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.