Green Focus
You might say that Maria Onesto Moran’s new store, Green Home Experts, had its genesis back when she was in first-grade.

She was appalled when she learned that her school planned to release balloons into the air at a religious celebration. According to some environmental books she had read, a practice like that could prove harmful to birds and other wildlife. So with encouragement from her parents, the 6-year-old Onesto Moran addressed the school board with her concerns. After her presentation, the school ceased the practice.

“I grew up knowing that I was a steward of the earth, and I learned early on that small actions can make a big difference,” Onesto Moran said.

After years of laboring in the not-for-profit sector, including a stint at Lakefront Affordable Housing building affordable, energy-efficient housing units in Chicago, Onesto Moran is hoping to turn that philosophy into another success with Green Home Experts. The 1,125-square foot retail store in Oak Park, which celebrated its grand opening Feb. 23, specializes in eco-friendly home supplies.

“My goal is to provide green alternatives to anything people want to put in their homes,” Onesto Moran, a Forest Park resident, explained.

Such alternatives might include Earthshade window treatments, which are chemical- and dye-free shades constructed of rapidly renewable grasses and bamboos; Eco-Shake Shingles made from recycled vinyl and cellulose fiber; AFM Safecoat paints, which contain no or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be carcinogenic; Marmoleum flooring; UltraTouch denim insulation, which is made from 85 percent post-industrial recycled materials; 55-gallon rain barrels; and Mrs. Meyers cleaning products, highly concentrated and biodegradable solutions free from solvents and phosphates.

According to Onesto Moran, if every household in the U.S. used one gallon of Mrs. Meyers non-petroleum based cleaner, the country could save more than 200,000 barrels of oil annually.

“You don’t need to be green to shop here,” she said, pointing out that about half of her customers are individuals with health concerns like allergies and asthma.

In shopping for environmentally safe products of any kind, price is often a deterrent. Either the market demand hasn’t caught up with production costs, or the technology used to make it is still expensive. However, Onesto Moran encouraged consumers to at least make the comparisons before simply dismissing an item as too expensive.

For example, AFM Safecoat paints perform and price like your typical high-quality paint, she said, which can run an average of $36 to $48 per gallon.

“Don’t throw your hands up because it’s too expensive or too overwhelming,” Onesto Moran said. “Start small. Use your budget to help you prioritize. You really don’t need to make a major lifestyle change to be green.”

A few simple items, she said, like a rain barrel, organic fertilizer and some cleaning products serve as a good introduction to greener living.

Because of the huge boom in eco-friendly products, consumers may be confused as to what, exactly, is green. Onesto Moran recommends they check out websites for the U.S. Green Building Council or Degree of Green for tips on what makes a product eco-friendly. While there isn’t one official governing body issuing a green seal of approval, she advises consumers to carefully check any seals or certifications a product may have, as a lot of them are sponsored by product manufacturers.

“They’re just patting themselves on the back that way,” she said.

So far, reaction to Green Home Experts has been positive. Customers tell her they’ve been waiting for a store like hers to meet their commercial and moral demands.

“That makes this financial risk really worth it,” Onesto Moran said.

So, too, does a recent report by Greenbiz.com, an information source for environmentally conscious businesses. The market for green household products is astronomical, according to a recent report published by the website. The green building market is expected to double to $4.7 billion over the next four years. Even with an expected slowdown in the overall housing and construction markets, growth still is projected to clip along at 17 percent annually, down from an average 23 percent over the last several years.

“I’m not here to judge or preach,” Onesto Moran said. “And I don’t want people to see me as a boutique or a specialty store. I just want to be seen as a place where they shop.”

Green Home Experts is located at 823 S. Oak Park Ave., and is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Get in touch with Mother Nature

Year round the Trailside Museum of Natural History in River Forest hosts educational and entertaining programs to help area residents discover the world around them. Snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are available in the winter months while fishing, hiking and picnicking keep the Cook County forest preserves busy in the summer. Family programming, educational discussions and guided walks are also offered by the staff every month.

To learn more about what the forest preserves have to offer, visit the Forest Preserve District of Cook County website at www.fpdcc.com, or stop by the Trailside Museum of Natural History located at 738 Thatcher Ave.

  • Gardening for wildlife: March 2 at 1 p.m. Visit the museum for a discussion on plants and other gardening elements that will make your landscaping more appealing to butterflies, birds and other critters. Registration is necessary for this free program. (708) 366-6530.
  • Nature story times: March 6 and March 20 at 10:30 a.m. This kid friendly activity features nature-inspired stories and crafts for children ages 3 to 5. The cost is only $1 per child.
  • Sky hunters: March 9 at 1 p.m. Learn how hawks and owls catch their food and the role these birds play in our ecosystem. This is a family program offered for free, but those who register will meet a live bird and get to handle various artifacts. (708) 366-6530.
  • Morning fitness hike: March 15 at 9 a.m. Start the weekend off right with a brisk hike that energizes your body while informing your mind. This hour-long jaunt is led by a museum naturalist who will point out what Mother Nature is up to. Dress for the weather and meet the trail guide at the entrance of the Trailside Museum.
  • Feeding time at Trailside: March 23 at 2:30 p.m. This free family program lets viewers see woodland creatures up close when museum staffers feed the resident fox, coyote, hawk and others. No registration is necessary for this activity.
  • Naturalist's choice: March 27 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. While the kids are out of school this fun and educational activity will help while away the hours. A museum naturalist will lead various animal-centered programs that involve simple crafts. No registration is necessary for this free event, but parents must accompany their children.
  • Family nature walk: March 30 at 1 p.m. People of all ages will enjoy this guided tour of the wooded areas just as spring begins to take hold. This program is free, but participants are asked to register in advance. (708) 366-6530.