We’re three weeks into filming of season two of The Lazy Environmentalist television series, and I’m feeling tired but, more importantly, inspired. As the Lazy E, my job is to help regular Americans green their livelihoods and their lifestyles. So far I’ve set out to green an indie rock band, an interior decorator, a makeup artist, two mechanics, an exterminator and a fashion designer. Yes, we try to green everything from rat-infested homes to fashion runways.

And that’s why I’m tired. The reason I’m inspired is that green solutions have been on a steep improvement curve. Whether it’s affordable solar panels for homes or whole-house grey water systems, the green choices available today are dramatically better — in terms of price and quality — than choices available just a couple of years ago. This is also clearly in evidence with regard to interior design. For example, when I took our interior decorator in search of solutions at the green design showroom of Epoxy Green, we found soft, high-quality carpets and rugs by Mohawk made of recycled soda bottles that sell for an affordable $1.50 to $3 per square foot.

Our interior decorator also fell in love with countertops made of green building materials. His favorite choice was a composite countertop made of recycled quartz, glass mirrors and porcelain that, equally importantly, fit his client’s budget. On our show, this is a big deal because our decorator is working under real-world conditions in which he agrees to present the green solutions that he likes to his client for her current renovation project and, therefore, stakes his credibility upon her reaction. If she approves his green recommendations, they are then included in the project and judged ultimately on their quality and design. I’ll visit the client’s home next month to see whether the green choices selected are a success.

I was truly impressed by the array of innovative green design products available at Epoxy Green. In the two years since I wrote extensively about green interior designs products in The Lazy Environmentalist: Your Guide to Easy, Stylish, Green Living, dramatic product improvements have taken place, which is a testament to the commitment of entrepreneurial manufacturers working throughout the green building industry. With this in mind, I think that this holiday season, some of the best green gifts can be found at local green building supply stores across the country. To find out if one is located near you, try searching Google using the name of your town or city and terms like “green building supply” or “green design products”. However, if a home makeover or renovation project is not in your holiday plans (yes, I realize that giving the gift of flooring is not necessarily the most conventional way to say “I love you”), then consider setting your sights on quality, eco-friendly fashion items.

In my quest to green our fashion designer on the show, I took her to the L.A. showroom of Stewart+Brown, one of the top green fashion lines available today, where cofounders Karen Stewart and Howard Brown showed us the latest in green fabrics. Perhaps my biggest shock so far this season came when Karen and Howard presented their super-soft, luxurious garments made of hemp. Considered one of the greenest materials in existence because it grows rapidly without the need for pesticides or insecticides and requires relatively low amounts of water to cultivate, hemp has historically been coarse to the touch, typically possessing more in common with frumpy potato sacks than with stylish fashion items. To witness hemp’s evolution into a desirable clothing fabric (our non-green fashion designer really liked it, too) is to witness the evolution of the green fashion industry. I assert as much because it takes significant capital investment and years of development for designers and manufacturers to undergo enough “trial and error” to learn how to best work with hemp — or any another green material for that matter — in order to develop attractive products that the marketplace will demand. Ultimately, to replace conventional, synthetic fabrics that are derived from crude oil with more natural alternatives such as hemp on a truly large scale, this is the type of commitment, evolution and innovation required to get us there.

Yet, Stewart+Brown’s success with hemp illuminates a sticky point for the green movement, which is the uncomfortable reality that not all eco-friendly companies and brands are created equal. Some are outstanding while others are still deficient in terms of delivering green products that Americans will realistically gravitate toward. While we may laud the environmental commitment and effort of all eco-entrepreneurs, it’s important to identify those who are creating green products that not only match the attributes of the conventional competition, but, more often than not, surpass them.

My experience has been that to truly sell green to Americans, the green choices have to be the best choices available and that’s the bar we've set for ourselves on the show. When we achieve it, I stand a good chance of convincing our non-green heroes to embrace environmental change. When we don’t, our heroes often continue in their non-green ways. The stakes are that high. To transform our economy and solve the challenges we face, the green choices must increasingly outperform the status quo choices.

MNN homepage photo courtesy Ron Holtz Photography

Related on MNN: