Green is the new black; it goes with everything these days. But what exactly does being “green” mean? With mounting concern over global warming, depleting resources and toxic chemicals in our food and homes, how do we know what’s sensible and what’s just hype?
Environmental activist Laurie David describes the term “green” in her book “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming” (see sidebar for interview) as “everything that seeks to protect and preserve the well-being of people and the planet.”
On that note, here are 40 great green ideas—from what to shop for to how to decorate to tips for when you’re pregnant—compiled from a variety of resources for you and your family to consider.
1. Paper Products When you buy paper products such as bathroom tissue, paper towels and school and office supplies, it’s best to buy those that have at least 30% post-consumer recycled content and are process chlorine free (PCF) or total chlorine free (TCF). At www.planetinc.com/paper.htm, you can purchase paper goods that are 80% post-consumer content and TCF.
2. Clean House If many of the cleaners under your sink are labeled with a skull-and-crossbones sticker, consider using more organic products. Vinegar and lemon juice are perfect for countertops, floors and bathrooms. Baking soda creates a nice scouring effect that will leave tubs and sinks shining au naturale. You can learn how to make your own non-toxic cleaning kit at home by visiting www.care2.com/greenliving/make-your-own-non-toxic-cleaning-kit.html.
3. Light Bulbs You’ve seen them before. They’re those twisty bulbs that seem to be all the rage these days, and they’re called CFLs (compact fluorescent lights). If every household in the U.S. changed one incandescent bulb to a CFL, it would be the equivalent of removing one million cars from the road in terms of CO2 emissions. CFLs are 3 to 4 times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, last 8 to 10 times longer, and can save you $2.60 per bulb per year.
4. Eco-Pets No, we’re not talking about replacing your lovable cats and dogs with more energy-efficient animals, but there are green products for pet owners to consider. Eco-friendly kitty litter, such as Yesterday’s News, which is made from recycled newspapers, and Spike’s Biodegradable Business Bags, which are better for the environment than the plastic ones. Find Business Bags online at www.3rliving.com and Yesterday’s News at www.petnetdirect.com.
5. Beverage Carriers Forgoing the convenience of plastic water bottles will save you money while helping to save the environment. A stainless steel or aluminum bottle is the safest option. To make an extra impact, try implementing a water bottle or reusable mug policy in your office, kids’ school or sports team. Find reusable bottles at www.progressivekid.com/shop/Eco-FriendlyWaterBottles.aspx.
6. Bath and Body What we put on our bodies may be as important as what we put in our bodies. Beware of chemicals found in soaps, perfumes and shampoos. The key is to look for non–petroleum-based oils. In other words, skip the mineral oil and go for coconut, avocado or grapeseed oils, and use rose water or other essential oils as cleaner, less-expensive fragrances. Try Logona, Kiss My Face, Zia’s or Aveda brands for all things spa.
7. The Future of School Supplies Electronics, paper, art supplies and more are all available in energy-efficient and non-toxic varieties. Interesting buys include solar backpacks that allow kids to charge iPods and cell phones on the go and staple-free staplers. Visit www.thegreenguide.com/doc/121/backtoschool for a list of the greenest supplies.
8. You Are What You Eat There are a few simple choices you can make during your next grocery run. (1) Whether you choose whole or skim, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH)–free milk and dairy products are ideal. rBGH is used to increase milk production in cows, but it has been linked to incidence of cancer in humans. (2) This Halloween, organic treats beat sugary tricks: try Endangered Species Organic Chocolate Bug Bites and Chocolate Chip Mints. (3) When it comes to produce, locally grown fruits and veggies are considered an energy-efficient option.
9. Dress Your Family in Green Organic blends and 100% cotton are great for kids. They breathe more easily, and so will you, knowing that your little ones are not sleeping in or wiping their noses on chemically treated synthetic fabrics. www.adili.com is a good place to find ethical, organic and stylish options.
In the Home
10. Paints that Let You Breathe Easy Green paint can be any color of the rainbow as long as it emits low amounts of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), which are known to be one of the worst contributors to indoor air pollution. Look for low- or no-VOC latex paints and finishes such as Glidden’s Spred 2000 or Benjamin Moore’s Pristine.
11. Rethink Carpets Although a wall-to-wall carpeted floor can help cushion a toddler’s fall, carpets are notorious for collecting dirt, dust and toxins present in the home. Your child’s toys, food, hands and face probably come into contact with the carpet frequently, and that’s why it’s smart to consider removable carpets that can be cleaned on top as well as underneath, or hardwood floors combined with an area rug.
12. Eco-Friendly Furniture It’s good to look for pieces made from local and naturally occurring materials that will biodegrade, used or recycled furniture, and organic fabrics, padding and fillings. Ikea and Crate & Barrel introduced green and recycled products to their line, and www.thegreenguide.com features a great list of green “starter” furniture that won’t break the bank. Second Life Furniture, www.southshore.com/~crbslf, sells products that are made by the most energy efficient, non-polluting methods.
13. Old-Time Ice Box or Efficient Fridge? If your refrigerator is more than 10 years old, it’s best to replace it with a newer, Energy Star–qualified model. In the meantime, make your fridge more efficient. Open the door as little as possible so less cold air escapes. Keep the fridge full: mass holds the cold in, allowing your fridge to cycle (read: work) less. Clean the gasket and sealing surfaces frequently and replace the gasket if damaged.
14. Fix Your Leaky Sink Do you know that a faucet that leaks at a rate of one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water a year? Running toilets are also a water waster. To find out if you have a toilet leak, put food coloring in the tank and wait half an hour. If the water in the bowl changes color, you’ve got one.
15. Bring Plants into the Home Bringing nature into your home is a great way to reduce the toxins in the air you breathe. Plants such as the areca palm, reed palm, dwarf date palm, Boston fern, Janet Craig dracaena, English ivy, peace lily and weeping fig are all efficient pollutant reducers.
16. Harness the Sun You don’t have to cover your house in solar panels to use solar energy. Simply having darker surfaces on the outside or inside of your home helps to absorb the sun’s rays and decreases the cost of heating. Products like solar bags, chargers, radios and flashlights are convenient, allowing you to store energy as you travel. Reware’s beach tote is just one great idea: www.rewarestore.com/product/beachtote.html.
17. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle Equip your home with three separate trash cans: one for food and non-recyclables; one for metal, glass and plastic; and one for paper products. www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/recycling/recycle_what.shtml is a good guide for what to recycle and what to trash in the Big Apple.
18. Upgrade Your Washer An Energy Star–qualified washing machine uses 50% less energy and may reduce your yearly utility bill by $110. It’s a water saver as well, using about half as many gallons as a standard machine.
19. Turn Your Thermostat Down One Degree One degree translates to 3% in heating costs, while five degrees decreases heating bills by almost 6%. Also, turn the temperature down when you have people over: every guest is the equivalent of a 100-watt heater.
20. Make Your Own Wood Stain Simmer a handful of plant matter in 4 cups of water for an hour, adding more water as it evaporates. Cool, strain and add 1/2 teaspoon of alum (available in the spice section of supermarkets) as a fixative. Paint on, dry and recoat two to four times or as desired. Be sure to test stain before applying fully.
21. Every Drop Counts Make your home a “no running water” zone. Tooth-brushing, face-washing and shaving should all be done with the water off. If you wash dishes by hand, don’t leave the water on while you scrub; if you use a dishwasher, don’t pre-rinse. “Showers, not baths” is a tried but true mantra for the eco-savvy family. Try timed showers with kids; make it a game to see who can get clean the fastest.
22. Go Unplugged Up to 10% of your electricity bill comes from things you turn off but don’t unplug, such as computers, televisions and chargers. To reduce this phenomenon known as phantom power, always unplug your chargers (phone, iPod, camera) when you aren’t using them, turn off computers as opposed to letting them hibernate, and use a power strip to plug in multiple devices that can then be switched off all at once.
23. Eco-Friendly Birthdays With all the party hats, plates, streamers and gifts that go unused, birthdays are a source of much waste. Make your next party green with an organic cake, a field trip or encouraging presents that give back. For great ideas check out Catharine Zandonella’s tips at www.thegreenguide.com/doc/116/birthdays.
24. Stop Junk Mail What a relief to know that your mailbox is full of mail you actually want, and not just nonrecycled clutter. Several resources are available to stop junk mail: www.directmail.com is a free, quick way to de-list yourself, and www.optoutprescreen.com lets you eliminate credit card offers.
25. Just Do It (Yourself) Crafting projects are a great way to get the whole family participating in reuse, save money and let kids be creative. Projects like DIY finger paints and play dough also help you avoid the chemicals found in store-bought brands. To learn about other craft projects, check out www.care2.com/greenliving/family/crafts-projects.
26. Vacation Outdoors Connecting kids to the environment is not only healthy and fun, it’s also a surefire way to make kids care. Trips to the beach are relaxing but don’t always have the same impact as camping, hiking or sailing trips. There are alsovacations that allow you to explore the rainforests, national parks and more. Wildland Adventures (www.wildland.com) and Holiday Expeditions (www.bikeraft.com) are good places to start planning.
27. Set a Green Table Start with the basics: cloth napkins instead of paper and lead-free tableware (see www.environmentaldefense.org for a comprehensive list). A living centerpiece is a nice touch and provides cleaner air. By turning off the television and eating by candlelight, you save electricity and enhance the mood of your meal.
28. Green Travel Airplane travel is one of the leading causes of carbon emissions, but there are ways to offset your carbon emissions when you fly. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) allows you to calculate your carbon footprint and translate it into a dollar amount that can be donated to certified third-party renewable energy and energy-efficient projects.
29. Take Up a Cause Start a petition at work or school on a green issue that you feel is important, such as recycling or reusable mugs. Other ideas: start a compost pile, join a food co-op, plant a tree or invest in projects like Sierra Club, Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.
30. Coffee Fix Shade-grown, fair-trade coffee is the best way to go. Non–shade-grown coffee is grown on land that has been damaged and cleared, which has a severely detrimental effect on wildlife, especially migratory birds. Jim’s Organic Coffee and Green Mountain are two brands to try.
31. Go Vegetarian Forgoing meat products even one day a week not only diversifies dinner, it saves 2,500 gallons of water for every pound of beef you don’t eat. That’s 40 times more water than is used to produce the same amount of potatoes. www.eartheasy.com/eat_vegetarian.htm offers vegetarian meals for meat lovers, and http://vegweb.com has more than 9,000 recipes.
32. Switch to Green Power New York’s Con Edison now offers power alternatives. Wind, water, solar and biomass all generate energy with less environmental impact and cost only one half-cent per kilowatt-hour more than the standard package (www.coned.com/publicissues/100tips.asp).
33. Diaper Duty Both cloth and disposable diapers have pros and cons. Cloth diapers do cut down on waste in landfills and save trees, but they take a lot of water and detergent to wash. Meanwhile, some disposable diapers, such as Seventh Generation’s chlorine-free variety, help cut down on the byproduct dioxin that is leaked into the environment during bleaching and are free of fragrance, latex and TBT (tributyl tin, a biocide used in paper mills that is extremely toxic to wildlife).
34. Bottles Bottle wear and tear—heating, freezing, excessive sucking—makes them more likely to leach their chemicals. Glass bottles are the best option and now come in shatterproof materials from companies like Evenflo. If you do choose to use plastic, it’s best to go with decorative-free bottles made from plastic #2 or #5.
35. Clothes, Blankets, Slings and Things Organic clothes, baby blankets and slings keep your little bundle bundled in the safest materials. www.sagebabynyc.com has attractive, diverse options and lets you register online for baby showers or birthday celebrations. www.ourgreenhouse.com also has clothing, toys and baby carriers.
36. What To Eat (and Not Eat) with a Baby on Board Other than a standard organic diet, Diedre Dolan and Alexandra Zissu, authors of “The Complete Organic Pregnancy,” recommend strict cleanliness in the kitchen. Washing fruits and vegetables properly, avoiding cross-contamination, using clean sponges and towels and avoiding raw and undercooked meat and eggs are among their suggestions. They also give a list of the top 12 most contaminated fruits and veggies and alternative choices.
37. Buy Less, Save More Green Second-hand baby products are a great green idea, eliminating extra waste and saving you money. See if you can make a swap with friends. Otherwise, look for pre-used items at second-hand stores. Adaptable furniture is another green trend to check out. www.nurseryworks.net sells products that transform (for example, a crib becomes a toddler’s bed) with your growing baby’s needs.
38. The Formula for a Healthy Baby There are very few varieties of organic formula on the market. Baby’s Only, available at Whole Foods, is a good option. However, it is marketed as milk for toddlers, so it’s best to ask your pediatrician (bring a list of ingredients) if it’s right for your child. Many mothers who don’t breastfeed are opting to use donor breastmilk. Visit www.hmbana.com to learn more.
39. Breastfeeding If you do choose to breastfeed, which has been linked to lower rates of allergies and asthma, it’s important to remember that traces of what you eat and drink can show up in your breastmilk. Tobacco, alcohol and caffeine should be avoided while breastfeeding. For tips on organic herbs that promote lactation, read “Nursing Mother’s Herbal” by Sheila Humphrey.
40. Adding On a Nursery In the interest of your baby’s health, home renovations during your pregnancy should be avoided when possible. If you have to add on to make room, try to stay out of the house when possible and talk with construction companies such as www.buildgreeninc.com who are willing to work with organic materials and chemicals.
www.care2.com Comprehensive source for all things green.
www.idealbite.com A bite a day: tips for ‘light green’ living given in small doses.
www.greenhome.com Shop online for organic goods.
www.3rliving.com A great site for organic ideas and buys.
www.thegreenguide.com Living tips, product reviews and thought-provoking articles.
“The Complete Organic Pregnancy Guide,” by Deirdre Dolan and Alexandra Zissu. Everything you need to know about being organic and staying that way, before, during, and after pregnancy.
Curb Your Emissions Environmentalist
Laurie David– estranged wife of “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Larry David and producer of “An Inconvenient Truth”–gets kids to think green with her new book, “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming.”
Why is global warming so important to you? For me, it just trumps everything else. If we don’t have a planet to live on, where are we going?
This book seems like it could be a good global warming primer for adults too. The idea is that parents will read it with their kids so they’ll get educated alongside them….And then put the book down and change three things in their house right that minute.
Your book is full of great practical ideas. What are some of the most important? What everyone needs to do, and it’s a very personal thing, is to figure out ways to start reducing your own carbon footprint. It’s not about being perfect—no one’s saying you need to live in a cave and use candles—but so much of global warming pollution is waste. There are 2.5 million water bottles thrown away every hour. The plastic lasts for a thousand years. We’re recommending that you use a metal bottle instead.
What kinds of changes can kids make in their schools? They should start a ‘Green Team’ supervised by a teacher. They should ask, “What kinds of paper are we using? How old is the water heater for the school? Are cars allowed to idle outside?”
Tell me about your own experience as a mom. How old are your children? They’re 11 and 13. They look at me sometimes like, “Ok, enough, mom.” But they turn the water off. They’re both taking shorter showers now. When they see those CFLs in hotels, they get all excited. And I’m working on the water bottle issue with them.
What do you want to see them do with this information? If my kids grow up to acknowledge that they are environmentalists, then I will have been a huge success. The truth is, we’re all environmentalists. We all want the same thing: clean air, clean water, normal seasons. These are the things that are at stake right now.