The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    You go green, girl

    Before she even knew what the word meant, Tiffany Coggins was an environmentalist.

    Around the age of three or four, the Winona, Minn., native was already doing her part to save the planet at the most basic level. And in some ways, Coggins’ na’ve curiosity helped her start to tackle problems that would become more sophisticated as she got older and learned more about going green.

    “I had always considered myself an environmentalist,” said Coggins. “When I was three- and four-years old I was always trying to figure out how to put corks in smokestacks and things like that.

    “I would yell at my friends for dropping a candy wrapper on the ground.”

    Now 41 and a mother of two, Coggins is attending her first semester as a journalism major at UW-Eau Claire and has been featured in local publications for her dedication to sustainability. She also runs her own Green Girl blog and is the “Green Queen” or green editor for the local women’s magazine, Queen of the Castle.

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    Coggins started the Green Girl blog in the summer of 2008 to circulate information about environmental issues and provide social commentary.

    In December of 2008 she was offered the position with Queen of the Castle, where she writes monthly green pieces.

    “Whenever I’m not busy with school I try to blog every day,” Coggins said.

    This past summer Coggins became incorporated and added a Web site,

    Shortly after starting the blog, Coggins incorporated her green ideals into her everyday way of life by completely renovating her kitchen and other parts of her home.

    The idea, she said, was in connection with her blog and a way to show people the little things anyone can do to promote sustainability within their homes while maintaining desirable aesthetics.

    Coggins and her husband first spent nearly $10,000 on insulation to reduce heating costs for the whole house.

    But the real project was her kitchen.

    From a cluttered, slightly outdated feel to a classy, modern-look, Coggins transformed everything in the kitchen to eco-friendly and updated.

    Her counter tops look similar to polished stone but really are made out of recycled newspaper. Other parts of the counters are made with recyclable copper, which has antibacterial qualities. Her cabinets were custom made with a water-based treatment instead of oil-based. Foot pedals control the faucet to limit unnecessary water use, and a new giant window saves energy. Last but not least, Coggins bought much of her kitchen décor secondhand to cut costs and reduce waste.

    Tom Midthun, of Green Wave Building located in Eau Claire, specializes in green projects around the Midwest. Green Wave Building worked closely with Coggins to make her kitchen plans a reality.

    “Tiffany is very on the cutting edge of this stuff,” Midthun said. “She’s very well-read and very up on things, so it was a good project for us to work on together.”

    Midthun said Coggins decision to create a kitchen based on sustainability may have cost 10 to 15 percent more up front but will save her money down the road.

    “The cost isn’t that much greater than the initial cost,” Midthun said. “It’s just like appliances, when you buy more energy-efficient ones, it pays you back in a short time.

    “You name it, there’s ways across the board that you can save on your project.”

    The water-based cabinet treatment was the first Midthun had ever done, and he helped another company out of Thorp make it into an option. Such treatments help to reduce toxicity in the air of the home over time, something that Midthun said can be important to the health of its inhabitants.

    “Our focus is not just on saving energy, but on quality of life,” he said.

    Coggins said there is a common misconception that going green means a ton of sacrifices. The renovation project to her home, she said, demonstrates that people can go green and still get exactly what they want.

    “I’m not going to go and move out into a sod hut,” Coggins said. “I’m a regular person . I shop, I decorate . I’m the typical American.

    “But I just want to show people that you can reduce your carbon footprint substantially, you can be more sustainable and not be living in a commune or something like that.”

    Though she has always been concerned for the environment, Coggins passion for its conservation started when she was pregnant with her daughter, who is now 7.

    Coggins said she was looking into buying new carpeting when she stumbled across startling information about the toxicity of some of her choices.

    “That just started my researching about indoor air quality, which led to toxicity of mattresses,” said Coggins. “One thing led to another, and I was online all the time, just kind of looking things up.”

    To fuel the fire, Coggins read about the Bush’s Baked Beans factory in Augusta -which built its facility entirely on the principles of sustainability – and watched Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

    “I just got inspired . like I wanted to get back into that,” Coggins said. “So I went back to school.”

    After attending various other colleges for everything from interior design to massage therapy but never quite feeling at home, Coggins said she finally decided to try UW-Eau Claire.

    Now with her first semester nearly under her belt and a topical minor in environmental journalism set, Coggins plans to continue to make the public aware of the little things it can do to reduce its carbon footprint.

    The best part of what she does, Coggins said, is getting feedback from people who are putting her ideas to use and making them work.

    “It’s really cool to have someone come up to you and say, ‘Wow, I did that, and it really made a difference.'”

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    You go green, girl