Barack is talking about putting in a basketball court. Michelle is picking out china. And their daughters have plans to redecorate their rooms. When the Obamas move into the White House on January 20, they'll immediately start putting their mark on the nation's most historic residence. Environmentalists are hoping that mark will be a bright shade of green.
The new first family would hardly be starting a revolution. As far back as June, 1979, Jimmy Carter attempted to increase the energy efficiency of the 132-room building when he had installed a $28,000 solar water heater on the roof of the West Wing. In 1993, President Clinton commissioned a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute that identified a number of improvements that could reduce the White House's environmental impact, such as upgrading the HVAC system and improving the energy-efficiency of the windows. In 2002, solar photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof. By 2007, the White House also sported compact fluorescent light bulbs, "smart" lawn sprinklers and energy-efficient mini-vans.
But the Obamas could make greening the White House even more meaningful – by taking steps that reflect their willingness to change their lifestyle as well as the building itself.
Here are my top ten recommendations for what they should do, inside and out.
1. Secure LEED certification for the White House. This standard offers meaningful guidelines to help buildings and, increasingly, homes reduce the amount of energy they consume.
2. Change all lighting fixtures to LED lights. Many bulbs in the White House have already been replaced with compact fluorescents. But LEDs save even more energy, and because they contain no mercury, pose no health concerns to consumers.
3. Maximize energy efficiency. Plug computers and other office equipment into power strips that turn on and off automatically. Install light sensors in offices to do the same thing. Use programmable thermostats to turn the heat down in the evening and up (but just to 68 degrees in winter) during the day.
4. Make cleaning green, too. Choose cleansers that are free of phthalates (synthetic fragrances), antibacterial agents, phosphates (especially for dishwashers) and other toxic ingredients. Green Seal can provide a list of environmentally-friendly products certified "green" for buildings the size of the White House.
5. Favor organic towels, bedding, and fabric for the reupholstering that will go on as the Obamas update the decor. Every president gets a new rug for the Oval Office. Pres.-Elect Obama could have his woven from fibers made from 100% recycled soda bottles.
6. Repainting? Use paints free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to contribute to respiratory illness, headaches and air pollution.
7. Institute a no bottled water policy. Every member of the first family, and all cabinent members should regularly use their own BPA-free reusable water bottles. This should be true not only at cabinet and staff meetings, but when Mr. Obama takes to the basketball court, too.
8. Adopt a green diet. Eat less meat, and serve organic, locally-grown food - for the White House mess and state dinners as well as the residence.
9. Reduce water use. Retrofit faucets, showerheads, toilets to use water as efficiently as possible.
10. Whatever they buy, choose certified products and services. The Obamas can show Americans how to avoid "greenwashing" by buying products whose environmental claims meet independent third-party standards. While they're at it, they can join the One in a Million campaign and intentionally shift the White House operating budget to green goods.
1. Eliminate use of pesticides and herbicides. The White House perches smack-dab in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where the main source of pollution is chemical runoff. Eliminating toxic landscape chemicals would help protect the quality of one of America's most productive estuaries.
3. Plant an organic vegetable garden. EatTheView.com is encouraging the First Eaters to plant a "Victory Garden," with produce going to the White House kitchen and local shelters.
4. Compost. Kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and yard waste can be composted on-site, with the resulting natural fertilizer applied anywhere on the White House's 18 acres.
5. Install green roofs. Roof space not taken up by solar hot water heaters or photovoltaic cells could be planted in greenery that provides added insulation to the White House and helps offset its carbon footprint.
6. Put up an outside clothesline. I don't necessarily want to see the First Underwear waving in the breeze. But how about using solar energy to dry towels, sheets, and t-shirts?
7. Use electric lawn mowers, hedge trimmers and chain saws. Electric gardening tools reduce noise and air pollution; they'll be easier to use if the farthest reaches of the White House grounds don't require as much maintenance because they're planted in native grasses and groundcovers.
8. Set up carpools and vanpools for White House employees. Encourage use of mass transit. The White House is no more than a 15-minute walk from subway lines that serve most of the city and many of the suburbs.
9. Install rain barrels. The White House grounds already feature a sprinkler system. How about taking wate conservation a step further, and collect roof water into rain barrels that can irrigate flower beds, bushes, and that Victory Garden the Obamas are going to grow?
10. Turn part of the grounds into a kids' playground. Many children today suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder, a lack of relationship to nature because they spend so much time indoors. Build the Obama girls a playground that includes tree houses, a pond, birdfeeders, and someplace they can play hopscotch without worrying about getting chalk on the floor.