Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Do Abortion Rights Matter Without Any Life on Earth?

Just like every other election year, this one is going to come down to picking the best of the worst. My philosophy has always been that one can’t be a genuinely good, decent, and honest person and get ahead in what is by its very nature a power-hungry, money-hungry, polarizing, elitist, spotlight-driven profession.

Yeah, yeah, the president represents “we the people” . . . but not really.

John McCain can’t remember how many homes he owns (let’s not even guess if any of them are eco-friendly) and Barack Obama talks about change and then teams up with a man who has been "working" in Washington longer than I’ve been alive.

I don’t buy any of it. Luckily, we don’t really buy a president; we rent him for four or eight years. So, which rental will be less painful?

The environment is my #1 priority (without a healthy planet, nothing else matters). I just read this article about how the GOP is “taking a hard line on abortion while edging toward a more moderate position on global warming.”

Let me see if I understand? The GOP wants to make it illegal for women who were raped to end the nightmare, while backing down on serious environmental problems that could kill us all. Ignoring the environment is like allowing an abortion for the entire human race!

In this (green) light, Obama wins. Let’s hope the rest of us do, too.

Question of the blog: Does “GOP” stand for “Geezers, Obtuse, Pitiful”?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Looking for a Great Source for Discount Green Beauty Products?

I’ve been a fan of TJX stores (TJ Maxx, Marshalls, etc.) for about a decade. While I don’t buy many of my clothes there anymore—they haven’t seemed to embrace green fashion yet—they are a terrific source for green beauty products at a bargain price.

Eco-friendly shampoo and conditioner, for instance, can run $8/bottle, or more. That’s a price I’m willing to pay to avoid all kinds of toxins . . . but it’s a price I don’t have to pay. TJ Maxx and Marshalls both carry a number of organic, fragrance-free, paraben-free, everything-you-don’t-want-free shampoos and conditioners for $3.99/bottle.

Both stores also carry green lotions and potions—my favorite finds are product sets. This weekend, I found a $62 set of JASON “Red” products for $10.

Question of the blog: How committed are you to using green beauty products?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Want a Miraculous Green Summer Read?

My very first word was “book” (followed by “no,” but let’s not go there). Reading has always been an important part of my life—thank you, Mom—and that passion has neatly segued into my career as a professional freelance writer.

Recently, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and it moved me in such a profound, earth-quaking way, that I feel compelled to share it with you.

Here’s how the author’s website describes her book: “Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, this book (released May 2007) tells the story of how our family was changed by one year of deliberately eating food produced in the place where we live.”

Just think about it—eating food produced in the place where we live. It’s a turn-of-the-last-century concept that should be easy if they were doing it 100 years ago . . . and it’s anything but!

Most food sold in U.S. grocery stores is better-traveled than the people in the store aisles. To eat local, in-season produce doesn’t just support your community and take care of Mother Earth, it also feeds your body with the most nutritional items, especially when your local farms are organic or pesticide-free—or, better yet, when your food is grown in your own back yard.

The book is encouraging, and it’s also educational and enlightening . . . and there are also delicious recipes! By page 50, I wanted to kiss the pages (not a response I typically have) and, by page 100, I said to Mark that I’d already learned more useful, important information than I did in four years of college. Before I was even done, I was looking forward to re-reading it.

I hope you’re ready for your own miracle!

Question of the blog: Are you a locavore?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Can You Go Green (and Not Spend a Lot of Green) When You Go Back to School?

I recently wrote an article for a green website about the best ways to send your kids back to school as green as possible.

What surprised me most as I did my research was the vast amount of eco-friendly products out there for school-age children. Of course, you don’t have to be a kid to appreciate a cool green notebook!

I was watching the news last night and there was a report about how the economy is making back-to-school shopping as painful for parents as it is for children. I understand that the lowest price is often the determining factor when making a purchase—instead of its degree of green—but I encourage parents to do some research before making their purchases. Green products don’t always cost a lot of green; more and more, eco-friendly products cost the same as conventional products.

And respecting the earth is a great lesson to teach your kids!

Question of the blog: If you have school-age children, is their school green enough for you?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Want to Go Green and Make Some Green?

Some things are easy to recycle—say, a newspaper. Other things aren’t so easy—say, your old cell phones (all three of them), your decidedly low-tech 2-megapixel digital camera, and even that “vintage” laptop that weighs about 18 pounds.

Not wanting to throw away any of our electronics, Mark and I have been storing them in our home office closet. But that's no solution! Recently, Mark found a site that doesn’t just take unwanted electronics off our hands, it pays us to do so.

The company is called Gazelle and, as they say on their site, “you get paid to be environmentally responsible.”

Talk about being green and making some green!

Gazelle is looking for your:
· Cell phones
· MP3 Players
· Digital Cameras
· Laptops
· GPS Devices
· Gaming Consoles
· Camcorders
· Satellite Radios
· Portable Hard Drives

How it works: You go to www.gazelle.com, search for the electronic device you want to sell, review the price Gazelle is willing to pay for your item, and—if you agree to the terms—enter your information and they send you a box AND pay for shipping . . . and then the item is out of your home office closet (or wherever you keep your stash) and you receive money.

Apparently, Gazelle has kept almost 5 tons of potential e-waste out of landfills. I wonder how many tons of cold, hard cash the company has added to wallets! Kudos, Gazelle.

Question of the blog: Do you have any tips for recycling hard-to-recycle items?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Need a Cool Place for a Memo?

I admit it: I tried (rather unsuccessfully) to create a “vision board”—a place to display my hopes and dreams that works under the basic assumption of . . . if you visualize it, it will come true.

Here’s why it didn’t work for me: I wasn’t inspired by my rather-boring board.

I tacked up a few images, and then I avoided it. Eventually, the cat pulled down a few of the photos (she’s like that) and those images that were left curled up on themselves, as if too embarrassed to be seen. Last month, the bulletin board was sold at our tag sale.

But then I had a new vision yesterday while reading Real Simple. When cork cramps your style, like it did mine, they recommend a Pulp Designer Fabric Memo Board. Here’s why: “The 22-inch square bulletin board, which comes in 18 fabric designs, accepts regular pushpins but won’t stick out like a sore thumb and ruin your decor.”

The fabric isn’t described as eco-friendly, but the boards are hand-crafted in the United States—and buying products made in the United States is one of my favorite ways to go green.

Once I get my Pulp Designer Fabric Memo Board, and create my “vision board,” one of my first visions might just be for Pulp to go green.

Question of the blog: Does a product have to be 100% green for you to buy it, or are you okay with shades of green?

Monday, August 18, 2008

What’s in the Bag?

Mark heard recently that JC Penny carries organic clothes and we stopped by our local store this weekend. A few feet within the front door, I saw that JC Penny sells a colorful cloth bag for $1.99 at check-out.

Or, at least, the theory is that they sell these bags.

I watched as a line of people moved through one register. The cloth bags were on the other side of the counter and not once did the JC Penny associate ask if a customer would like a cloth bag for $1.99, and not once did a customer ask for one.


Stay with me for a moment: I’ve noticed that TJX stores have a ridiculous new policy. If a store associate doesn’t ask you if you’d like to sign up for a TJX credit card, you receive a HUGE bottle of soda for free. Um, I don’t want the card or the soda. But this got me thinking . . .

Stores that carry their own cloth bags—like JC Penny and Hannaford Supermarkets—should start a policy where they ask customers if they’d like to buy a cloth bag with their purchase. Or, better yet, start giving away the cloth bags (using them in place of plastic) and instituting a policy where a customer gets a small percentage off all future purchases when he or she reuses the bag.

I mean, really, the JC Penny cloth bag costs $1.99 (which has to be just pennies wholesale). And, to JC Penny, each bag is a walking billboard as—presumably—the shopper will carry the bag around town.

In this scenario, the shopper wins, JC Penny wins, and Mother Nature wins. My work here is done.

Question of the blog: Have you noticed any big chain retailers successfully promoting their cloth bags?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Are You Up for the “One Bottle/One Year” Challenge?

Plastic water bottles are everywhere. And, unfortunately, as much as 90% of them are in landfills. We need one close at hand at work, the gym, and even the car. Of course we need to stay hydrated, but we also need to consider the drain on the environment, energy, and resources.

Assuming you recycle (for which I fundamentally applaud you), I have to say: Don’t be fooled.

The little “recyclable” sign on the bottom of a plastic bottle is a get-out-of-green-guilt card as it misleads people into thinking they’re doing all they can, and should, by tossing the bottle into the recycling container instead of the trash bin.

But remember the first of the three Rs is REDUCE, as in don’t buy those plastic bottles in the first place.

So I challenge you to use only one water bottle for the next 365 days (at least). I’m not asking you to refill a plastic bottle for a year—that’s dangerous as the plastic will leach more and more with each use. Instead, I’m suggesting you invest in a stainless steel reusable water bottle and a water filter of some sort (unless you have access to a natural spring).

With so many stainless steel water bottles on the market, which do you choose? My green guru gives her highest praise to Klean Kanteen, which is enough of an endorsement for me.

Question of the blog: Are you up for the “One Bottle/One Year” challenge?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How Do Endangered Species Quickly Become Extinct Species?

So I read an article on Monday that I found both sad and disturbing, but not at all surprising. Apparently, soon-to-be-former President Bush is working hard to extinguish part of the Endangered Species Act.

Why work hard on solving, say, global warming, a bad economy, energy issues, antiquated health care, failing education system, rising unemployment, ballooning national debt, or the crumbling housing market when you can spend your time and intelligence—wait, I mean your time—on throwing the bald eagle under the bus.

What a legacy!

According to the Associated Press (AP), the Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines, and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants. New regulations, which don’t require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years.

Decide for themselves? You do the corrupt math.

The AP continued: If approved, the changes would represent the biggest overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986 . . . The new regulations follow a pattern by the Bush administration not to seek input from its scientists. The regulations were drafted by lawyers . . . The changes would apply to any project a federal agency would fund, build or authorize that the agency itself determines is unlikely to harm endangered wildlife and their habitat.

Government wildlife experts currently participate in tens of thousands of such reviews each year . . . "If adopted, these changes would seriously weaken the safety net of habitat protections that we have relied upon to protect and recover endangered fish, wildlife, and plants for the past 35 years," said John Kostyack, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming initiative.

Under current law, federal agencies must consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to jeopardize any endangered species or to damage habitat, even if no harm seems likely. This initial review usually results in accommodations that better protect the 1,353 animals and plants in the U.S. listed as threatened or endangered and determines whether a more formal analysis is warranted.

I’m glad our current president is an endangered and soon-to-be-extinct species in terms of his days left in office. And I hope the next president understands that there's a delicate balance in nature, and we have to do all we can to go green—both the US government and its citizens—to get back in balance.

Question of the blog: Every article I read on the changes said they’d be subject to a 30-day public comment period before being finalized by the Interior Department, yet not one article included information on the way we the public can voice our concerns. Do you know how we can comment on the new rules within the 30-day public comment period?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How Long is Your “5-Minute” Shower?

I grew up in Western Massachusetts—which gets its pristine water from Quabbin Reservoir—and one day, after taking a shower, my Mother said to me, “I just heard on the news that Quabbin Reservoir’s water table just dropped two inches.”

In other words, I took a l-o-n-g shower.

In my quest to go green, shortening my showers has been one of my most difficult challenges. My mind wanders and, while I have every intention of making it quick, time seems to pass with extreme speed—as if a shower stall is a some sort of wind-it-up time travel device.

A few weeks ago, Mark and I bought a “Shower Coach™” from Niagara. This 5-minute hourglass is water proof and has a suction cup that sticks to the wall. Swivel it when you get into the shower and play race-the-hourglass to see if you can get out before it runs out of sand. “Shower Coach™” was designed to teach children how to take quick showers, but I find it works well in teaching adults, too.

This eco home must-have costs less than $5! Think about how much money it saves . . . just don’t think about it and then let your mind wander while you’re in the shower.

Question of the blog: What’s been your most difficult challenge in going green?

Monday, August 11, 2008

What Has Your Bra Done For You Lately?

The conventional bra needed a make-over, and Christina Erteszek was just the designer to do it . . . and do it right. Her “Brassage” offers support, sure, but it also treats the body right with organic cotton and patented Lymphatic Enhancing Technology (LET).

Don't think you need LET? Think again!

LET micro-massages the network of lymphatic vessels which clean breast tissue. Translation: The small raised bumps in the bra’s side panels help to remove toxins from the breast.

I just bought one (on sale) from Gaiam and I’m hooked—excuse the pun.

Question of the blog: With undergarments worn as close to the body as possible, how important is “green” underwear to you?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Which Came First: The Green Chicken or the Green Egg?

Green AMPlified, a national survey released by AMP Agency, an Alloy Media + Marketing company, revealed that almost all Americans—a whopping 90 percent—believe that acting in an environmentally responsible way is important.

The survey also revealed that 53 percent of consumers will consider a company’s social and environmental activities when making a purchasing decision and will reward companies that are committed to the green cause—57 percent say they’ll trust a green company and 60 percent will purchase its products.

That’s the great news . . . but there’s some not-so-great news, too.

The same 90 percent that believe going green is important feel that the responsibility is in the hands of corporations and not in their own hands. And while they are increasingly implementing eco-friendly evaluations into their product purchasing decisions, they will allow only a minimal sacrifice in terms of changing their own lifestyle.

You’ve got to be kidding me!

Looking to Uncle Sam, or the president of McDonald’s, to make the world green is foolish at best. At worst, it’s deadly. Think about it: We’re all encouraged to go green because being anything else typically includes serious health risks. Drinking from plastic bottles that have leached harmful chemicals. Sleeping on a mattress that’s releasing toxic fumes. Draping our bodies in clothing drenched in pesticides. Eating hormone-filled meats. These are just four examples of countless risks.

Change Needs to Start at Home

The typical American lifestyle needs to change . . . desperately . . . and quick.

You might think that we’ve always lived this way, but we haven’t. Current generations are expected to have a life span that’s shorter than that of their parents. It’s time to get outraged, and to use that passion to start making green changes, no matter how uncomfortable.

Here are some of the things Mark and I do (and don’t do):

  • I’m a full-time writer and I work out of my house; Mark drives our hybrid a mere 3.2 miles to his job each day.
  • We eat local, in-season, organic food as often as possible (which, when you look for it, is frequently possible).
  • We limit our use of packaging.
  • We compost.
  • We recycle everything we can.
  • When we do end up with a plastic bag—which is rare—we wash it and dry it on a rack made for just that purpose.
  • We don’t water our lawn or use any chemicals (we think the only place you shouldn’t be green is your lawn if it takes chemicals and precious water to get it that way!).
  • We only use no-VOC paint.
  • We bought energy-efficient light bulbs . . . and curtains.
  • We turn off every light when leaving a room (even for just a few minutes).
  • We look at clothing labels and buy organic or sustainable products.
  • We added a green mattress topper, eco pillows, and organic bedding in our bedroom.
  • We always try to buy products made in the United States (even if they cost more).
  • We're up to nearly 20 plants in our house to help clean the air.

This list is far from complete, but it lets you know that we walk the green walk. Some of it isn't fun but, get this, we're happy. Really, really happy.

Make the Change at Work, Too

Just over 10 years ago, I implemented a recycling program in my first job out of college. I did all the sorting and recycling myself (which included visiting a recycling center) on my own time, and my own dime. “I wish I could do that,” an older colleague said to me one day. “But I just don’t enjoy recycling.” At that exact moment, I was carrying a mound of soda cans—and I don’t even drink soda!—trying to make sure none of them fell, spilled on me, or got me sticky. “You think I enjoy this?” I asked.

My point is to taking your same green passion from your home to your office, making green changes and encouraging co-workers and management to do the same.

Back to the Green AMPlified survey, I’m beyond thrilled that going green is important to 90 percent of Americans. Now it’s our job to make sure we get those same people to realize it’s just as important to go green at home.

Question of the blog: How much are you willing to sacrifice in your life to go green?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Do You Need to Move to Europe to Drive a Green Ford?

Last night I was reading a book that a friend gave me back in 1995: Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. The book—which shares Lindbergh’s musings on life—was written more than 50 years ago. The gap between then and now was readily apparent in a line Lindbergh wrote about the United States being a leader that other countries aspire to emulate.

When I read the line, my heart sank. The US is still a world leader, but I doubt most any other country would want to be like us: in a state of war with a bad economy, a busted housing market, politicians (we don’t trust) bickering instead of compromising, racism, sexism, violence, terrorism, natural disasters, extreme energy use, a celebrity fixation . . . please don’t make me go on!

There’s a long list of our great attributes, too, but the fact that we’ve fallen extremely short of our true potential is troubling.

Take Ford, for example. This classic American car maker is—and let me just be blunt here—a disgrace when it comes to introducing environmentally friendly technology in its own country. For years, it produced and sold bigger-is-better cars and trucks, somehow missing all the signs pointing to the growing demand for smaller, more efficient vehicles. Personally, I was in the market for a hybrid three years ago!

We can assume, when they came to the fork in the energy road, that every big wig “visionary” at Ford took the left road instead of the right one, simply making a mistake. But we’d be wrong . . . Ford did go, in part, down the right road. Just not in its home country. Let me explain: At the recent British International Motor Show, Ford introduced ECOnetic. This vehicle is an energy-efficient version of its Ford Fiesta, with 63.6 MPG.

Ready to buy one? Well, you can’t—unless you live in Europe. That’s right, this “green” car, which would undoubtedly be a big hit in Ford’s own country, won’t be sold in the states for at least a year and a half.

I love my country and am proud of its ingenuity, beauty, and diversity. But I feel a bit like the parent of a teenager (the US being the teen, of course). I love it but I don’t always understand it—it frustrates me with its moodiness, extremes, and propensity not to listen to common sense. And like the parent of a teenager, I take faith that this is just growing pains . . . hopefully, pains we endure as the country is growing/going green.

Question of the blog: With both McCain and Obama flip-flopping on some environmental issues, do you think either will have the backbone, once in office, to make the changes we need . . . instead of succumbing to the pressures of anti-green lobbyists?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Have You Seen the (Soy Candle) Light?

My love of candles is a genetic trait I share with my Father. Odd, huh? But it may not be exactly what you think. When my Dad was a young boy in Catholic school, he got into trouble with the nuns—as he did very often—for sneaking into church and lighting every single candle in the venerated space.

My relationship with candles is much more innocent . . . but it wasn’t always the case. I used to burn anything with a wick, never stopping to consider what was in the wax, the container, or the wick itself. But in my process of going green, I’ve seen the (soy candle) light!

Yesterday I was in Boston and, while shopping between meetings, I bought a soy candle from Paddywax. Here’s how the company describes its eco collection on the website:

“We took the famed phrase 'We must be the change we want to see in the world' to heart. From soy-based inks, to hemp twine, to recycled paper, this collection is committed to conserving our planet's resources. The chlorine free paper pulp box is biodegradable in 3-6 months and is wrapped with a 100% post-industrial recycled paper label awarded FSC-certification. The FSC's mission is to 'promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world's forests.'” Each candle is hand-poured in the USA and offers 45 hours of guiltless burn time. Oh, and the scents are terrific (I chose "Bordeaux Fig and Vetiver").

In response to these superb soy candles—and in homage to my Father’s attempt to lighten up the church—I ask: Can I get an Amen?

Question of the blog: What’s your favorite soy candle company?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Have You Turned Your Green Corner?

I hate to admit it, but a lot of very famous people hang out in my closet: Manolo Blahnik, Calvin Klein, and even Donna Karan (although she’s been relegated to the very back, behind my college crew jacket). The sad truth is that I used to be more impressed with the designer name on one label than the materials listed on the other.

Recently, I learned just how much I’ve changed.

After visiting our local Farmers’ Market on Saturday, Mark and I drove home through Kittery, Maine, which is the location of the country’s first big outlet center. “Did you see that?” I asked as we passed what used to be vacant space. “I sure did,” Mark answered, turning the car around.

It was a Burberry Clearance Center. We walked in to find a large sign indicating everything in the store was 30% off the (very low) lowest price. The first thing I picked up was a signature Burberry scarf: With the discount, it was $14.

A few years ago, I would have put several in my cart and given them away as holiday gifts. But I didn’t want to put this scarf around my neck and I didn’t want to give it to others because it wasn’t made of organic or sustainable materials. In other words, I wasn’t at all impressed.

I circled the store, looking at the labels, and didn’t find one thing I wanted. Neither did Mark. As we walked out, Mark said, “We’ve come a long way.” Later that day, I visited the Gaiam website, checking out Fair Trade items, and found their Silvia Scarf.

Here’s how they describe it: “Add featherweight warmth to a sleeveless dress or yoga top with our 100% silk organza scarf. Handmade by women weavers in remote Cambodian villages and through the aid of a fair trade company, this small business venture hopes to erase the ever-present risk of human trafficking, violence and abuse in Cambodia. From Hagar, a fair trade group.”

And, get this, the scarf costs $14 . . . the same price as the Burberry scarf. Talk about closing a toxic door and opening an eco-friendly window.

Question of the blog: Are you switching over your conventional wardrobe to a green wardrobe in one fell swoop or are you adding pieces as you go?

Friday, August 1, 2008

(Organic) Curtain Call: Can You Help Me?

Mark and I have lived in our house for six years, and—for six years—I’ve wanted to hang curtains in our living room.

You have to understand: If I had to choose another career, it would be green interior design, so the way a place looks (and, really, feels) is of the utmost importance to me. As I shared with you many blogs ago, we moved into our house on a sweltering August day and we didn’t stop moving until every box was in the house and unpacked.

We had a house-warming soon afterwards and an acquaintance said to me, “It took 10 years to get my house looking this cozy and lived-in.” It was the best compliment I could have received.

But I digress . . .

Our house is totally designed, down to the angle of the plants, but the one bare spot is the living room windows. To me, it looks like a woman who got all dolled up and forgot to put on her lipstick. It’s just not finished.

Yesterday I decided to do something about it (finally!) and I went about what I thought would be an easy task: finding organic cotton curtains. I was so wrong. Organic cotton shower curtains are a breeze to find, but take the “shower” out of the equation and, well, you’re all wet.

I’m hoping you can help me in suggesting a source for eco-friendly and stylish window treatments. Ideally, the curtains will be grommet top, insulated, and some shade of maroon . . . and organic cotton or hemp or bamboo . . . and made in the United States. I know, I’m asking for a lot, but what I’m looking for just might be out there.

Oh, and if it’s on sale, that’s even better.

Question of the blog: Do you suffer from “green guilt” if you have to buy a product that’s conventional when you’re looking for eco-friendly?