LAWRENCEVILLE - When Tracy Duvall lived in Tucson, Ariz., he bought a Prius to get to work.
In moving to Lawrenceville, it was a machete that helped him on his commute.
The Georgia Gwinnett College assistant anthropology professor got an apartment on Walther Boulevard, hoping to walk or bike to the school. A few rides down Ga. Highway 316 changed his mind.
"Biking is impossible without being scared to death," he said. "So I bought a machete and cleared a path along the right of way that goes through the woods to GGC."
Most of his students think his mile-long commute is "odd," Duvall said. But while he may be in the minority now, the professor is among many local residents who are doing things personally and through their businesses to help the environment - many of which they may not have even considered a decade ago.
Little choices make a difference
Duvall traded his SUV for a Prius when the hybrid cars first came out, pleased to up his gas mileage from 20 miles per gallon to 50.
He remembers listening to President Jimmy Carter urge Americans to fill their tires and turn down the thermostat. Years later, the message stuck.
Now, in addition to walking to work, Duvall keeps his thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer. He obsessively turns off lights and electronics, shutting off the computer monitor when he goes to get a drink. He doesn't flush the toilet after every bathroom break. He takes materials home from the office to recycle them.
"If people make visible choices, it makes it easier for people to make similar choices," Duvall said. "It's easier for people to imagine doing the same thing."
While environmentalism has been on Duvall's mind for some time, going green has become somewhat of a trend lately. High gas prices and potential water shortages make even the most blase residents more aware of how saving water and energy can effect their daily lives.
Glenn Fisher, a Snellville resident, started Atlanta Rubber Mulch about a year ago. The company uses shredded tires to mulch gardens, provides rubber playground surfaces and sells rain barrels to help people weather the drought.
Fisher said it's not that he wasn't an environmentalist before, but he definitely saw the green movement as a business opportunity.
"I knew people around the country who were doing very, very well," he said.
Fisher said the drought raised the awareness level of a number of people who may not have previously seen why things like conserving water mattered to them. He thinks that awareness will remain after the drought has ended.
Companies count on continued interest
Wal-Mart is counting on the fact that that awareness will continue.
"Sustainability is a piece of our business," said Michael Mills, the regional director for public affairs for Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. "We have green-colored glasses. We look through all our practices now with a green perspective."
In response to the drought in the southeast, Wal-Mart has converted thousands of sinks and toilets in the state to low-flow, saving an estimated 53 million gallons of water annually.
The company has a history of being environmentally conscious, Mills said at a Wal-Mart on Collins Hill Road, which is also good for business. Skylights save energy by allowing stores to be lit by the sun, when it's bright enough outside. Less packaging means more products can fit into the back of a delivery truck, cutting down on emissions and waste. LED light bulbs don't need to be replaced as often and when used in freezer cases, don't heat up the food that's being displayed.
And as Wal-Mart exerts its influence on its vendors, Mills said consumers are getting on board with the store's efforts.
"The little things we do make big changes," he said. "We're helping the customer save money so they live better. It's good for our customers; it's good for the environment; it's good for our bottom line."
That mantra has been seeping through across the county, Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Director Connie Wiggins said. Residents have been making choices that take the ecosystem into account and have been more aware of how they're using their resources.
Wiggins doesn't think the mind-set is a new one - she said it goes back to the area's early days as a farming community.
"Farmers care a lot about the land that they live on," she said. "There's a strong, deep-rooted commitment to caring for our environment in Gwinnett."
Buildings have an impact
Wiggins said the county's school system is at the heart of that commitment. Students have long had a comprehensive environmental education, and graduates have often gone on to community positions where their actions have an environmental impact.
The schools do more than preach the benefits of taking care of the natural world. They also work to ensure that students see the results of being environmentally conscious on the community, schools spokesman Jorge Quintana said.
The system uses xeriscaping and recycles its lunch trays. As they are built, Gwinnett County Public Schools also meet restrictive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, though they have not been LEED certified. The standards rate buildings on how energy efficient and environmentally friendly they are.
Buck Lindsay, the president of the architecture firm Lindsay Pope Brayfield & Associates, said he wished the school system would certify at least one of its schools as a model to set an example for other builders in the area.
The firm recently moved into its own LEED-certified building on Pike Street in Lawrenceville, a noticeable structure with large, angled windows that let in more light. Lindsay said he is getting requests for more energy-efficient and greener buildings from clients across the region, but particularly from hotels.
He said while the structures may cost more at first, the energy savings add up over the life of the building. And Lindsay said that his own employees are proud to be working in such a space.
"I think the things people here like are the openness, the open feeling," he said. "Everybody's aware that this building was designed with green features. We feel good about that and that this is the kind of work we can do."
Changes must be long-term
Lindsay said while being green is in vogue in Gwinnett, he thinks it's a direction the county was headed in regardless of trends. But the reasoning makes little difference to the outcome, as long as green projects are sustained.
"I think it's an admirable pursuit," he said.
But Duvall, the professor, said it's important to convert the current fragile enthusiasm in the environment into long-term practices that change behaviors. He favors walkable and bikeable communities and has begun doing research into why people choose to change their habits.
The answer is more than simply economics, he said. It's the addition of social and moral pressures on people, as well.
Soon, Duvall said, he thinks people will make more long-term changes with the environment in mind.
Wiggins also hopes that's the case.
"I really do think people care about living in a clean, healthy place," she said. "It makes Gwinnett much more desirable a place to raise a family, work, play and worship. ...I really think Gwinnett is not really about being green just one day a year, on Earth Day."
SideBar: Tips On Green
Make it a habit to turn off the lights when you're leaving any room for 15 minutes or more .
Turn off your computer - and the power strip it's plugged into - when you leave for the day. Otherwise, you're still burning energy.
During the day, setting your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks can cut energy use by 70 percent. Screen savers don't save energy.
Buy chlorine-free paper with a higher percentage of post-consumer recycled content.
Recycle toner and ink cartridges and buy remanufactured ones. According to Office Depot, each remanufactured toner cartridge keeps about 2.5 pounds of metal and plastic out of landfills and conserves about a half gallon of oil.
Recycle everything. Just about any kind of paper you would encounter in an office, including fax paper, envelopes, and junk mail, can be recycled. So can your old cell phone, PDA or pager.
Bring your own mug and dishware for those meals you eat at the office.
Use reusable dishes, silverware and glasses.
Take the train, bus or other public transportation when feasible instead of a rental car when traveling on business. If you have to rent a car, some rental agencies now offer hybrids and other high-mileage vehicles.
Use nontoxic cleaning products. Brighten up your cubicle with plants, which absorb indoor pollution.