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New Lows in Celebrity Greenwashing: The Martha Stewart "Eco Home"

Martha Stewart is slinging that warm and fuzzy eco-friendly feeling with a new "green" home that's just a poorly disguised -- but far more expensive -- version of the conventional suburban homes she slapped her name on years ago. Whether this slipshod attempt was out of sheer carelessness or subterfuge doesn't much matter. Stewart blew a great chance to introduce her legions of rabid fans to affordable eco-living.

The "GreenHouse" that Stewart is pitching these days doesn't bear much resemblance to what her partner KB Home (KBH) actually plans to sell. The GreenHouse, which has a $380,000 price tag, costs at least 50 percent more than other Martha-inspired homes built by KB, thanks to loads of expensive eco-friendly features that will only be offered to buyers as "options" to a stripped-down -- and much cheaper -- non-green house.

KB Home CEO Jeff Mezger told the WSJ that the $380,000 concept home is "meant to make green building more of a reality for high-volume home builders" and that the concept home will bring much needed attention to green building. It may bring attention, but it doesn't make going green easy or affordable. The GreenHouse only confirms the doubts of many middle-income Americans already suspicious about the green movement: that it's a feel-good luxury only wealthier folk can afford.

Nifty features, but watch that price tag
To be clear, the GreenHouse has gotten kudos from the EPA and the Department of Energy for its energy-efficient appliances, electric-vehicle charging station and solar-thermal water heater. All those features supposedly make it a "net zero energy home," which means it's supposed to produce more energy than it consumes over a year.

That's certainly nifty enough. But all those great energy-saving options are just expensive add-ons, making the whole exercise something of a bait-and-switch -- or, at the very least, a cheap PR trick. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and KB Home, which have already built 1,000 Martha-branded homes over the past six years, will debut the new Martha Stewart community near Orlando, Fla. Those homes -- sans all the green bells and whistles -- will start in the $200,000-range, according to the WSJ.

Considering the Florida locale, the GreenHouse -- which debuted earlier this month at the NAHB International Builders' Show -- could have been an opportunity to showcase how clever (and low-cost) architectural design can save a lot of energy on its own, without all the fancy add-ons. Instead, we got a 2,667-square-foot suburban concrete-block home covered in imitation clapboard that has an inefficient layout, and a bunch of energy efficiency features all located on a big lot.

The KB-Stewart team is clearly going after eco-educated consumers who have the money and are willing to spend extra on green products. And that's where the irony lies. Consumers who are truly committed to eco-living would never buy this home.

Photo from c.2010 James F. Wilson/Courtesy Builder magazine

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