SYDNEY -- From the street, Alicia Campbell's house looks no different from the others in her suburban cul-de-sac. But it has a secret: It's green -- very green.
The four-bedroom home she shares with husband Jason Young and their two sons sucks no water from Australia's drought-stricken reservoirs, recycles everything from food scraps to sewage, and even pumps electricity back into Sydney's power grid.
As the world debates how best to respond to climate change, families such as Campbell's, like others in the United States and Europe, are taking the challenge personally.
"It was a moral decision for me," said Campbell, 38, an intensive-care nurse who describes herself as "not hippie, just normal."
When she and Young began building in 2005, they decided that persistent drought made water the first priority. Like thousands of Australians whose homes are too remote to access urban water supplies, they decided to use rainwater for drinking, washing, and flushing the toilet.
Under the driveway lies a 6,600-gallon concrete tank with a steel lid. Each time it rains, a network of pipes feeds water from the roof through a flush system and into the tank. The first few gallons are diverted into the garden to eliminate any heavy metals, leaves, and bird droppings.
Despite its sunny climate, coal-rich Australia uses little solar power, and its 21 million people are the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters per capita.
So in February, Campbell installed 18 solar panels on her roof that power the house by day. Excess power is fed back into the city's electricity grid, earning the family a small rebate.
At night, the house switches into the grid rather than store the solar power in high-maintenance batteries. Campbell has yet to receive her first bill from the state energy supplier, but estimates the house has produced more energy than it has used.
A computer monitor shows the panels have produced 1.3 megawatt hours of electricity since they were installed, the equivalent of 1.2 tons of carbon dioxide on the coal-fired system.
At that rate, the family will save about 5 tons of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere over 12 months.
In the yard, the family is experimenting with growing fruit and vegetables. Their chickens, Itchy and Scratchy, pick at vegetable scraps near a big compost heap.
The Australian Conservation Foundation estimates the average household produces 2,160 pounds of garbage a year, about 40 percent of it perishable food, garden, or wood matter. Since they started composting, Campbell says her family sends around two garbage cans to the landfill each month, compared with four before.
Even their sewage is treated on site. After wrangling with local officials worried about odors and leaks, Campbell received permission to install a commercially available waste treatment system in the backyard.
Three 1,320 gallon tanks filled with sand, gravel, and bacteria dissolve and purify the waste underground. An ultraviolet filter -- similar to those used by Sydney's water authority -- then irradiates the water, making it safe for use on the garden.
Similar systems have been used in rural Australia for years, but city officials have been reluctant to approve them because of health risks in higher density areas.
Michael Mobbs, a consultant on eco-friendly buildings, said governments are hesitant to approve self-contained sewage systems and provide no major incentives for developers to install energy-saving devices in new homes.
"We need to fast-track sustainable projects," said Mobbs, who made his own three-bedroom Sydney house self-sufficient 11 years ago. "Cost is where the solution lies, and the cost comes from red tape."