Easy and affordable eco-friendly decorating ideas

Kermit the Frog famously said, “It’s not easy being green,” and when it comes to our homes, a lot of people agree. There is a perception that for a home to be environmentally friendly, it needs to be remodeled, or built as such from the ground up, with state-of-the-art features such as solar panels, energy-efficient appliances and building materials made exclusively from sustainable sources. And for someone in an existing home, all that sounds too expensive. 

But living in a green home doesn’t have to be so out of reach. After all, eco-friendly living is not about having all the latest bells and whistles — it’s about reducing our carbon footprint to make less of a negative impact on the planet. And when you think about being eco-friendly from that point of view, you’ll find there are some easy ways to be good to the environment while decorating your home. You might even save money instead of spending it.

Buy pre-owned

Purchasing new furniture and accessories means considerable energy and materials were expended to create them. But when you choose items that were previously owned and loved by someone else, you’ve saved valuable resources — and rescued something from likely spending eternity in landfill. Beyond the obvious places like estate sales and thrift shops, Southern California has some excellent resources for used goods, including resale emporiums that sell items ranging from used hotel furniture (like Hotel Surplus Outlet) to barely used props and furnishings from movies and television shows (which you can find at Previously On and It’s A Wrap). And browsing is always fun on eBay and Craigslist. I limit eBay purchases to smaller items, like accessories, as the shipping charges for larger pieces are usually high. Also, you want to be able to see major furniture items in person before purchasing, which you can’t do with eBay. And for Craigslist, you are dealing with a stranger, so be safe and bring a friend with you when checking out the item. And remember that you can negotiate a lower price — but do so via email or phone, before you meet.

Renew or upcycle

Another eco-friendly alternative to buying something new is to refresh or repurpose something you already own. Reupholster old furniture. Refinish the wood on chairs and case goods — or paint them for a whole new look. Turn old curtains into pillow shams. Just by keeping what you have, you’re helping the earth.

Donate rather than discard

Of course, there are times you just don’t want to keep a piece of furniture. I’ve told many a design client to get rid of an outdated sofa. But instead of throwing it in the dumpster or putting it out in an alleyway, I always advocate donating. Some places, such as the Salvation Army, are notoriously picky about what they’ll take. But you know who isn’t so choosy and will take anything? Anyone who reads the “free” listings on Craigslist. I’ve given away televisions, area rugs and chairs just by listing them as free on Craigslist — and they’re picked up sometimes within mere minutes. Once I had about 50 table legs from Ikea coffee tables (don’t ask why I had all those extra legs), and I almost threw them in the trash because I didn’t think anyone would want just table legs. But within one hour of posting an ad on Craigslist offering them for free, I had more than a dozen takers. 

Rethink your wish list

If, like most homeowners and renters, you have a list of all the fun and fabulous furniture and accessories you just absolutely must have, take a step back and ask yourself if you really need them all. I’m always in the market for something: I wish I had new window treatments. I could use a new coffee table. That new waffle maker would make my life so wonderful on Sunday mornings. Before buying something new, ask yourself how often you will use it, how long it will last and what you’re going to do with it when you don’t want it anymore. They’re tough questions when you’re ready to pull out that credit card. But just being in that mindset will inform all your purchase decisions and make you more environmentally conscious. 

Buy things that will last

When purchasing something for your home, consider how well made it is and what its projected life span would be. In the long run, something cheap often isn’t good for the environment — or your pocketbook — if you’re just going to have to replace it in a few years. 

Plan a décor swap party

These may become the book clubs of the new millennium. Invite a group of friends and neighbors for a gathering at which each person brings small furniture pieces, accessories, books or any other household goods they no longer want. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, as everyone trades items. In the end, each person ends up with new things for their home. And you can donate anything unclaimed to a thrift store.

Just keep it

Here’s a tip that might blow your mind. It might be more eco-friendly to keep something you already own that wasn’t eco-friendly in the first place than to replace it with something that is eco-friendly. For example, you might have some carpeting in your home that doesn’t contain a single sustainable fiber, so is it better for the environment to tear it out and install sustainable bamboo flooring? Not necessarily, if that carpeting is going to end up in landfill. Don’t start replacing everything in your home with eco-friendly alternatives. By doing absolutely nothing, you might just be saving the environment. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

HOME: Eco-friendly disposable tableware for Sukkot

When you’re dining under the stars in your sukkah, the last thing you want to think about is washing dishes. Fortunately, an array of stylish, eco-friendly, disposable plates and cutlery is available to dress up your table while making cleanup a breeze. 

Because Sukkot is a harvest festival, it’s only right that we consider environmentally friendly alternatives for setting the table. How can disposable dinnerware be green? There are three primary ways:

• Biodegradable: The product will break down within a reasonable amount of time in a natural outdoor environment.

• Compostable: The product is not only biodegradable, it also releases valuable nutrients into the soil as it breaks down.

• Sustainable: It is made from resources that are replenished as quickly as they are consumed. 

Now, instead of paper plates, you can find dinnerware made from bamboo, sugarcane, palm leaves and even tapioca starch. 

Wasara (above)

This elegant Japanese line of disposable plates, bowls and cups, with their wavy, minimalist shapes, is more beautiful than most ceramic or glass tableware. Only nontree, renewable resources are used to make them — sugarcane fibers, bamboo and reed pulp. They are also compostable, so they don’t have to end up in the landfill.  (Photo from Verterra.com

VerTerra plates and bowls are made from palm leaves and molded into their shapes with steam, heat and pressure. No trees or branches are cut in the manufacturing process; only leaves that have fallen to the ground are used. The product naturally biodegrades in less than two months after disposal. (Photo from bambuhome.com

A popular line of disposable dinnerware you’ve probably seen at Whole Foods, Bambu Veneerware is made from 100 percent bamboo and certified organic. The Bambu line is extensive, including round and square plates, forks, spoons, knives and even “sporks.” And you can wash them and use them more than once. (” target=”_blank”>worldcentric.org)

Dahlia by EcoProducts

Photo from ecoproductsstore.com

Made from a premium blend of sugarcane and bamboo, which are 100 percent renewable, Dahlia plates and bowls are known for their signature leaf shape. They are compostable and surprisingly sturdy, as the surface is grease- and cut-resistant. (Photo from sustyparty.com

At first glance, Susty Party tableware looks just like any other colorful paper plates you would find at a party-supply store. The difference is that all the products in the line, which include plates, bowls, cups, straws, cutlery and napkins, are made from renewable or sustainably harvested materials. They’re compostable, nontoxic and made in North America. (” target=”_blank”>bambluware.com

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Eco-friendly aspects of the simcha can elevate a young person’s conscience

Given that many high-profile celebrities expound on the virtues of their environmental involvements (among them, Natalie Portman and Alicia Silverstone), it is inevitable that eco-friendly activities, foods and fashion — along with a side of social justice — will appeal to a wide range of teens … and that this will get some of them seeing green for their bar or bat mitzvah.

The Web site Green Mitzvot (“>dkkevents.com), suggest that getting kids involved in the party-planning process may also plant seeds for good civic and personal habits. 

Kattler Kupetz is best known in Southern California for creating eco-friendly parties covering everything from the selection of the foods to the décor to the post-ceremony activities with a philanthropic slant. 

“The whole point of a bar or bat mitzvah is to validate a teen’s learning from a sacred text and then finding ways for him or her to use the knowledge,” said Kattler Kupetz, who fell into her “green” business several years ago by accident, when her daughters’ green b’not mitzvah proved to be a hit with the guests.  

“I had to really develop, create and advocate for all the other elements that would complete the experience,” Kattler Kupetz recalled. “During the process of sourcing the party elements and planning the activities, I was surprised at how far I could make my dollars go and how I was able to find ways to connect with the community and even Israel by sourcing things from local vendors and seeking out alternatives for décor and activities. It made me realize how interconnected I could make a celebration be on different levels.”

Live orchid plants used as a centerpiece can be replanted. Photo courtesy of SRO Events, Inc.

Celebrity event planner and author Rená Puebla (A natural grapewood centerpiece is surrounded by herb plants that can be donated to food pantries. Photo courtesy of SRO Events, Inc.

Among trends Kattler Kupetz sees taking shape are girls visiting vintage clothing shops instead of department stores or trendy boutiques. 

Puebla says that Southern California offers interesting alternatives to the traditional hotel or banquet hall, including whale-watching trips and beach picnics with a guest speaker from an ocean preservation organization explaining why the ocean is so important and the importance of the ocean to the climate and global warming.

“Party favors [for outdoor-specific events] can include a beach bag with a water bottle that includes a filter, a hat, a pull-over and beach sandals, all made from eco-friendly materials,” Puebla said. “In terms of clothing that works for casual and formal gatherings, H&M just launched an eco-friendly formalwear line called Conscious Exclusive that is also budget-friendly and includes age-appropriate styles.” 

Kattler Kupetz also encourages “twinning,” where families financially affiliate their child’s celebration with a charity so the day not only syncs in with the child’s mitzvah project but also raises money and awareness for a greater cause. Some of her favorite organizations are Remember Us (r“>nacoej.org/get-involved/be-a-twin); and AMIT (“>http://www.sroevents.com), has seen other trends taking shape, including sourcing food from local farms and purveyors, and doing some form of online invitation. 

While Kattler Kupetz says companies like Evite Postmark have raised the bar for online invitations, Hassel admits that some of her clients still feel that online invites diminish the importance of the big day. A compromise she suggests is sending out the traditional invitation but replacing the reply card with a prompt to RSVP by e-mail or on a Web site set up for the teen’s bar or bat mitzvah. 

As always, issues of finance sometimes trump issues of conscience, and Hassel says there are clients who haven’t gone green because preparations for a specific theme can end up being more expensive than one might expect. By the same token, however, she points out that many things she recommends to cost-conscious parents can also end up being environmentally conscious because recycling is involved.

Even if a family doesn’t bring up the issue of being eco-friendly, Hassel believes that there are teachable moments in the process. 

“We can suggest to kids, for example, that we skip such party favors as glow sticks, plastic sunglasses and other ‘toss-outs,’ as they are not biodegradable and will sit on the floor and end up going into landfills after the party.”

Another way Hassel said teens can be channeled toward more purpose-driven b’nai mitzvah experiences is through centerpieces. In lieu of flowers, parents can make a donation to organizations like the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program (

Next mayor’s earth agenda

Delivering his inaugural address on the City Hall lawn in 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa challenged Angelenos to turn Los Angeles into “… the greenest big city in America.”

Eight years later, it is only fitting that we ask ourselves how close Mayor Villaraigosa has come to realizing this lofty aspiration, and, just as importantly, what the next mayor must do to fulfill it.

I served in the first term of the Villaraigosa administration as general manager and commission president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and have firsthand knowledge of the environmental ambitions and accomplishments of the administration.

Although it is clear that there is work for the next administration to perform, it is also indisputable that the environmental progress we have made as a city over the last eight years has been nothing short of remarkable. 

However, these noteworthy achievements have gone largely unheralded. Perhaps this is because people do not immediately sense gains such as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, air-quality improvements, green construction, public transportation projects or the development of local water resources, whereas potholes, traffic jams and the city’s fiscal deficits are more tangible, visible issues that overshadow the positive news on sustainability. Whatever the reason, the fact is that the city’s environmental victories have been relegated to the back pages. But this does not make them any less real or any less worthy of celebration.

This article focuses on five areas: energy and climate change, water, air, green buildings and transportation.

1. Energy and Climate Change

The Villaraigosa administration can justifiably claim to have made substantial headway in addressing climate change and energy issues.

In 2007, Villaraigosa issued the GreenLA Action Plan, calling for emissions to be reduced 35 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. Los Angeles is on track to meet this objective. Further, LADWP has already reduced its emissions 21 percent below 1990 levels — far ahead of AB 32 mandates.

Climate change can have serious impacts for Los Angeles. Rising sea levels could threaten coastal areas; hotter, smoggier days are predicted; droughts and fire events are likely to be more prolonged; and water supplies more constrained. The mayor’s recent AdaptLA climate change plan is intended to prepare for the changes that are coming our way. This is a crucial step in adapting to a new reality.

In charting a more environmentally sensitive direction for the city, LADWP is a central player. The Villaraigosa era has seen transformative changes at LADWP, especially during the first term. Examples include the unprecedented four-fold expansion of renewable energy resources leading to the attainment of the 20 percent level in 2010; the record-breaking 19-fold increase in savings from energy efficiency programs; the completion of Pine Tree Wind Farm, the nation’s then-largest municipally owned wind farm; the achievement of steep declines in water consumption levels; and the 2008 Solar Energy Plan, which was the progenitor of the recently adopted landmark Feed-in Tariff Program.

Some critics will complain that, at the start of his second term, the mayor planned that Los Angeles would be coal-free by 2020 and that its renewables portfolio would reach 40 percent by 2020. However, this criticism ignores the fact that LADWP’s renewables were at just 4 percent, and coal accounted for nearly 50 percent of our power consumption, when the mayor took office. Today, LADWP is on track to meet the 33 percent renewables level by 2020 and has announced that it will eliminate coal well in advance of legal deadlines. Given the historical context, the administration and LADWP merit some recognition, although, clearly, the next administration must continue the effort to accelerate the retirement of coal and to expand energy efficiency, renewable energy and distributed energy programs, while ensuring a prudent balance between renewable resources and natural gas.

2. Water

During the last eight years, Los Angeles has cut water consumption by 17 percent, and our per capita use is the lowest of any big city in the United States. This is a phenomenal accomplishment by any standard.

In 2008, the mayor promulgated the Los Angeles Water Supply Action Plan, formulated by LADWP. This much-lauded document constituted, in effect, Los Angeles’ declaration of independence from imported water. Recognizing that 90 percent of our water comes from hundreds of miles away and that its cost will rise inexorably, the Water Supply Plan called for the development of indigenous resources: conservation, wastewater recycling, rainfall capture, groundwater remediation, underground storage.

This plan has been reiterated both in LADWP’s Urban Water Management Plan and in a recent adoption of principles by the LADWP commission that calls for 37 percent of Los Angeles’ water to come from local sources by 2035. These pronouncements are welcome improvements over the “ignorance is bliss” attitudes of the past. Further, in addition to the wins in conservation, incremental progress has been made especially with respect to wastewater recycling and rainfall capture. The work of LADWP and the Bureau of Sanitation (BOS) in this regard should be commended.

However, some would argue that a target of 37 percent 23 years from now is not aggressive enough. UCLA’s recent Vision 2021 L.A. study (Vision 2021) calls for the more ambitious objective of 32 percent by 2021. Certainly, both LADWP and BOS have the talent to expedite matters and would agree that certain actions (e.g., the clean-up of the San Fernando Valley groundwater basin) are urgent. However, much will depend on the ability of the next administration to garner the political will and secure the funds necessary to move forward.

3. Air

Decades of untiring work by many people have yielded significant improvements in our air quality, although we still remain one of the most polluted U.S. cities for ozone smog and particulate pollution. Still the Villaraigosa administration can fairly claim credit for contributing to enhancements in our air quality. This effort is most clearly evident at the port, where air emissions have been cut by more than half. This is due, in large measure, to the mayor’s San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan and its various components, such as the Clean Trucks Program. The port has also made considerable progress in cleaning the water there, although soil contamination continues to bedevil port officials. Again, it will be left to the next administration to fully implement the Clean Air Action Plan and to pursue a zero-emission target for the port.

4. Green Buildings

Over the last eight years, Los Angeles has emerged as a national leader in this area. Vision 2021 reports that the square footage of municipal buildings certified to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards jumped from 9,000 in 2004 to almost 1.8 million in 2010.

In 2008, Los Angeles established the Green Building Program, requiring that most structures larger than 50,000 square feet be built to LEED standards. In 2011, Los Angeles took the leap of introducing new requirements, which incorporated and surpassed the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen). In addition to the CALGreen mandates on water and energy efficiency measures for certain new buildings, the L.A. County Green Building Program covers not only new projects, but all alterations and additions over $200,000 in valuation, and requires “solar ready” roofs and “electric vehicle ready” features. The Department of Building and Safety (DBS) is to be complimented for its work in this regard.

In 2011, Los Angeles also enacted the Low Impact Development Ordinance, compelling new and redevelopment projects to incorporate rainfall capture designs, thus helping to abate Los Angeles’ urban run-off problem, while augmenting its water supply.

The water fixtures ordinance of 2009 (estimated to save a billion gallons of water over the next 20 years) is worthy of mention as the joint project of LADWP and DBS.

5. Transportation

The Brookings Institution recently acknowledged Villaraigosa and the team that produced Measure R and obtained the low-interest Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan from Congress to fund transportation projects, recognizing this endeavor as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Economic Development Initiatives.

Today, more transit and highway projects are opening, under construction, or are in the planning stages, than at any time in the history of Los Angeles County.

In addition, 100 percent of MTA buses have been converted to alternative fuels, and Los Angeles now boasts the largest alternative-fuel trash and street sweeper fleet in the United States. Further, in 2013, Los Angeles is set to become the first large U.S. city to synchronize all signalized intersections. Bus and rail services have increased, and CicLAvia events, which temporarily close streets to car traffic, have proven popular. The next administration must continue to pursue policies to dissuade single-passenger vehicle trips.

The gains of the last eight years in the five areas covered above have been concrete and far reaching and merit recognition. Perhaps we cannot yet claim to be the “… greenest big city in America” in every sphere of endeavor, but we are entitled to that distinction in many ways.

Still, much will depend in the commitment of the next mayor to build on these advances. The next administration must push forward to catalyze the transformation of our energy profile, reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, develop local water resources, cut air pollution and bring public transportation projects to fruition.

As the runoff campaign for mayor enters its final stages, let’s pay close attention to how the two candidates address these specific issues. Despite the solid progress we’ve made over the last eight years, the future of Los Angeles’ fragile environment will depend on their answers and their actions.

David Nahai is an attorney and consultant specializing in real estate, energy and water matters. He is the former general manager and commission president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Board.

Making one day’s worth of consumption last for eight

And on the fifth day, I learned how not to compost.

It was a sunny mid-November morning when I found out that potato peels, celery tops and other vegetable pieces — in other words, most of the 7 pounds of organic matter I had been saving in my refrigerator’s crisper drawer for the past four days — were, in fact, still food.

“What’s wrong with that carrot?” Danila Oder, the manager of the Crenshaw Community Garden, asked. She looked down, horrified, at my contribution to her garden’s compost bin and plucked the floppy, slimy orange root off the top of the pile. “What you’re throwing out here — that’s vegetable stock.”

I took the carrot from Oder’s hand, picked the least yucky-looking bits of vegetable matter out of the black plastic drum and stuffed them back in my blue plastic bag.

What began as a simple, circumscribed idea for an article — reducing oil consumption on Chanukah — had somehow morphed into an all-encompassing challenge: To make a single day’s worth of the stuff we consume last for eight days. The experiment was loosely inspired by one of Chanukah’s miracles in which oil that was to have lasted for one day instead burned for eight. I intended to reduce my consumption of petroleum, electricity and water by 87.5 percent. Since transporting food from farm to table also involves burning fossil fuel, I decided I would buy only the most local, least-processed food I could find. I also committed to cutting out the trash I would produce by seven-eighths, as well — which helps explain why I was keeping decomposing vegetable scraps in my refrigerator in the first place.

All this is not exactly in my nature. I am a very particular kind of environmentalist — a lazy one. I buy reusable shopping bags and then forget to bring them to the store. I found author Jonathan Safran Foer’s environmentally based argument against eating animals wholly convincing but haven’t been able to kick meat from my diet. A bit of Web searching showed me that “hypermiler” drivers can get more than 40 miles to the gallon driving their 2001 Honda Civics; I don’t remember the last time I checked my tire pressure.

I believe I’m not alone in wishing that environmentally friendly living were easy, in wishing it didn’t require much thought. Unfortunately, as I found out when I decided to take my own personal environmental impact seriously — some might say altogether too seriously — choosing to live more lightly on the land does take some thought, and re-enacting the miracle that took place in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period in 21st century Los Angeles required equal parts creative thinking and hard work. For eight days, I commuted by bike. I captured half of the water from every highly efficient shower and used it to flush my toilet. I checked my electric meter every morning. I weighed the contents of my garbage can every night.

By the Numbers

What We Use in a Day:
Water: 83 gallons per person per day (for apartment dwellers, LADWP)
Electricity: 16.9 kilowatt hours per residential customer per day (2009, LADWP)
Food (average miles from farm to table): 1,500 miles
Trash: 3.3 pounds per person per day (includes refuse, recycling and yard trimmings, Los Angeles City, 2009)
Petroleum (miles driven): Average weekday car commute in Los Angeles County: 25 miles round trip (Southern California Association ofGovernments 2008 Regional Transportation Plan)

What the Author Used in Eight Days:
Water: 100 gallons*
Electricity: 30 kilowatt hours
Food (average miles from farm to table): It’s nearly impossible to measure.
Trash: 24 pounds (10 pounds recycling, 7 pounds compost, 7 pounds refuse)
Petroleum (miles driven): 36.5 miles *Or thereabouts. And he didn’t do laundry that week.

And when the experiment was over, I found that I had overshot my target numbers in every one of the five categories of consumption — in one case by more than 600 percent. Still, what I learned along the way was more than worth the effort.

Chanukah is more often associated with gift giving than with conservation. But Adam Berman, who has been working at the intersection of Judaism and the environment for 20 years, has long known that environmental messages can be found in every Jewish holiday, and Chanukah is no exception.

“There was this obscure part of the holiday, that there was a race against time that had to do with running out of oil,” Berman said. “We don’t use oil lamps anymore,” Berman continued, but with only 14 percent of our electricity coming from renewable sources like hydroelectric plants, wind farms and solar panels, the miracle’s lesson could still be made applicable. “The light that we use in our homes comes from a finite resource,” Berman said.

In 2006, the documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” inspired activists concerned about climate change across American communities to action. Green Jews have been using Chanukah as an opportunity to organize their communities around issues of sustainability and renewable energy for years. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, first drew attention to the holiday’s “conserve-oil aspect” in 2001. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) runs an annual program to increase environmental consciousness through actions around Chanukah nearly every year. In 2006, Liore Milgrom-Elcott drew on Waskow’s work to devise COEJL’s campaign to get Jews to switch from incandescent to more energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). This year, COEJL director Sybil Sanchez has used the organization’s Web site to promote a number of programs, all of which are dedicated to getting Jews and Jewish communities to “use less oil, rely less on fossil fuels, [and ] emit less greenhouse gas emissions.”

Eco-stunts like mine are not original. Any writer embarking on such a path is, at some point, going to come across Colin Beavan, the writer better known as No Impact Man.

Israel building its first eco-friendly town


Mount Gilboa will be the site of Israel’s first green town.

It’s one thing to adopt environmentally conscious behavior, such as recycling, taking public transportation and saving water or electricity. But that’s not enough for the future residents of the developing northern Israeli community of Nurit. They plan to live green.

That’s because the Mount Gilboa town is set to be the first planned, eco-friendly community in Israel, with infrastructure and services designed not just to encourage, but to actually enforce environmentally responsible behavior.

If you’re planning on living in Nurit, said Danny Atar, chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council, you’re by definition willing to go out of your way to save water, avoid excess waste and in general reduce your carbon footprint. “Otherwise, Nurit is not for you,” he said.

The idea for Nurit stemmed from discussions conducted by Gilboa Regional Council officials nearly a decade ago, as they were seeking to build tourism in the area, as well as comply with new government requirements to introduce environmentally responsible educational programs and activities.

“We were also considering putting up a new town to attract more residents here from the center of the country, and the whole project just sort of made sense,” Atar said. “Thus was Nurit born.”

After intense study and consultation with environmental experts around the world, the town is almost ready for prime time; work has begun on infrastructure, and the first 100 homes will be ready next year. By 2012, there will be 400 families living in Nurit, Atar said.

Located on Mount Gilboa itself, Nurit will take advantage of the mountain’s wind and sun to generate power, and will install dozens of wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, enough to provide electricity for all the public buildings in Nurit — and then some.

“We recently got approved for a program by the Israel Electric Co., where residents and public buildings will be able to mount solar PV units on their roofs and sell the electricity to the IEC,” Atar said.

“Together with turbines to generate electricity from wind, we expect that the electricity we generate will be enough to light most of the schools, offices, streetlights and park lights in Nurit, as well as save homeowners money on their energy bills since they can get credits for the power their roof PV systems generate that they don’t use, selling it back to the IEC,” Atar said.

The regional council has a program that provides loans for residents to buy and install the PV panel setup, or residents can design the systems into their construction plans, he adds.

Residents will be asked to grow tall, leafy trees around their homes, creating a natural “cooling canopy” that will help cut down on the need for artificial cooling and heating systems. They will also be asked to build their homes using effective insulation systems, to further reduce the need for air conditioners or heaters.

“We hope to be able to limit the use of artificial heating and cooling solutions to the hottest or coldest days of the year,” he said.

Saving water will also be required of Nurit residents

“In theory, Israel gets more than enough rainfall, but much of the rain is lost to evaporation or runs off to the sea,” Atar said. “We are requiring all residents to build rain-collection systems and minireservoirs to store rainwater. The water will then be funneled into the town reservoir, allowing us to cut down significantly on our use of water from Mekorot, which is drawn from either the Kinneret or Israel’s underground aquifers.”

With the Sea of Galilee at an all time low and Israel scrambling to build desalination plants to make up for projected water shortages, Nurit’s efforts could serve as a model for other, noneco-friendly communities, as well.

Saving rainwater is important, but saving “gray water” is even more important, say many environmentalists, and Nurit is requiring all homeowners to install a gray water collection system, which will store waste water from dishwashing, bathing and other nonsewage (“black water”) sources.

The storage of gray water entails building a separate drainage system that funnels the water into a tank, which is then used for a variety of purposes, such as watering gardens, decorative fountains, etc.

“No one in Nurit will be permitted to use fresh water to water his or her lawn,” Atar said. “Residents will use gray water to water their lawns and run watering systems for plants or orchards.”

Unfortunately, Nurit won’t be able to encourage its residents to trade in their cars for commuting by train, because there is no Israel Railways line in the area, at least for now. But the town will have a complete complement of local and inter-city bus service for those who need to travel. Actually, it is expected that most of Nurit’s residents will work in the area, either at home businesses; in tourist-oriented services, such as bed and breakfasts or restaurants, or at one of the industrial zones in the area.

“Many of the homes have been zoned for use as businesses, as well, so a resident can operate a small business in their backyard,” Atar said. “There is an industrial zone three minutes out of town, mostly with light manufacturing or agriculture industry allied services. And tourism in this region is expected to skyrocket when regular horse racing begins at the Afula Hippodrome, only a few minutes from here,” he added.

Nurit is open to anyone willing to live by the town’s eco-friendly ethos — and many Israelis are willing, apparently, because there is already a long waiting list for lots.

“We’ve already got about 700 families who have made a deposit to get into the lottery for a chance to buy a plot, with more signing up all the time,” Atar said. “The lots, which will have extensive infrastructure to support the gray water drainage and reservoirs system, cost $120,000 to $150,000 — not particularly high for people coming from the center of the country, where many of the Nurit hopefuls come from, and certainly not expensive, when you consider the cost of the infrastructure.”

Most applicants are from big cities — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and its suburbs. A few people from the kibbutzim in the area have signed up as well, but the majority are new to the lower Galilee. Which already makes Nurit a success, as far as Atar is concerned.

“This is a beautiful part of the country to live in, and thanks to Nurit, hundreds of families are going to get the opportunity to find out just how beautiful it really is,” Atar said.

It’s a nice day for a green wedding

Jessica Kraft didn’t wear a traditional flowing white, off-white or ivory gown during her wedding day last October. Instead, the 29-year-old college professor made her way down the aisle at the UCLA Faculty Center in purple and gold.

While the San Francisco resident — whose husband grew up in Los Angeles — considers herself unconventional, her unusual frock had little to do with balking at tradition.

“I wanted my dress to be sustainable fashion,” said Kraft, referring to her desire that the garment’s production have little impact on the environment. Kraft’s eco-friendly dress was made from organic hemp, chiffon and a little vegetable dye.

But the nontraditional dress was just one part of Kraft’s “green” simcha. In lieu of sending out paper invitations, Kraft and her husband, Jordan Elias, sent out their invites via e-mail, used organic flowers, registered for green products like bamboo kitchenware and bath towels made of organic cotton and hired a biodiesel van (which runs on peanut oil instead of gasoline) to transport their guests to the ceremony. In addition, they donated 3 percent of their gift registry proceeds to the National Resource Defense Council, a national environmental action organization.

With our country’s growing concern about the environment, many couples are choosing to have eco-friendly weddings. Jewish brides and grooms-to-be in the Southland are no exception. Green event planner Deborah Kattler Kupetz of DKK Events in Brentwood says that 60 percent of her clients are Jewish. And Angelica Weihs of Angelique Events in Los Angeles has noticed an upward trend in her own business.

“I would certainly say that [green] awareness in the Jewish community is rising,” said Weihs, whose book, “The Luxury of Loving Green: Weddings in the 21st Century” (Ignite Publishing, 2008), will hit bookstores in May. These days, many young adults take steps toward saving the environment in their daily lives. Often, the mentality carries over into their wedding plans.

“Within our lifestyle, we’re as green as possible … and I drive a hybrid car,” said Melanie Lora, 29, of her life with fiancÃ(c) Sky Meltzer. “The environment is just something that’s important to both of us.”

Lora and Meltzer, Santa Monica residents, are currently planning their 2009 wedding. While they are unsure which Jewish elements they will incorporate into their ceremony, they know that that the menu will be vegetarian, the invitations will be printed on recycled paper, the decorations will be minimal and at least part of the flower arrangements will be replantable.

Other green wedding ideas include the use of soy- and hemp-based products for linens, the dÃ(c)cor and even the chuppah; using local and seasonally produced food; using ecologically chauffeured transportation; and using natural light or simply having an outdoor affair.

Many couples try to “carbon-zero” their events by offsetting the extra energy and carbons used, which, in turn, helps fight global warming. A couple might compensate for driving a car, taking a plane or using artificial light by planting trees or donating to a carbon offset project.

But with the expense of using recycled paper for invitations, buying organic food and using alternative energy sources, are green weddings more expensive than regular weddings?

“Many people mistakenly feel that a green path is a more expensive path,” said Kupetz, who prides herself on the variety of sources she uses to accomplish her green events. “Just like anything, if you know what you are doing you can be as competitive as anyone.”

Kraft was an environmental and social activist back in college and she was concerned about going overboard when planning her own wedding.

“I realized what a big event it was and how many resources we could waste in putting on this big production,” Kraft said. “Wherever you look, there’s another bridal magazine and another caterer to take advantage of the $50,000 people are spending in one day. I thought it was sort of narcissistic consumption.”

Instead, Kraft and Elias tried to keep waste at a minimum, raise awareness and include their shared value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

And green weddings have deep meaning within Judaism itself. Since eco-friendliness goes hand in hand with the concept of tikkun olam, protecting the planet is an extremely Jewish issue.

“When a couple adds to the inherent joy the additional blessing of tikkun olam, healing the world itself, it takes what otherwise is only an intensely personal mitzvah and turns it into a blessing in the public realm, as well,” said Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades. “In this way, creating an eco-friendly wedding allows everyone who participates to feel that they are having a kind of double celebration — both for the bride and groom and for the planet.”

Looking back on her big day, Kraft is thrilled that her passion for the environment was a part of her simcha.

“I was happy we were able to share this urgent message that we need to protect our natural resources in the same way that Jordan and I agreed to protect and care for each other,” Kraft said.

Big Sunday looks good in green

Environmentalism may be trendy, but expensive hybrid cars and solar paneling aren’t the only ways of being fashionably green.

Big Sunday, an annual citywide volunteer community service event scheduled for May 3-4, is adding a Green Sunday option, which groups together environmental projects like tree planting, beach cleanup and switching area businesses from incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent.

“In the past two years, we’ve found that people were just really anxious to do environmental projects,” Big Sunday Executive Director David Levinson said.

Big Sunday began in 1999 as Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Mitzvah Day, an event that initially drew 300 volunteers to 17 projects. Last year a supersized Big Sunday drew 50,000 participants and 250 projects over two days.

While Big Sunday has regularly featured green programming and worked with such varied environmental groups as Heal the Bay and the California Native Plant Society, this year marks the first time the environmental track has been specifically highlighted.

Green Sunday has scheduled more than 50 eco-friendly projects, including “e-cycling” drives to give old computers and electronics to those in need, cleaning up the L.A. River with the Pacific American Volunteer Organization and refurbishing burned-out areas of Griffith Park.

The goal is to “help as many nonprofits as we can and get more people involved in the community,” said Dave Cooper, Green Sunday manager.

Another project, a bike collection, encourages Angelenos to ride bikes more frequently or at least provide others with that option. Levinson said this could have a great effect on reducing carbon emissions, if successful.

Big Sunday is also taking its green talk seriously by increasing the steps the organization takes to reduce its own carbon footprint. Behind the scenes, the nonprofit is printing fewer flyers and brochures and moving away from Styrofoam products. Participants are encouraged to carpool or ride public transportation. In some cases, event organizers will even arrange for busing to the larger projects.

While the group hasn’t quantified the overall carbon impact of the two-day event, organizers expect that its green efforts this year will demonstrate a reduced impact compared with activities in 2007.

Attendance for Big Sunday’s events vary, but organizers are hoping to see a turnout of at least 5,000 for Green Sunday. If Green Sunday is anywhere near as successful as hoped, Levinson said he would like to see the event as a Big Sunday spinoff on a separate day.

“It’d be cool if it did. The sky’s the limit,” he said.

For more information about Big Sunday, visit

Water and pumpkins mark eco-friendly Sukkot

During Sukkot, families of Kesher Israel, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Washington, D.C., will gather together for a special celebration. Socializing in the synagogue’s sukkah, they will be treated to a tantalizing array of chocolate cakes and candies, accompanied by delicious cups of … tap water.
“Which are you enjoying more, the sweets or the water?” congregant Evonne Marzouk will ask, knowing full well that the cups of water will remain largely untouched.

This activity is a set up. It’s modeled on Simchat Beit Hashoeva, the festive water-drawing ceremony that took place during Sukkot while the Temple was standing but that is rarely commemorated today. Reconfigured, however, as part of True Joy Through Water, a new outreach program created by Canfei Nesharim (“the wings of eagles”), an Orthodox environmental organization, it’s designed to educate the primarily Orthodox community about the importance of water, its imperiled state and ways to conserve it.

“At the time of the Temple, people lived on the land and understood that if there wasn’t rain, there wasn’t food. That absolute dependence is still true today, but we don’t think about it because we live so far from the land,” said Marzouk, who serves as executive director of Canfei Nesharim, which was founded in January 2003.
The True Joy Through Water activities, text studies and instructive sukkah decorations have been requested by more than 30 Orthodox congregations across the United States.

In Los Angeles, at Congregation B’nai David-Judea, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky hopes to perform several of the True Joy Through Water activities with synagogue members, especially those in the youth group, in the sukkah. No formal program is planned for Young Israel of Century City, but Rabbi Elazar Muskin has distributed the materials to his congregants and is hoping that “people will take an interest in this important endeavor.”
True Joy Through Water is one of several programs that Jewish environmentalists are promoting this Sukkot, which begins at sundown on Friday, Oct. 6, to encourage people to take stock not only of the earth’s bounty but also of the earth itself — and to take action to repair it.
At the Shalom Institute in the Malibu Mountains, about 80 teenagers will be working directly with the earth on Sunday, Oct. 8, preparing the soil and planting in the Marla Bennet Israel Garden. The ninth- through 12th-graders, participants in Camp JCA Shalom’s Teen Camp weekend, will learn about Sukkot as well as their responsibility to nature, according to Einat Gomel, an environmental educator from Israel now serving as the year-round director of the Shalom Nature Center.
In the afternoon, the Shalom Institute is hosting a family Sukkot celebration. “We will talk about how we can help kids build a better world and make it eco-related,” Gomel said. Families will also participate in a ceremony and service in the sukkah.
“The fragility of the sukkah and its shelter is eloquent testimony to both our dependence on the environment and the environment’s dependence on us,” said Everett Gendler, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Lowell, Mass., who is considered by many to be the father of Jewish environmentalism.
Gendler, who admits to a fondness for pumpkins stemming from an overflowing pumpkin patch he visited yearly as a Midwestern youth, invented the “Yaakov Lantern.” It’s a bright orange pumpkin, home-grown by Gendler every year, on which he carves a typical jack-o’-lantern face on one side and a Star of David on the other. Inside, he places a candle.
At night, the Yaakov Lantern invokes the “ushpizim,” the biblical forefathers and foremothers whom Gendler refers to as the “ancestral spirits” and also illumines the sukkah in an environmentally friendly manner.
“It’s hard to imagine the sukkah with wires attached,” said Gendler, who invented the first solar powered “ner tamid” (everlasting light), and espouses alternative energy sources.
Another long-time environmentalist, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, is hosting an expected crowd of 250 to 350 Jews, Christians and Muslims to address the question, “What can our religious traditions do to help heal the planet from the climate crisis of global ‘scorching?'”
Leaders from all three Abrahamic faiths will speak to the participants, who will also engage in prayer and song and build a sukkah together. In addition, they will have the opportunity to sign petitions asking for reductions in global warming and increased use of alternative energy sources, which will be delivered to national, state and local legislators.
“I’m hoping to have some direct impact right there on the spot, both in terms of public policy and in terms of congregations’ and congregants’ energy use,” Waskow said.
The event takes place on Oct. 8 and jointly celebrates Sukkot and the month of Ramadan, as well as the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4). It is co-sponsored locally by The Shalom Center and is part of a nationwide effort initiated by “The Tent of Abraham, Hagar & Sarah,” a network of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
For Barbara Lerman-Golomb, executive director of Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), Sukkot, as a harvest holiday, is a perfect time to talk about healthy foods for a healthy planet.
“Many individuals who have joined community supported farms and co-ops are bringing their organically grown fruits and vegetables into the sukkah,” she said.
On the first day of Sukkot, Lerman-Golomb herself is slated to speak at the Conservative Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn during the morning service.
“I coined the phrase ‘energy observant,'” said Lerman-Golomb, who will present the Jewish response to environmental issues and encourage people to lead more sustainable lives.
In particular she will stress the problem of global warming, part of a nationwide campaign the coalition launched in August — billed as “How Many Jews Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?” — which will culminate at Chanukah.