Green your Halloween

It seems holidays in this country are marked by conspicuous consumption.  There's always an endless supply of trinkets and baubles and disposables - and Halloween is no exception! So today I thought I'd put together a few tips on Greening your Halloween this year.

Here we Go!

1.  Don't buy cheap, disposable costumes.  Hit up your local Goodwill or thrift store and let your creativity and imagination run wild!  Kids will love the "treasure hunt" for their costume, and it's often cheaper than "store bought".  These sturdy items also lend themselves better for reuse.

2.  Reuse your costume.  Ok, so most kids won't want to have the same costume two years in a row, but if you have multiple kids, consider the hand-me-down option! (Toddlers and babies don't know the difference anyway.)  For bigger kids and grownups, consider a costume swap!  Get some friends together and "shop" eachother's closets.

3. Repurpose costume parts.  This works especially well for costume accessories.  That feather boa for this year's fairy princess?  It could be part of next year's baby duck costume!

4. Consider Candy Alternatives. All those individual Fun Size candy bars come with lots of extra packaging.  Plus, they're usually full of High Fructose Corn Syrup and tons of other chemical additives.  (Full disclosure: I've been sneaking into the basket of mini Snickers in my cabinet for a week now!)

If you live in a neighborhood where homemade treats are acceptable, try going that route.  There's always the mini-boxes of dried fruit (but none of the kids like the "raisin house").

Or how about a trinket this year?  Pencils, temporary tattoos (maybe earth-themed?), and stickers are always solid choices.  Be careful when choosing plastic trinkets, as these cheaply-made items may contain lead, cadmium, BPA, and a host of other nasty chemicals.

5. Pick Face Paint with Care.  While we're talking about nasty chemicals hidden in cheap products from overseas, consider the face paint kit.  Even regular cosmetics sold in the U.S. can contain lead, nickel, cobalt and chromium (among plenty of other scary stuff).  Halloween face paints are no exception.  Kids are more sensitive to these heavy metals (which act as neurotoxins) than adults.  What to do?  If you use safer cosmetics for yourself, raid your own makeup bag.  Consider not using facepaint at all (though be aware, plastic face masks can have their own set of concerns).  At very least, be sure to keep paints and makeup away from little mouths and hands to avoid accidental ingestion.

I'm off to the most sincere pumpkin patch to await the arrival of The Great Pumpkin.  Here's hoping your Halloween is spooky only in the good way!


Save Money while Saving Energy

I wrote the other day about all of the energy saving measures we're taking before Winter hits. (Although, I must say, I've been rather impressed with how much of this crazy wind has not been infiltrating the house!)  Today I wanted to focus on another great resource for saving some money (in addition to this year's federal tax credit) on all of those energy efficiency upgrades you've been thinking about.

Focus on Energy is a Wisconsin-wide organization that works with eligible Wisconsin residents and businesses to install cost effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
In addition to their website providing a host of information about all things energy efficiency and renewable energy, the organization provides a variety of financial incentives and cash back rewards to consumers wanting to implement these measures.

Most of the residential financial incentives available fall under the Home Improvement category.  Here's how it works (in a nutshell):  

- The homeowner selects an Energy Audit contractor from their list (outside Southeast WI, go here)
- In order to be eligible for rewards, the homeowner must first have a Home Energy Audit.  This service typically costs about $300 - $350 (in the MKE area).  During the test, the Audit Contractor performs a variety of tests (including using thermal imaging cameras, and specialized equipment to check for air leaks), and asks the homeowner a series of questions.  On completion of the audit, the contractor will provide a list of recommended improvements. (Some contractors will refer you to other contractors to do the work, if you can't or don't want to do it yourself)
- Then, the homeowner makes the recommended repairs/improvements.  You don't have to do everything on the list, so don't be overwhelmed!  
- When the improvements are complete, the Audit Contractor comes back and tests your home again, so that you can see the difference you've made!  He then helps you fill out the paperwork required to apply for your rewards!

You can see the list of the rewards available here.

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For us, right now, it didn't make financial sense to spend the money on the energy audit, as we would barely be able to recoup the costs with the improvements we plan to make in the near future.  Instead, we're using our own detective skills and know how, and performing a DIY Home Energy Audit!

Regardless of whether you plan to take advantage of this program, I think you'll agree that it's a great asset to our state, and certainly a move in the right direction - making it financially prudent to be green.


Buttoning Up for Winter

Last Spring, I bought my first house.  This little 1900-built bungalow is a fixer-upper, to be sure!  Still, I love it.
The past few weeks, I (as many of you, I'm sure) have been tackling weatherization projects to prepare for the big W (that's Winter, of course!).

Lucky for us, this year the federal government is helping us out!  If you're a homeowner, you need to know about the Energy Efficiency Federal Tax Credit program.  You can get back 30% of the purchase price of energy efficient items, up to $1,500.  The credit covers everything from insulation and weatherstripping, to new windows and doors, to tankless water heaters and renewable energy systems.  You can find a full list of what products qualify at energystar.gov.

Here at Cream City Green, we've been doing all the easy stuff for a long time: we use CFL bulbs, we unplug vampire electronics, we turn off lights and appliances, we open window shades in winter and close them in summer...  But now that we own our home, we're making investments to save on our energy bills, and to stay green.  We're:

- Insulating the water heater and hot water pipes

- Caulking storm windows to prevent leaks

- Installing a ceiling fan in the living room to circulate warm air
(This project hit a bit of a hiccup when a large chunk of plaster gave way and created a sizable hole in our ceiling.  Mad spackling skillz, to the rescue!)

- Replacing the back door and storm door

- Installing a programmable thermostat

- Insulating the sidewalls and attic.  This poor old house of ours has virtually NO insulation in any of the exterior walls, and very little in the attic.  This situation would make for a very cold and very expensive winter!  We've decided to tackle this large project ourselves, as we'll be able to do most of the work from the attic itself.  We're using blown in cellulose insulation for the walls, and fiberglass batting for most of the attic.  I'll try to post pictures as we go!

Because the tax credit only goes through the end of 2010, it looks like we won't be able to cash in on installing replacement windows/storms, or installing house wrap under new siding.   ....These projects will have to wait for next year.

What kinds of projects do you have planned for this Fall?


Milwaukee goes Gulfing

It's been six months since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and oil began spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.  For 110 agonizing days, America stood powerless against the black tide.  While scientists may never know for sure just how much oil was lost, we know that the number is astronomical. Hundreds of miles of shoreline and sensitive marshland have been fouled, thousands of sea creatures and birds have died, nearly one quarter of the Gulf's Federal Waters were closed to commercial fishing, and the full effects of underwater oil and the millions of gallons of potentially toxic dispersants is still not fully known.

In the wake of this disaster, a group of Milwaukeeans got together to make a difference. Thus, The Gumbo Git Down, was born.  The event raised funds for the Gulf Restoration Network.

Since 1994, the Gulf Restoration Network has been committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico region for future generations. They have taken a leadership role in holding BP and the federal government responsible for the destruction of so much environmentally and economically important habitat.

Our event was a swimming success!  We had over 200 attendees, and raised over $1400 for the Gulf Restoration Network.  Plus, we had a really great time!  

There's lots more great photos here.  Check them out!

If you missed the event, but still want to make a difference, you can donate to the Gulf Restoration Network on their website.

And another BIG thanks to Lo and Peef over at Burp! Blog for making this happen with me!


Local Firms honored for being Green

On Monday, Newsweek published it's Green Rankings 2010 listing the 100 Greenest Companies in America.  Many of the top firms on this list are in the technology sector, including Dell (no. 1),  Hewlett Packard (no. 2), and Yahoo! (no. 9).

The rankings begin with the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the country.  Each company is ranked according to its Environmental Impact Score (including metrics like greenhouse-gas emissions and water use), Green Politics Score (an assessment of a company's environmental policies and initiatives), and the Reputation Score (based on the opinion of folks in the eco world).

Two local companies are furthering Milwaukee's reputation for sustainability by their impressive placements on the list.

Johnson Controls, based in downtown Milwaukee, ranked no. 14 on the overall Green Score.  Impressively, they garnered the number one ranking in the Consumer Products industry for their Green Policies and Performance. More information about environmental sustainability at Johnson Controls is here.

Retail chain Kohl's nipped right at the heels of Johnson Controls with a number 3 ranking in their Green Policies and Performance within the Retail sector, and a number 3 ranking in overall Green Score for the Retail sector.  You can learn more about Kohl's environmental commitment at http://www.kohlsgreenscene.com/

Welcome to Cream City Green!

There are BIG things happening in our little city.  So many companies, individuals, and NGOs are making waves and making Milwaukee a little greener, a little kinder, a little saner.  With SO many great things happening, it can be hard to keep track, let alone try to figure out where you fit in to the big picture!  

Here at Cream City Green, we'll discuss some of the BIG things happening here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and our world.  

(image via)

We all want to lead a greener, simpler, kinder, saner life, and to make our mark on the world.  We're envious of those people who can do the BIG things: buy and run an organic farm... join the peace corps... adopt a child from a third world country... quit the corporate world for a non-profit job, or to stay home with the kids... live off the grid... donate half their salary to charity... live in a 500 square foot eco-home... backpack through Mongolia... there are people out there doing such amazing and big things, its easy to feel inadequate.

Instead of being intimidated by the BIG things others are doing, let's strive toward accomplishing the daily little things.  Like the butterfly effect, if we each flap our wings, however small, that breeze can turn into the winds of change and purpose.
In coming posts, I'll be writing about some of these little things that we can all do to lead us toward a life of purpose.  I'll share personal struggles (and accomplishments!).  I'll discuss the ideas of others, and some of the BIG things going on right here in Milwaukee.  Most of all, with you, we'll create a community to support each other on our journey... to lead a greener, simpler, kinder, saner life with meaning.