Green is no longer a dream

Many New Year’s resolutions are made hoping for a better something: a better job, a better paycheck, a better body, a better grade, a better accomplishment. Maybe this year is the year to strive for a better shade of green.

Being green means different things to different people. To me, it means being mindful in all my decisions. We do this with safety. We teach our children to learn safe practices. We do this with the law. When we obey, we don’t pay the consequences of a fine or jail time. We haven’t, however, had to think of the negative impacts of our energy and water use or our consumption and food choices until this decade.

It’s a different way of thinking for many. It’s a necessary change considering the projection of climate change and its many impacts.

Let’s take a look at someone who understands the situation and walks the talk.

My friend Steve Rypka graciously passed on this column to me after writing the Green Living column for nine years. While Steve shared much of his green living lifestyle in the past, I thought it would be nice for new readers and for the rest of us to see an example of someone taking green living to heart and living as lightly on the planet as possible.

A bit of background

A resident of Southern Nevada since the 1970s, Steve has worked as a green-living consultant, as well as with several nonprofits, in recent years. He served on the board of directors and as co-founder of both the U.S. Green Building Council–Nevada Chapter and Solar NV, the Southern Nevada Chapter of the American Solar Energy Society.

He started the annual Southern Nevada Solar Home Tour event to help educate the public about the benefits of renewable energy and green building. At the request of then-Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, he served on the city’s Green Council. Needless to say, Steve actively promotes green living and chooses to lead by example.

Home sweet home

Steve and his wife, Marsala, credit their low-carbon lifestyle to the fact that they are continually educating themselves about related issues and potential solutions, as well as careful planning and budgeting. They started their transition decades ago by voting with their dollars for fuel-efficient vehicles and making home-buying decisions that made use of the solar orientation.

However, Steve refers to the year 2000 for his CO2 baseline. That was when the Rypkas bought a Toyota Prius, one of the first sold in the valley. In 2004, they bought a beautiful, Energy-Star home in Sun City Anthem. They picked their house specifically because the majority of the windows were south-facing, taking advantage of the passive solar orientation.

That was just the start, and it continues to be a work in progress. First, they put solar panels on their south-facing roof and were one of the first households in line for NV Energy’s Solar Generations incentive program. They also installed four Solatubes (a sort of energy-efficient skylight) in the kitchen, the laundry room, the guest room and the master closet, allowing for healthy, natural light to enter parts of the home that were typically darker during the day.

With all the efficiency measures, as well as the conservation habits that both Steve and Marsala practice, they produce slightly more solar energy than their home requires. Compared to their baseline, the couple’s household CO2 footprint has been reduced by close to 90 percent. Steve told me that the money spent on efficiency and renewable energy has been the safest, most profitable investment he has ever made.

Coming and going

Eventually, the couple were driving a pair of Prius hybrids and, on occasion, their electric bikes, which came in handy for the hills in Anthem. Now, one hybrid has given way to an all-electric Nissan Leaf charged at home by the electricty produced by their solar panels. Steve loves driving on sunshine and is happily forgetting about gas stations, smog checks and frequent maintenance.

In addition to how Steve travels, he has made conscious decisions about how he does not travel, substantially cutting long-distance trips.. He works mostly from a carbon-neutral home office. He uses Skype to stay connected with his two sisters on opposite coasts, and to ply other friends and clientele around the world.

I am a grateful recipient of this habit as Steve was able to tutor me via Skype on building my website during the time I lived in Japan. We often joked that we had more communication from two different continents than we did when we lived in the same city. Steve says that his relationships with his sisters are stronger with frequent face-to-face, low-carbon cyber time.

Eating our daily greens

Gardening is another venture Steve has engaged in by growing vegetables in his raised-bed garden, though he admits his thumbs are not as green as he’d like. He nourishes the soil with composted food scraps. By eliminating consumption of needless do-dads, recycling and composting, there is hardly anything left for the garbage bin each week.

In his free time, Steve has given a plethora of talks to schools and various organizations around the valley on fun and easy ways to lower our carbon footprint. My favorite was his solar cooking demonstration where grade-schoolers learned how to make healthy cookies with a solar oven. He calls his Sun Oven the “new barbecue” and uses it often.

Steve feels there is one important daily activity that can contribute more to anyone’s low-carbon lifestyle than anything else — more than clean energy, electric cars or cutting out air travel. You guessed it. At least I hope you guessed it: a plant-based diet. Study after study shows plant-based diets are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and more favorable land, water and energy use.

Steve, who has been a vegan for many years, passionately reminds me that not only is a plant-based diet far less impactful on our environment than a meat-based diet, it is less expensive, the compassionate thing to do and leads to better health. He believes it’s the easiest choice to make.

This month, PBS released a film called “In Defense of Food.” I believe it is one of the most thorough, balanced and informative films on food to date. It is simple. Seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Now, who can’t get behind that, eh?

Keeping it simple

Steve has made many other adjustments in his daily life in order to lower his carbon footprint. Some of his activities are easy, such as carrying a reusable bottle or mug everywhere he goes, talking to others about the reality of our environment and sharing ideas, and reading books and articles that lead to more understanding of our relationship to our physical environment. Just like eating, we can do them every day. How much easier can it get?

I am a firm believer in watching people’s feet. If they have what I want, then I try to do what they do. Steve has purpose, stability, good health and a positive and supportive attitude. Find some people showing shades of green and practice their walk.

— Mary Beth Horiai has split her adult life between Japan and Southern Nevada. In Las Vegas, Horiai worked for the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council of Nevada. A graduate of UNLV, she was trained as a speaker for The Climate Reality Project. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, visit www.driverofchange.net.

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