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Time to green this old (White) House -- again

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The family already is taking action to set an eco-example for the nation. First lady Michelle Obama recently broke ground for an organic herb and vegetable garden on the South Lawn.

The Obamas have installed an environmentally friendly wooden swing set for their children on the White House grounds. Cushioning underfoot is made from recycled rubber tires.

Obama isn't ready to give details of his broader go-green plans for the White House, but administration officials report that small steps are under way: The housekeeping staff is making the switch to greener cleaning supplies, and complex managers have asked engineers and groundskeepers to use greener products whenever possible. Efforts are afoot to improve and promote recycling.

As for what more can be done, outside experts on green buildings report that the administration is seeking out information about what's feasible. Given the priority Obama placed on renewable energy in his economic stimulus package and budget, environmentalists are chattering about what further steps he will take at the White House.

"They're very focused on leading by example," says Rick Fedrizzi, chief executive of the nonprofit US. Green Building Council, which has offered advice to the White House. "It's great to see that they're focused on solid solutions and not just throwing sound bites over the fence every day."

Sometimes, good intentions have gotten ahead of the technology in eco-efforts at the White House.

In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter installed a $30,000 solar water-heating system designed to save $1,000 a year in heating costs. It didn't really work.

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