If you’ve ever wondered how to make a difference in your world, consider starting at home. It doesn’t have to be difficult, you just need to take the first step. I’ve been there myself, but I’ve discovered that contributing to a sustainable future isn’t as much work as I’ve made it out to be. Change – whether in incremental steps as individuals or transformational leaps as a society – begins at home, one family at a time.

Environmental pressures from households are significant and their impacts will only intensify over the coming years. Already, residences account for nearly 20% of energy use and carbon emissions in the United States, and lifestyle decisions related to our homes and families reach far beyond that. On the positive side, we women have a great deal of spending power to wield for the greater good (and our own good, too).  We buy more than 85 percent of all purchases related to the household!  And as mothers, our influence extends into the next generation.  Here are ten ways that we women – and men! – can “work from home” to improve the world, beginning with our bank accounts:

1.     Energy efficiency.  Would you like to cut your energy bills by almost half?  Turn out the lights, lower the thermostat, change your light bulbs, and use energy-saving technologies to reduce your bills by up to 40%. Install energy-efficient devices in your home to earn up to $500 in federal tax credits in 2011.  Visit www.energystar.gov for all the information.

2.     Use cleaner energy. After you’ve done what you can to be energy efficient, utilize clean energy in your home.  My family has used Green Mountain Energy for 13 years. We get great service while doing our part for cleaner energy.  If your home has favorable access to the sun, you can qualify for a 30% federal tax credit for purchasing solar panels and other renewable energy installations.

3.     Use toxin-free materials in your home’s interior.  The EPA estimates that dangerous pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our indoor air are 2 to 5 times HIGHER than outside.  For a safe interior, use no-VOC paints and natural floorings.  For a toxin-free planet, use sustainably harvested bamboo or organic cotton sheets and towels. Green Living is your one-stop shop for green decor.

4.     Green your cleaning. Physicians and researchers are increasingly concerned about the impacts of toxins in our cleaning products on our children’s health.  In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the bodies of Americans age six and older are contaminated by an average of 148 specific toxic substances. The sources of many of these trace back to the cleaning products in our own homes. Try Shaklee’s Get Clean products or help Deirdre Imus’ charity for children with Greening the Cleaning© products.  For free recipes for do-it-yourself natural home cleaners, try www.sustainlane.com.

5.     Reduce, reuse and recycle. Visit www.craigslist.orgwww.freecycle.org or consignment stores for furniture and art.

6.     Prepare meals with less meat.  If every American reduced his/her meal consumption by just 10%, we would have enough grain left over to feed 60 million people!  Eating less meat is also healthier and saves money.  Find tips on greener grocery shopping in my book Green, American Style.

7.     Grow your own.  Fight the war against pesticides.  Plant your own “victory garden” like First Lady Michelle Obama and enjoy fresh homegrown produce. One raised bed can yield fresh tomatoes for months!  Visit www.organicgardeningguru.com for free tips to get started.

8.     Buy from other green businesses. Whenever possible, buy “Made in the USA” or fair trade labels.  Check out Green America’s National Green Pages at for eco-friendly businesses of every type.  Also, for hundreds of reviews on green products, visitwww.sustainlane.com.

9.     Consume responsibly.  Think globally, act locally. Consume less, enjoy more. You can access tons of free resources to help you through the Center for the New American Dream.

10.  Connect with other eco-people! For online activism and a virtual community of people who embrace healthy green living, join www.care2.com.   Also, visit your local chapter of Green Drinks or the Sierra Club for networking, education and good green fun.

Join Plaid for Women to connect with like-minded women who are making a difference in their world– share your experience implementing the ideas Anna suggests in this article!