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Living Green in 2012

Jon Wittle









4. A really smart plug: Home appliances, televisions, lights left on overnight to keep monsters at bay: Families use a lot of energy. So I'm happy that smart plugs are becoming more common. Smart plugs go into regular home outlets and show you where your real energy costs are so you can adjust your usage accordingly. The Thinkeco modlet ($50; is an easy plug-and-play option.

5. Cool your nest: The world's first learning thermostat is my favorite new gadget. In a typical home, the thermostat controls about 50 percent of the energy bill. Keeping it programmed just right could save your family hundreds of dollars—and lots of wasted energy. Enter Nest: a thermostat that learns your schedule (when you're asleep or away from home) and programs itself. You can even change the settings from your smartphone. Simple to use, with a sleek, modern design, Nest may do for heating and cooling what the iPod did for music. ($249;

6. Save the planet in the checkout line: Reusable grocery bags are finally becoming mainstream. And they're worth it! Of the more than 10 million pieces of garbage picked up on ocean beaches on Coastal Cleanup Day 2009, more than 1.1 million were plastic bags (second only to cigarette butts). Families are big contributors: The average household accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store. Kicking the single-use-bag habit together can make a big impact. Check out ChicoBag's line of Vita shopping bags, as well as its Produce Stand line, which eliminates the need for single-use, disposable produce bags ( Envirosax (shown above, left and center) are an inexpensive, eye-catching option ( millionplastic bags wasted yearly in the U.S.A.