This week, we take a break from the significant challenges facing the national economy and our national energy policy that we have detailed exhaustively for the past few months. While rising oil prices continue to pose challenges for consumers and businesses alike, we must give credit to the individuals and organizations that have navigated these challenges to make some positive changes in the way they consume energy.

We recently heard about this study, which has been coined the Green Recession study, finding that cash-strapped consumers have become more diligent about taking the small steps that they have in their power to conserve energy. Little things like turning off the lights in empty rooms or turning down the thermostat may have been motivated out of a desire to save money rather than power. But the end result was the same, and it serves as a reminder that we all can take small steps even while we call for larger changes in national policy.

Another inspiring energy story comes from Starbucks, which last year reached its goal of using renewable energy as the source of more than half the electricity used in all its North American stores. The company did not meet its goal of reducing energy consumption in its stores by 25%, but they have redoubled their efforts to do so while also aiming to run its North American stores on 100% renewable energy by 2015. Starbucks deserves credit not only for working toward such lofty goals but also for sharing its progress and admitting to mixed results.

As Starbucks shows, conserving energy is not easy, especially at a time when many consumers and businesses have already cut expenses down to the bone. But the behaviors we adopt in our homes and places of business are often the only way we can respond when the economy falters.

Of course, better national policies are needed to help make energy a growth engine rather than a drain on our economy. After watching oil and gasoline prices rise for much of the year, we got a powerful indication of just how vulnerable the economy remains. GDP growth slowed significantly during the first quarter of the year, with rising gasoline prices cited as a key factor slowing consumer spending.