Going green still affordable with help from city, state and federal governments

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | 7:35 p.m. CDT; updated 9:59 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Photos previously published with this story were intended for a related article that included tips on being environmentally friendly. That story can be found by clicking on the *link below in the related articles box.

Hybrid cars, solar panels and organic produce. They’re synonymous with “going green,” but they can be hard to bankroll — especially in a slumping economy.

With many Americans curtailing their spending, the multibillion-dollar green products market, which has seen rapid growth over the past few years, is expected to lose momentum, analysts say.


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Surveys show most people are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products, but a smaller number actually do, said Michael Solomon, a professor of marketing and director of the Center for Consumer Research at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

“I think most people do vote with their pocketbooks,” Solomon said. “Right now, that is the No. 1 priority for most Americans, for most people around the world."

Market research firm Mintel said in a January report that it was unlikely that customers will develop new, environmentally friendly shopping patterns in a period of economic crisis.

Despite the economic challenges, the green movement is not going to fall, said Solomon.

To be sure, going green does not always require spending money and can even save money in the long run.

Unplug for savings

We like to think we’ve become more efficient over the years, but the home of 2009 uses five times more power than the home of the 1950s.

Many electronic items still draw power when they're turned off. It's a phenomenon called "phantom" load, and it sucks about 5 to 10 percent of the energy used in America's homes each year.

That's the same amount of power generated by 17 coal-fired plants annually, according to Brian Keane, president of the energy-efficiency think tank SmartPower.

"The biggest underrepresented area of energy efficiency is the efficiency of turning things fully off," said Stephen Connors, who researches energy consumption at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cable boxes and flat-screen TVs are among the worst offenders. Microwaves are power suckers, too.

Here’s a tip: Use a power strip. One flip of a switch gives you instant savings, as much as $110 a year, Keane said.

Unplug these devices when they’re not in use, and this is what you’ll save annually:

  • $10 per cell phone charger
  • $4 per set of computer speakers
  • $36 if you dump your desktop for a laptop

Go green when you clean

Cleaning your house with the environment in mind can be cheaper than using regular cleaning supplies — you just have to make your own. “Sara Snow’s Fresh Living: The Essential Room-by-Room Guide to a Greener, Healthier Family and Home” contains several recipes.

For general cleaning: Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle.

For the toilet: Pour 2 or 3 cups white vinegar into the bowl, let sit for a few hours, scrub and flush.

For soap scum: Make a paste with baking soda, warm water and mild soap.

For mold and mildew: Mix one part hydrogen peroxide and two parts water in a spray bottle.

To shine wood furniture: Mix two parts olive oil and one part lemon juice.

Find tax credits and rebates

Some home improvements you already have in mind could not only reduce your energy bills, but could also reduce your taxes.


The latest stimulus plan passed by Congress tripled the tax credit for energy-efficient home improvements, raising the amount to $1,500 per year. It now covers up to 30 percent of the cost of products installed this year and next.

Some products included are: windows, outside doors, metal or asphalt roofs, heating and cooling equipment, and fuel cell batteries. Experts recommend you tackle your insulation before overhauling heating and cooling systems.

The refund only applies to the materials, so make sure your contractor lists labor and material costs separately on your bill. Keep the Manufacturer Certification Statement for your records.

The green tax credit lowers the amount of money dollar-for-dollar that you owe the federal government. It’s also nonrefundable, which means you can’t receive the credit if you don’t owe the government a penny.


Show Me Green Sales Tax Holiday, April 19-25:

  • Exempts sales tax of up to $1,500 per appliance
  • Energy Star certified appliances qualifying for the exemption are: washers, dryers, water heaters, trash compactors, dishwashers, conventional ovens, ranges, stoves, air conditioners, furnaces, refrigerators and freezers.


** Energy audit

Want to start saving but not sure how much energy you use? Get an energy audit.

An energy audit will tell you how much electricity and water you use and suggest ways you can cut back.

Columbia Water and Light provides free energy audits for all customers. Call 874-7325 or go to for more information.

** Tree power

A tree shading your home from direct sunlight can help reduce your cooling bill. And through Columbia Water and Light’s Tree Power program, you can get a free shade tree.

Someone from the department will visit your home and recommend the best planting options.

You’ll get a diagram suggesting the best places to plant and a coupon for a free 6-foot- to 10-foot-tall shade tree.

Call 874-7325 to sign up for the program.

** Rebates for energy-efficient home improvements

In addition to the federal tax rebates, you can also get refunds from your utility provider. Columbia Water and Light provides rebates for customers' energy-efficient home improvement projects.

  • $100 to $1,600 is how much you can get back for converting to a high-efficiency air condition or heat pump.
  • $400 too $800 is the rebate amount for a solar water heater.
  • $1,210 is the total rebate amount you could get for improving insulation in attics and crawl spaces and replacing exterior doors and windows. The amount of the rebate depends on the size of the renovation and the cost of the materials.

All rebates are dependent on funding availability for the year. Check the specifics at or call 874-7325.

Home improvement savings

The average home’s energy bill totals $1,900 a year, and heating and cooling costs account for half of that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Here are the energy savings you can expect from updates:

  • $380 a year, or 20 percent, can be saved by plugging leaks and adding insulation in attics, crawl spaces and basements.
  • $200 a year can be saved by updating heating and cooling equipment.
  • $75 a year can be saved by switching to energy-efficient appliances certified by Energy Star.



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Eric Reuter April 14, 2009 | 10:44 p.m.

I can't believe this is happening again (, but I have to lodge a complaint about this article. There are several photos here attributed to the Columbia Farmers Market which absolutely were not taken this year, and whose presence are very misleading and problematic.

The lead photo is of bell peppers, which will not be in season in Missouri until mid-summer, and must have been taken some time last year. However, the first sidebar photo is dated from March 21 of this year, which could be accurate for young tomato plants.

The second photo down, of "beans and tomatoes at the Columbia Farmers Market", was again most definitely NOT taken this year. I know, because the photo was taken at my farm stand (those are my hands, my varieties, and my display setup). The credited photographer for these photos also shot last year's Missourian feature on our farm, and must have pulled these shots out of a collection from last year.

The complaint here is twofold. One, the photos and their captions are not an accurate depiction of the market, which certainly doesn't have green beans, tomatoes, and bell peppers this time of year.

Two, the photos are not attributed properly and speak to some very strange choices on the part whomever put this article together. Very obviously a photographer WAS present at CFM recently to take the first sidebar photo; would it really have been that hard to capture some accurate seasonal photographs of fresh produce available at the time?

Why drag several random shots of out-of-season produce out of someone's archive to fluff up a pretty thin article? Would it have been that hard to label the photos with their actual date, or even year? Not to mention, would it have been that hard to accurately cite the people and products depicted in the photo (crediting my farm and whomever grew the peppers)?

(Report Comment)
Eric Reuter April 14, 2009 | 10:58 p.m.

Also, it's worth pointing out that despite the quote from "Market research firm Mintel said in a January report that it was unlikely that customers will develop new, environmentally friendly shopping patterns in a period of economic crisis.", the Columbia Farmers Market has seen a surge in business even the first few weeks, setting a record attendance for opening day and hitting numbers for the first few weeks that we used to see only in mid-summer. Did it not occur to anyone taking photos at the Market to ask Market vendors or the Market Manager whether the "research firm"'s findings had any relevance locally? To call Clovers, Root Cellar, or other grocers to find out what is actually happening with their "green product" sales?

If you're going to use photos of the Columbia Farmers Market to illustrate a story claiming that customers aren't "buying green", at least do that organization and its member farmers the courtesy of actually asking whether that is, in fact, accurate. Otherwise you're unfairly impugning the reputation of a very successful enterprise. Who authorized this piece?

(Report Comment)
Erin K. O'Neill April 15, 2009 | 12:31 a.m.

Mr. Reuter-

Thank you for your comments. I was the photo editor on this story, I'd like to address a few of your points. I agree that there should be a date attached to the two photos, the lead photo of the peppers and the other of the tomatoes and beans. These photographs were taken in September 2008.

I was not comfortable writing more detailed captions for the photos without going through the photographer, who is no longer on staff at the Missourian, so I could not identify the growers of the produce with accuracy.

We wanted to illustrate a local aspect of this story, which local produce certainly is, and I edited the photos for visual interest from our files of past photographs. The larger concept of "going green" is a challenge to visually illustrate, and the success of the photographic edit in each case should always be up for debate.

I hope this sheds some light on our newsroom decisions. I admit they are not always ideal for every situation.

Erin O'Neill
Missourian Photo Editor

(Report Comment)
Eric Reuter April 15, 2009 | 7:20 a.m.


Thanks for your comments. Regarding the photo choices, it still doesn't make sense to me to use archival, out-of-date photos when you clearly had a photographer at market recently. It's misleading, especially with regards to seasonal produce.

My other concern is still that by using all photos of CFM in a story that claims customers are turning away from "green" products that are "too expensive", you do the Market a great disservice. There was no actual local reporting in this piece, just a collection of outside quotes. As I said above, the story completely misrepresents the situation in Columbia with regards to purchases of local foods at the Farmers Market.

It would not have been hard to send a reporter with a notebook to compare prices at CFM and at local grocery stores, and report what was found. It would not have been hard to make a few phone calls to those stores and the CFM market manager to ask if they are seeing the "trend" your national marketing firm claims exists. Instead, we have a cobbled-together piece with no local relevance that is illustrated in a way that deeply misrepresents an organization (CFM) that is seeing record success this year.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Petersen April 15, 2009 | 2:21 p.m.

Take a deep breath, Eric. I didn't get the impression the CFM is a dying entity. Furthermore, I, not a farmer but a reader of the Missourian, don't think it is that big of a deal that there are stock photos showing currently not-in-season veggies. That's my 2 cents at least.

(Report Comment)
Eric Reuter April 15, 2009 | 7:49 p.m.


I wouldn't take this kind of thing so seriously if it were an isolated incident. Sadly, it's not.

Also, consider it this way: if a local paper ran a wire-service story quoting national research firms saying that restaurants were struggling to draw customers, and illustrated it with a stock photo of a popular local restaurant without otherwise mentioning or contacting that restaurant, would that not imply that the restaurant was struggling as well? If I were that owner, I'd be quite upset to be pictured as the face of "struggling restaurants", especially if my business was in fact booming. That's how I see the use of random CFM photos to illustrate this otherwise vague story.

Also, the fact that the photo editor above stated that the photos were intended to illustrate this story, before a later statement claims that the photos were intended for a different story (and have since been removed), points to the sort of disfunction that I've seen multiple times in the Missourian. This is why I felt the need to call them on it; it's a repetitive issue, not an isolated mistake by an otherwise trustworthy source.

If this is not a big deal to you, no worries. That's your right. It is to me, who takes quality journalism very seriously, especially when it deals with my business.

(Report Comment)
Erin K. O'Neill April 15, 2009 | 10:41 p.m.

My comments were meant to speak to the choice of photos, not to the reporting of the story. The Missourian ran two similarly themed stories very close together, and the photos were accidently posted with the wrong story. This happens even at the most venerable news organizations, we are not exempt from human error. I personally take my journalistic obligations very seriously, in all my efforts as a photo editor at the Missourian. I am trying to explain the process, and our mistakes, in the name of transparency.

I stand by my previous statements. I think that while the photos are a better fit with the other story, they could still work and illustrate a conceptual point in this story. I am not an expert on the seasonality of food. The story was explained to me and I chose photos to illustrate that description. Again, the success or failure of my edit can be open to debate. I do sincerely apologize for the errors, but they were not maliciously meant.

Erin O'Neill
Missourian Photo Editor

(Report Comment)
Eric Reuter April 16, 2009 | 7:21 a.m.


Thanks for continuing to present your case. The larger thread of my comments isn't really aimed at you, but at a general trend of disfunction I see in this publication. That's not something you need to take on your shoulders, and if I phrased my comments to imply that this was all your doing, particularly with regard to the writing, that's my failure. But I do stand by my concern about choosing to illustrate a negative story with photos of an unrelated local business/organization.

I don't see any maliciousness, just a steady trickle of mistakes that add up over time, particularly in my many dealings with MU journalism. So I've gotten pretty touchy about it, for better or for worse.

(Report Comment)

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