Keep it Simple: It IS Easy Being Green

Too often, the environmental sustainability movement is confused with an all-or-nothing, vegan-or-bust approach or lost in the jargon of photovoltaic cells and energy credits. By making environmental sustainability (or “greening”) a priority in your local district, you increase investment, marketing potential, and community involvement.

“Going green” means adopting an environmentally friendly approach to life. As complicated as it can get to make the greenest choice, it’s important to remember that every choice made every day is an opportunity to help your community, habitat, and the earth. Experts may argue about whether choosing locally produced food is better than organic food or clash over whether we should market electric cars or overhaul the entire transportation system, but keep the big picture in mind. Cutting waste (reducing), extending the life of objects by using them more than once (reusing), and making sure that items go back into the chain of production, and not a landfill, when you’re done with them (recycling) are among the most basic ways to go green.

Revitalization and Sustainability: Mutually Supporting Goals 

Historic Preservation is inherently green. The adaptive reuse of historic buildings is an excellent example of recycling. Credit: Jerry Sowden.

We say around here that the greenest building is one that’s already built. Historic preservation is inherently green – it reuses historic buildings, reinvests in our communities, and retrofits historic buildings. Extending a building’s life and reducing the need for new construction – and the use of new materials – reduces the often-unnecessary energy expenditure of constructing a new building. Whenever a building is destroyed, all of the energy put into that building is wasted. Every brick, board, and window contains “embodied energy” – energy it took to extract, manufacture, transport, and install those materials.

Similarly, a Main Street program is also inherently green. Reinvesting in existing infrastructure, encouraging neighborhood walkability, and shopping locally all do double duty as good for the local economy, environment, and community. One specific example common to many Main Street districts is the installation of street trees. Trees can reduce asthma rates of young children in your neighborhood while slowing traffic and adding a pleasing aesthetic to the streetscape. Trees also sequester carbon dioxide (a major pollutant), catch storm water, and shade buildings (which can decrease air conditioning needs by 30 percent).

Starting a Main Street program is an important first step into the world of “green,” and there’s a lot more that can be done!

“Green” Benefits the Budget

Everyone has heard the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but has your program thought about how the mantra can stretch your own budget further? By becoming a careful consumer of goods (reducing your consumption of new products), you’ll see your expenses decrease since, of course, when you use less paper, you buy less paper. Similarly, if you plug electronics into power strips that are turned off at the end of the day (electronics and appliances still consume power when they’re off), you’ll save on your energy bills.

To save money on lighting bills, replace incandescent lights with compact florescent lights or LEDS. Credit: Linda S. Glisson. 

As light bulbs burn out, replace them with CFLs or LEDs to scrape a couple dollars from the lighting bill. Both types of bulbs last longer than traditional incandescent lights, and since LEDs are so efficient, they give off less energy as heat. What does this mean? They won’t push your air conditioner into hyper drive this summer. Literally add a little green by bringing a stay-at-home houseplant into the office to do some work! Office plants clean the air and reduce stress. Varieties like Peace Lily and Dracaena don’t even need tons of light to do their duty.

Suggestions for greening your life quickly become overwhelming! Instead of throwing in the towel, choose one or two tips to work on at a time and then move on to others as they’re completed.

Organize, Recognize, and Prioritize

In its Going Green Downtown Guide: A Sustainability Guide for Maryland’s Main Streets, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development offers four easy steps to help your Main Street go green.

  • Organize. Create a list of the things you’re doing that are already green. Do you use biodegradable plates and cutlery at events instead of purchasing plastic? Add it. Did you help connect a restaurant to a local farmer to source fresh herbs and produce? Great work! Put it in the portfolio.
  • Recognize. Next, take a look at everything you’ve accomplished and come up with ways to add to it and tell others about it. Look, too, at local businesses to see what they’re doing that’s green. Do they have a recycling bin next to their trash can? Do they sell their leftover fry oil to bio-fuel developers? This will help you find out if there are already great ideas cooking so your program can share them and encourage others to implement them, too.
  • Prioritize. Once you make a list of what you’ve done and what others have done, take a good look at it. Work out a plan to add a few projects to the portfolio – including “quick wins” that can build momentum for bigger projects.
  • Network. Stay in touch with other Main Street managers – every person and every program has a different approach to going green. Connecting with colleagues can keep your mental gears greased and serve as an inspiration mill.

Stay Updated

Adding a couple of green websites to your morning reading list can keep you up to date on what’s the greenest way to go as well as give you new ideas from other communities. Check out,, and for everything from green product reviews, politics, fashion, tips, technology, and transportation. Also, be sure to keep tabs on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s sustainability site.

Taking part in the sustainability movement is less about installing a wind turbine and more about installing a mentality of conservation. Throughout all your efforts, remember that every day is an opportunity to help out your habitat and the planet. Through a Main Street program, you can see these efforts – and their benefits – multiplied throughout the community. The Main Street program can facilitate and connect the eco-efforts of the program’s community and strengthen the results across the board.

Happy Earth Day!