Greener Driving

The Green House experience in Boulder brought me two driving firsts: a hybrid car (the Ford Fusion Hybrid) and the prototype of the 2012 Ford Electric Focus.

The prototype of the Ford Focus Electric, due out in spring of 2011

Before I got behind the wheel, however, our group of journalists heard about how Ford is incorporating “biomaterials” into their vehicles, including soybean-oil seat foam (instead of petroleum foam). They’re also adding natural fibers (wheat straw, hemp) into some plastic parts; the fiber fillers make the plastic lighter, reducing the car’s overall weight, which in turn saves on gas.

Next, we prepped for the “Ford Fuel-Efficiency Challenge” by reviewing Ford’s eco-driving tips. (These apply to driving any vehicle, not just hybrids.)

  • Watch your speed and avoid pumping the accelerator.
  • Accelerate and brake smoothly to conserve fuel.
  • No idling. Engines today don’t need a pre-drive warm-up.
  • Keep tires properly inflated for best mileage.
  • Travel light by removing excess weight from the vehicle.
  • Minimize use of heating and air conditioning to reduce the load on the engine.
  • Close windows at high speed.

We then split into two teams of three people, each with a Fusion Hybrid. As my team’s driver, I turned the key in the ignition. And nothing happened. I tried again. Still nothing. Then it dawned on me that the car was actually running—there was just no revving engine sound that we’re used to. An honest mistake, but I still felt pretty silly.

My drive up to the mountain town of Nederland (20 miles away) went more smoothly. The Fusion Hybrid handled nicely and was comfortable to sit in. All the controls were easy  to see, but I left it to my friend in the passenger seat to keep an eye on our fuel-use rating while I watched the road.

And the Winner Is: Planet Earth

After both teams arrived back at the Green House after a mountain picnic, the Ford folks checked our mileage—the car displays this info for every trip—and we were the winners! We clocked in at 46 miles per gallon.

What tipped the balance? I like to think it was my feather-light accelerator foot, but the other team admitted they ran the air conditioner. (They got 41 miles per gallon, I believe.)

Going Electric

The Focus Electric uses no gas and gets 100 miles per charge.

Next, we each got a chance to drive around the neighborhood in the prototype of the Ford all-electric Focus, which had been plugged into the outlet in the garage all morning. (A full recharge is supposed to take 6 to 8 hours with a 240-volt charge station. It can also be recharged in 12+ hours with a 120-volt cord set into conventional outlets. When fully charged, Focus Electric will drive 100 miles before you juice it up with electricity.)

I slid into the jazzy orange car, pressed the “on” button (no key necessary) and away we went. I expected something radically different, but honestly, it drives and feels like any other car. However, the only sound the Focus makes is the whirring of the tires on the road.

The Focus Electric is scheduled to be on the market in 2011.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Life in the Green House: Bed, Bath and Beyond

The emphasis during my stay at the SpringLeaf eco-development’s Green House in Boulder, Colo., was “smart living.” Although the house came with all the eco-bells and green whistles and was stocked with natural foods and products, I learned a lot about how you can make your own house greener without embarking on a pricey remodel or overhaul.

Here are some cool ideas for green living, room-by-room.

Bedroom

I loved the organic bedroom I stayed in. The natural wool carpet was soft under bare feet—and there was no toxic glue smell (thanks to the low-VOC glue) that normally gives me a headache.

The wool pillow from Suite Sleep was soft and supportive.

I slept wonderfully on a natural latex and wool mattress from Urban Mattress, a Colorado company. Completing the bed were healthy linens from a Boulder company called Suite Sleep. It included an organic-cotton mattress pad, sheets (colored with low-impact dyes), a comfy wool-stuffed pillow with organic-cotton cover, and a wool-fill comforter that was light and perfect for Colorado’s cool nights.

The wool in the bed was Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, meaning it was taken from humanely treated sheep and cleaned with mild, biodegradable soap (as opposed to harsh, caustic chemical detergents).

Bathroom

Plush organic-cotton towels were furnished by Suite Sleep, and Burt’s Bees, provided all the soaps, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, lip balm and facial cream. Burt’s Bees is a natural skin-care company that incorporates natural beeswax or honey into all its products.

All-natural products from Burt's Bees

The dual-flush Kohler toilet can save an average household approximately 2,000 gallons of water each year. Low-flow showerheads and faucets also reduce water waste.

To keep that water clean, without chlorine taste, 3M Clean Water Solutions installed under-the-counter Full Flow water filter. Boulder’s water is fairly clean to begin with, but it’s nice brushing your teeth with water that tastes fresh and clear.

I especially loved the sink backsplash (also repeated in the shower), made of recycled-windshield glass. The glass was polished, and it’s faintly green tint and pebbly look added a decorative and eco-friendly touch.

Hiking in Boulder and Movie Night

We had a busy day learning about sustainability, but it was fun. For instance, we got out and explored Boulder’s Wonderland Lake trails in Adrenaline ASR7 athletic shoes from Brooks. These lightweight runners have some great green features, including:

  • biodegradable midsole
  • laces made from 100 percent recycled materials
  • water-based adhesives
  • nontoxic dyes and colorants
  • packaging is 100 percent post-consumer recycled

For Movie Night, we watched a 3-D documentary on LG's LED television.

Then, after dinner we had Movie Night. First we screened Dive!, a thought-provoking yet humorous documentary about the problem of wasted food that winds up in the landfill. It follows filmmaker Jeremy Seifert and friends as they dumpster dive in the back alleys and gated garbage receptacles of Los Angeles’ supermarkets.

Next we donned 3-D glasses and put the LG Energy Star LED “Infinia” television with 3-D technology to the test with IMAX Under the Sea 3-D. The picture was clear and realistic, especially when those fish swim straight at you. And the screen was huge, yet slim. The wattage it uses is less than half that of a picture-tube TV.

Cleaning Day

Yes, we journalists had to do a few household chores, just to keep it real. At the end of the trip, we brought our sheets and towels to the laundry room, equipped with an LG Energy Star front-load Steamwasher with allergen-removal capability (for those people sensitive to dust mites and dander). Using a front-loader machine uses 50 percent less water and 86 percent less energy than a top-loader.

We also experimented with the LG “Kompressor” vacuum, which is certified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation and holds three times the dirt of conventional vacs. And yes, it really sucks.

Coming next: All About the Green Home Kitchen

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Boulder House Is a Model for Green Living

A couple of weeks ago, I got the opportunity to join a group of journalists and stay in a “Green House” right here in Boulder. For three days, we got to live a fully environmentally friendly lifestyle—from waking up between organic sheets to driving an electric Ford Focus to using energy- and water-saving appliances.

Located in Boulder, Colo., this net-zero home is powered by solar electricity and cooled/heated by geothermal pumps. Ford hybrid vehicles are parked in front.

The Green House:

The 3,888-square-foot demo home (four bedrooms, four baths) is in the SpringLeaf eco-development in north Boulder, right on Broadway (for incredibly easy access to major bus lines) and in a walkable neighborhood. (It’s just across the street from Lucky’s natural foods grocery store; an organic pizza shop; some other great restaurants; and locally owned coffee shop, video store and a liquor market.)

When finished, there will be a mixture of single-family houses and townhomes in the SpringLeaf eco-community.

Architect George Watt toured us around his super-green creation, which has been certified as LEED Platinum (the highest rating) by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“As earth stewards, we try to minimize our impact as builders on the land,” said Watt while proudly showing us around the beautiful and fairly luxurious home, which proves once and for all that living lightly on the land isn’t restricted to yurts.

Green Building Features:

The Green House's master bathroom contains recycled-content counters, water-saving faucets, organic-cotton towels and Burt's Bees bath gel and lotion.

  • The house makes its own electricity from photo-voltaic solar panels, which lie flat on the roof, so you don’t notice them. Usually the home makes more electricity than it uses, which is why it’s called “net-zero energy.”
  • A geothermal heating/cooling system uses 300-foot-deep wells to heat the house’s water and to cool the house in the summer and heat it in the winter. This means there are no energy bills to pay—summer or winter.
  • Insulation is a high R-value.
  • There’s storm-water collection on the home’s roof and a sand filter in the neighborhood’s “pocket” park that cleans oil/impurities from runoff.
  • The developers designed the neighborhood around existing mature trees to preserve bird habitat.
  • Landscaping uses native and low-water plants and minimal lawn grass. It also incorporates locally quarried stone and beetle-kill wood fencing.
  • The permeable driveway allows seepage of water into soil and minimizes runoff.
  • The developers recycled the house formerly located on the site that’s now SpringLeaf. The old house is now a halfway house in the nearby town of Erie.
  • Low-flow water fixtures curb the house’s water use.
  • The stucco exterior requires no maintenance for 50 years
  • Windows capture the views of the nearby mountains, plus they allow in daylight so that residents don’t need to use as much electrical light.
  • The home is outfitted with Energy Star appliances and energy-saving compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs.
  • Cabinets are made of renewable bamboo (solid bamboo, not just a veneer).
  • Flooring is wood from Forest Stewardship Council-certified sustainably-harvested forests.
  • Finishes (paints, mastics, glues, putties) are all low-VOC, meaning they don’t outgas toxins into the air.
  • Carpeting is made from recycled soda bottles or from natural wool and has a natural jute backing
  • Doors are solid wood with no formaldehyde treatments.
  • Décor includes art from local recycled artist Bruce Campbell, who gets recycled paint for free from Western Disposal and uses it to paint on junk, including old car hoods.

Coming next: Life in the Green House: Tips for Eco-Conscious Living

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor