As we've said repeatedly here, sustainability is not something we can achieve little bit by little bit, and, in fact, focusing on small steps can even lead us to ignore the bigger picture. Paper versus plastic is a silly debate when we're driving home from the store through a sprawling suburb.
That said, a lot of us are starting to get it about systems, about footprints, about embodied energy and virtual water and offshored emissions. People are really beginning to understand the need to get a handle on the whole systems in which they're enmeshed, and start to torque those systems towards sustainability, both through political action (like pushing our cities towards carbon neutrality) and high-leverage personal choices (about the kinds of places we live, the homes we live in and our relationship to consumption). This is the bright green approach at its core, and the speed with which it's spreading is the most hopeful thing about environmentalism in the developed world.
Catherine Mohr gets it. In this TED talk she explains how she tried to take on her ecological impact in a comprehensive way when building a new home:
Worldchanging allies Eric Corey Freed and Kevin Daum get it too. Their new book GreenSense for the Home: Rating the Real Payoff from 50 Green Home Projects is exactly what it sounds like, a run-down on 50 projects -- from insulating pipes to building with fly-ash concrete -- that not only have offer real reductions in personal ecological impact, but also pencil-out financially.
Like any book tackling specifics, your mileage may vary: the particularities of government incentive to site orientation change what makes the most sense for any given household. Still Eric and Kevin's book is the single best guide I've seen to getting a grip on the complexities of greening a home, and figuring out where to start.
Since other than our transportation choices, our homes are the largest single systems many people have direct control over, it's really inspiring to see a more holistic understanding of our building choices and options beginning to spread.
I'm the other Kevin Daum. I think my green book sounds funnier
"How to Kill your Cleaning Staff" it's free on my web site.