Americans how to avoid "greenwashing" by buying products whose environmental claims meet independent third-party standards. While they're at it, they can join the One in a Million campaign and intentionally shift the White House operating budget to green goods.
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