Is Organic Food Worth It?: Real Food author Nina Planck explains why it is worth it to buy organic food.
“Pre-washed” Salad Precaution: A Consumer Reports test found bagged salads may not be as clean as you think.
Tax Rewards for Going Green: Good NYTimes summary of the expanded tax credits that make energy-saving purchases more affordable right now.
Because it’s Friday and I want to pretend that my wardrobe consists of more than work clothes and yoga pants. The best moments of New York Fashion week’s Green Shows.
Prepeat Printer can erase and reprint on the same paper.
OK–this is by the far the coolest concept we saw this week. The paper is made of plastic (bummer), but if you only need a few pieces, it will save lots and lots of trees (yeah!).
As you know, I gave up paper towels–at least until Easter. I was doing fine with regular dish cloths until I decided that the glass shower wall needed a good scrub. And suddenly, the dish clothes were just not cutting it. At all. I pondered whether it would be possible to go until Easter without washing the glass wall and decided that was just gross. So while my original intent was to prove that you could go with just regular towels and sponges, I decided that glass cleaning without paper towels would be a great test case.
I found, bought, tried & love “Twist” sponge cloths. They are much more absorbent than fiber cloths, but unlike regular sponges, they don’t streak or leave fuzz which makes them good for glass. The shower wall looks great—as do the tables, counters, windows, popcorn maker and stainless steel composter (I went a little overboard testing it out). They aren’t outrageous ($5.99 for 3 cloths). You can wash them in the dishwasher. But most importantly, each cloth can be used over 1,000 times (according to them. I’m up to about 35) which saves about 17 rolls of paper towels and if I can do math today–$69– assuming $1.50 per roll for the recycled ones.
So the glass issue is resolved. Now I just need a good idea for draining bacon…
This guest post is contributed by Practically Green reader Priscilla Matuson.
“A Green Beginning”
Going green before starting a family was my first priority, and I began my journey by focusing on eliminating the toxins in and around my home. The first change that I made was easy: simply have everyone remove his/her shoes upon entering my home. However, the second change, switching to organic lawn care, took more time, research, and ultimately, patience.
My husband, Greg, and I wholeheartedly believed that the toxins in and around our home were harmful, but it was only after we suffered great sadness did we realize that we needed to make greener choices. For the first six years of our relationship, Greg and I lived at the beach in an older second story condo, and our cats, Daisy and Putty, were healthy. However, a couple of years after we moved into our newly constructed home that sits on an acre of land, both of our cats, who we considered our babies, began losing weight while showing other alarming symptoms. Both eventually died of cancer within a two-year span of each other; Putty of brain cancer and Daisy of cancer of her large intestine. Our veterinarian asserted that it was almost impossible for both of our cats, who were not blood related, to die of cancer within such a short span. Genetically, it is virtually impossible. After conducting much research, I was convinced that their deaths were environmentally related, and the EPA voiced concerns that cyclodiene pesticides might cause long-term damage to the liver and central nervous system, as well as an increased risk of cancer. Even though we were proud that our house was Energy Star certified, we did not maintain it with eco-friendly materials until after Putty’s diagnosis in 2003.
When we decided to eliminate the toxins in and around our home, we knew that our lawn care needed to go green. We started the switch by treating our lawn ourselves because there wasn’t an eco-friendly lawn service in our area, so we conducted many google searches and decided to buy our organic lawn products from gardens alive!. Even though our lawn was the greenest I’d ever seen it, weeds were popping up everywhere. Nevertheless, we were at a loss with limited knowledge of how to switch from a chemically treated to an organically treated lawn.
A year after we struggled with treating our lawn ourselves, an entrepreneur started his own business, Organic Solutions Landscaping, and we were elated to be one of his first customers. Charlie Banks, the owner of Organic Solutions, taught us that the most important way of preventing weed growth is to over-seed and to mow the lawn on the highest setting. By doing so, a shady environment is established and that environment prevents the weeds from germinating, growing as well as spreading. Nevertheless, over seeding is just the beginning, but with a trusted organic landscaper who is knowledgeable in his field, it is easy to have a luscious “green” green lawn.
Around the same time we made our lawn care switch, I discovered several alarming studies regarding toxins found in homes where shoes are worn indoors. After discovering that wearing shoes indoors tracks in toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, E. Coli, and lead found in seemingly benign dirt, I implemented a no shoe rule immediately in my home. Personally, I never considered that E. Coli could be tracked into my home after using a public restroom hours earlier. I also never thought that ordinary dirt was harmful, but I came to discover that dirt can contain alarming levels of lead. The Door Mat Study concludes that using a door mat cuts down the toxic lead dust levels in a home virtually in half and taking off your shoes before entering your home cuts the toxic dust down by 60%. So by implementing both rules, you can cut down the toxic dust being tracked into your home by 98.5%, and considering that 2% of the dust in our homes is from inside sources while the remaining 98% is the result of wearing shoes indoors, we can almost eliminate the indoor dust completely. Using a doormat in addition to implementing a rule that prevents everyone from wearing shoes indoors is such a simple solution, and even though some of my friends and family members get annoyed that they must take their shoes off at the front door, I know it’s healthier for me, my husband, and my children.
My daughters have recently turned 2 and 3 years old, and even though they are no longer crawling, they still constantly play on the floor. But knowing that the chemicals have been eliminated from my property and the toxic dust has been dramatically reduced in my home, I have the peace of mind that I have lessened their exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins while they play inside and outside my home.
For a greener life, we are a work in progress, sprouts if you will. However, we feel the beginning of our new life is a healthier one.
Priscilla is a former high school English teacher who left the classroom after having her first child in 2006. Since then, she has devoted her life to her family as well as reducing her family’s carbon footprint. Interested in healthy living, eating, and cleaning ever since she can remember, Priscilla’s green lifestyle expanded after starting a family. She is a very dedicated “greenie” and enjoys finding ways to live a less toxic lifestyle while embracing every/any green practice that is logical as well as affordable.
Priscilla and her family suffer from a common disease called Celiac Disease. Being forced to go gluten-free left Priscilla and her family no choice but to become even more aware of their diet and the products they buy. In addition to eating a healthier and sustainable diet, Priscilla and her family have made big changes such as switching to organic house cleaning, composting all organic waste, and installing solar panels.
Favorite Green Action Taken: going without electricity/technology for a 36-hour period once a week.
Least Favorite Green Action Taken: lugging electronic waste to a recycling center…
Working On: getting her garden ready for spring and re-educating herself on macrobiotic cooking and living.
This week, I took public transportation several times when I would normally drive and was feeling very virtuous. But yesterday I blew all that green goodness by stepping onto one of the biggest carbon contributors out there–an airplane. For a cross-country flight. And I’m not alone–there were 809MM passengers on airplanes in 2008.
Why does flying have such a big environmental impact? Planes emit carbon dioxide & nitrous oxide, very potent greenhouse gasses. According to Greenskies.org, a single flight across the Atlantic would produce the same amount of carbon per person as their home does in a year. In addition, the CO2 and water vapors emitted at high altitude also has a bigger environmental impact–experts suggest anywhere from 2-2.7X the impact at ground level.
Yes, reducing your flights is the biggest way to reduce that impact, but that is often not practical. Are there other ways to green your flying? Pattie Prairie, the CEO of Brighter Planet, had some good tips in a post this week that included packing lightly, fly non-stop, picking the greenest airline you can (JetBlue is the best of the major carriers), and flying during the day. I hit two for four on my trip–going non-stop with a small carry on. But my airline was mediocre and the flight was at night. Now what?
Brighter Planet also sells carbon offsets and their mantra is to conserve what you can and offset the rest. My flight offset is $28 and that money goes to projects like the Greensburg Windfarm. Carbon offsets have gotten some mixed reviews recently, but that’s not entirely surprising given how new the market is. If you want to make sure you are purchasing a high quality offset, here is a ranking of providers.
I have to be honest and say I’m not 100% there yet on offsets. I like that the calculations give me a number that I should “contribute” to offset something ungreen and make it easy. But I wish I had a better sense for where the money is going and more transparency about “middle man” costs. So I’ve purchased them here and there, but am by no means a regular.
What about you? Do you purchase offsets? Who do you buy from? What do you think?
5 Surprising Things You Can Recycle: You know about bottles and cans, but this article has some other good recycling ideas for less obvious items like phone books, hangars, and tin foil.
Tried and True Eco-paints: NY Times writer tests 10 environmentally friendly indoor paints and shares his favorites.
4 Secrets About Fast Food: Men’s Health editor-in-chief reveals list of shocking ingredients in common fast food items, including chicken nuggets, filet-o-fish, and a Frosty.
Note from Susan: The first time I visited the Healthy Child Healthy World site, it scared the bejeezes out of me. I had no idea that so many things we did every day were negatively impacting the health of our child. It definitely was a wake-up call. This beautifully produced video “A Wake-Up Story” summarizes the key issues, but also encourages parents to take action—in their own homes and in their communities. Hope you enjoy it!
New and Cool Pick:
The first Green Map iPhone App helps users find green things in their communities.
I’ve never been very good at giving things up for Lent. I think I tried chocolate once. Cookies another year. And swearing. (That one was tough!). A few people I know give up wine, but since my birthday is always during Lent–no *&^? way!
This year, the Natural Resources Defense Council has provided a simple and easy list of 9 things to give up for Lent and this time, I think I have found something that makes sense AND I haven’t done yet. Give up paper towels. I’ve cut back and gone all recycled materials. But never totally eliminated. This seems highly doable!
At least until Easter.
Any of these strike your fancy? Anyone want to join me on the green Lent challenge?
On Saturday night, I had a huge craving for a burger. I don’t eat burgers a ton, but primarily so my pants will continue to fit than for any directly green reason. I visited one of my favorite Boston spots and the burger was delicious. But I also decided I needed to figure out one thing. How not green, really, is that burger?
Honestly? Worse than I expected.
1. Livestock farming generates 18% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions & by comparison, all the world’s cars, trains, planes and boats account for a combined 13% of greenhouse gas emissions. Worse than cars and planes? Had no idea….
2. The average person in the industrialized world (that’s you and me!) eats 176 pounds of meat versus 66 pounds in the developing world. Scientists believe that if every American cut their meat consumption by 20%, it would be the same benefit on global warming as switching from a regular sedan to a Prius.
Why is livestock farming so bad? Primarily, the land it takes to graze and feed the animals. The demand for land is a major contributor to deforestation, which in turn impacts global warming. But it is also the methane and nitrous oxide, which comes from the manure and yes, the farts. We already know the health effects of red meat range from clogged arteries to obesity, but also, unless you are eating organic meat—there are the antibiotics and hormones to contend with. Here’s an easy to read article with the gory details from Time Magazine.
While I now understand why vegetarian/vegan eating is big among super green people, there is honestly no way that I’m going to forgo red meat and pork altogether. I understand the green benefit. Not practical. So what to do?
Practical? Yes. I estimate we are down to about 88 pounds per adult per year — or down 50% versus the average and maybe 25% versus where we were. Perhaps no coincidence, I’ve lost about 10 pounds in that time and our dining out/grocery budget is lower. So at least for me, it’s been good for the planet, health/wardrobe AND the wallet. I call that the hat trick of green living!
Here are a few ways we’ve been able to do it:
1. Dark turkey burger is a good substitute for ground beef. Not necessarily for burgers—but we use it for tacos, pasta dishes, and anything else that calls for ground meat. If you can’t take the plunge immediately, try going 50/50.
2. Go ethnic a few nights a week–we’ve had fun with Vietnamese and Mexican chicken/vegetarian dishes–and my standby lunch is chicken tikka masala. I’ve yet to be able to appreciate Tofu–all recipes/recommended dishes welcome!
3. Rethink your relationship with carbs. I was on a low carb diet for years and hated it, even though it seemed to work. I’ve been really enjoying my new found relationship with pizza and pasta—they are, relatively speaking, green foods!
4. Eat more (sustainably raised) fish. I don’t generally like fish. I know it’s good for me, but I don’t like fishy tasting fish and then the mercury and pollution freaked me out. But the Monterey Aquarium has a wallet sized “good fish” list , regionally tailored, that is helpful and I’ve found a few I like–particularly Tilapia.
5. When you do eat meat & pork, choose as healthfully raised as you can. Go for organic meat–or at least without antibiotics & hormones—and ideally from family farms versus factory farms. If that doesn’t feel “in the budget”, consider recipes that stretch smaller quantities of meat further. I’m a big believer in stir fries & entree salads.
6. Eat that burger—just not that often AND when you do, make sure you love it! What cutting back on red meat has done is make me appreciate it more when I do eat it. So that burger was delicious. I loved it–and I’ll definitely eat another one.
Just not this week….
- ‘Desertification Danger’: A new report suggests 38% of the world’s land is at risk of ‘extreme deterioration’ due to human activities.
- Weather Chaos for Winter Olympics: Warmest temperatures on record in Vancouver threaten winter games due to lack of snow.
- NY Fashion Week Goes Green: For the first time ever, New York Fashion Week will have net-zero emissions levels.
HGTV’s Green Home 2010 recently posted an Outstanding Features Slideshow that has great ideas for green home design.
New and Cool Pick:
Swedish and American researchers are working together to create affordable energy-efficient glowing wallpaper using plastic panels and electrode technology.
The St. Louis Dispatch reports that Target has pulled this Valentines Day bear after the California Attorney General and the Center for Environmental Health raised concerns about the quantity of lead in the toy.
The group tested the neon pink stuffed bear and found that it contained eight times more lead than the federal limit for products intended for children 12 and under. (The toy warns not for children 3 and under)
Target claims the product was compliant upon arrival.
I keep thinking lead is something we parents no longer have to worry that much about after Congress banned lead in children’s toys in July of 2009. But products continue to crop up with unsafe levels of lead and I personally find it’s impossible to stay in the loop on all the recalls.
Fortunately, there is a useful website that categorizes every toy hazard recall, including lead paint, from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. When I checked the list today, one of the first toys I saw was one we got as a gift in Vietnam—a balancing dragonfly—recalled in October. It’s not clear that voluntary recalls, like the one Target took today, would make the list. However, it’s still a much easier way to check toy safety than my current strategy of hoping I hear about anything bad and then being indignant when I don’t and as a result, my son has been playing with a lead butterfly for months. To quote someone I like very much, “Hope is not a strategy.” At least for keeping the lead out.
The Financial Times had a story today suggesting that companies may start to fill the void for climate reduction after stalemates in Congress and a lack of major progress at Copenhagen.
Two big US companies have decided to avoid suppliers that source fuel from Canada’s oil sands to curb their carbon footprints.
The decisions by Whole Foods Market, an organic grocery chain, and Bed Bath & Beyond, a household goods company, underline how industry is moving to fill the void left by inaction at Copenhagen and the failure of the US Congress to limit carbon emissions.
Whole Foods Market doesn’t surprise me–it’s core to their brand and their customer base. Bed Bath & Beyond did. I haven’t really considered them a leader in green. A quick check of their green ranking in Newsweek shows they were in the middle of the pack at #224.
It suggests that companies are responding to pressure from well-organized industry groups, in this case, ForestEthics. But also that they must realize this whole green thing increasingly matters to the most important person for their success—the shopper. And folks, that’s people like you and me. Granted, most of us have probably not thought about oil from sand being better or worse from an environmental standpoint than regular oil. But I do care that Bed Bath & Beyond is thinking green–and the more they show me what they do to be green, the more I will choose them over other places for similar stuff.
I tend to believe it is going to take everyone contributing–people, businesses, and government–to make progress towards a greener, more sustainable path. But if government is going to go slow or bicker, I’m glad to have Bed, Bath & Beyond step in. Now I know my job is to reward that decision with my wallet. I see organic sheets in my future….
Which companies are you impressed with on the green front? Which companies do you think are the worst?
Valentine’s Day is this weekend and you either forgot, hate it anyway, or are wistfully hoping that somehow, someway you can put a little fun and romance back into the holiday without giving in to the typical not-so-green roses and cards.
For romantics like me out there, it is a formal day for love, so here are three stress-free, low-cost and green ways to celebrate St. Valentine and show your better half how much you care.
Reduce Stuff: Say “I Love You” with a card made from things you already have
This can actually be fairly easy without looking like your 4 year-old made it. First, start with a piece of construction paper (or try to use a recycled piece of paper or even recycle a card you received from the holidays by covering the pictures and words). Second, fold the paper the way you like then start thinking of what it is you want the card to say (if you are having trouble thinking of what to write, think back to what you said in your wedding vows or use a quote from my favorite romance poet, Maya Angelou). Next, write it all down (I like handwritten cards, but you can type it if you want). Finally, add some beauty to the card by pasting a picture of you and your love, pasting pictures or designs from magazines or old cards, pasting scraps of used wrapping paper to decorate, or if you are artistic, draw something.
Improve Health/Reduce Energy: Eat at home or dine green on the town
What can be more romantic than cooking a meal for your love and dining in the comfort of your own home? Nothing, in my perspective. You can green your meal by selecting locally grown or organic foods, planning the courses ahead of time and being conscious of water and energy use while cooking. All that is left to do is set the table and dim the lights!
However, if cooking just isn’t your thing, you can still dine green. Check out Dine Green for Certified Green Restaurants near you. To be certified, these restaurants must earn good scores in categories such as water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, energy, and sustainable foods.
Save Energy/Improve Health: Going Outside is Green
If you are able to keep your sitter for a few extra hours, plan an outing or activity that would be fun for you and your spouse. Take a walk down the beach, to the park or down a scenic road and bring along hot chocolate or cider in a thermos. Window shop or take your spouse to a location that has meaning to you as a couple (where you went on your first date, where you were proposed too, etc.).
If you are coordinated and live up north, try ice skating at an outdoor rink or pond (only if it is deemed safe!). Here in Boston, one of my favorite places is Frog Pond ice skating rink in the Boston Common. It is cheap, fun, uses less energy than an indoor rink and the park is beautifully lit at night.
If you live in warmer areas, try searching for eco-friendly indoor rinks or indoor/outdoor hybrid ice rinks that use recyclable plastic panels rather than ice and do not need refrigeration devices, water or electricity.
Ultimately, enjoy love in any way that seems practical to you (and if you are being green in the process, then you are showing love to our planet too!)
How about you? Do you have any ideas on how to “green” Valentine’s Day? Share the love!
If you missed this commercial because you fell asleep or had to bring up the 3rd glass of water to your young one for the night, here it is:
And not suprisingly, it is sparking all sorts of controversy. The NY Times said, “This misguided spot put the “mental” in environmental. The plastics council is upset that it unfairly demonizes plastic bags and bottles. The Daily Green thinks it’s funny. USA today summarized the multiple points of view nicely here.
I thought one of the most thoughtful posts was David Roberts on Huffington Post, who said,
Anyway, not to overthink it (ahem), but the ad is not just another pot shot at greens. It’s an appeal to a new and growing demographic that isn’t hard-core environmentalist — and doesn’t particularly like hard-core environmentalists — but that basically wants to do the right thing. Audi’s effort to reach them, however clumsy, is actually a bit ahead of the curve.
What did I think? Honestly, I laughed out loud the first time I saw it. Because at some level, most of us trying to live green can relate. We have experienced a time when we felt really guilty for acting–well, like we used to. I remember the surprised look from a neighbor when she saw my grocery cart filled with paper bags (Reusable is now the green norm in 02459). And I’m feeling guilty and thinking, “Why did I have to run into someone the same day that I switched cars and forgot to switch the bags?!” Like any good commercial, it takes something people can relate to and creates a extreme version of it to provoke response. The spot created buzz—whether it sells more clean diesel cars remains to be seen.
I totally understand that climate change, droughts, depleted resources, and toxins in our food/water/air aren’t funny. But I agree with David Roberts’ perspective that there is a large group of people out there who want to do the right thing, but also find the tone and perspective of some environmentalists judgmental, confusing, condescending, and yes–Green Police-esque. I know that’s how I felt initially—and sometimes still do!
That sentiment was part of the motivation for Practically Green. I just didn’t feel like something existed to make it simple to understand my options and the possible trade-offs based on where I was and what mattered to me. Something that gave me permission to be super green in one area and not so green in another and acknowledges that doing something is better than doing nothing.
At the core of Practically Green is a philosophy that acknowledges we’re all busy, that change is hard, that green can be confusing, and that eco-perfection may be the enemy of the good. We keep a sign on the office wall to remind us daily to be smart, practical, helpful, fun–and passionate, but never preachy.
And after yesterday’s commercial, never, ever Police-y.
So–what do you think? Could you see the humor in it? Or do you think it’s idiotic or downright offensive?
It’s Superbowl Weekend, right? I don’t know too many moms who get a full three hours to actually watch the game, but it is still a great excuse for a party, even if it’s just you and the kids watching the funny ads and a few downs in between bathtime and loads of laundry. But if you do get to throw a party, it’s actually pretty easy to green the game. Here are three practical, simple ways to do it:
1. Save Energy: serve a local beer
There are over 1,500 breweries in the US so one of them has to be near you. In Boston, that’s Harpoon Brewery and yes, Sam Adams still brews a little bit in Jamaica Plain. In San Francisco, Anchor Steam is found pretty easily. In NYC, Brooklyn Beer is the most popular. Here’s a site where you can find local breweries and brewpubs by zip.
2. Improve health: choose healthier, but still delicious chips & dips
I love Fritos. But they are so not healthy, scoring a 2.3 in health from the GoodGuide (but we knew that already). But there are some tasty and healthy options that don’t taste like a side of cardboard with some salt. Trader Joe’s soy & flaxseed tortilla chips scored a perfect 10 in health. We’re also fans of Green Mountain Gringo and Wild Harvest Organic Tortilla chips for the big people and Newman’s Own pretzels for the little ones. In terms of dips, Whole Foods has a really good store-branded organic jarred salsa and black bean dip. I also loved this recipe for sour cream & onion dip that gets rid of the MSG and other nasty stuff from the packaged onion powders without tasting bland.
3. Reduce Stuff: Use recycled plastic or biodegradable serving ware
Preserve Products makes fun and colorful tableware that has all the benefits of plasticware (no breakage), but can be reused hundreds of times and is made from 100% recycled plastic. You can find them at Target, Trader Joe’s & Whole Foods. If you don’t want to go the reusable route, new disposable plates, cups and utensils made of cornstarch or sugar cane fibers can biodegrade in 180 days. These are a bit harder to find offline, but one of our local Whole Foods has carried them. If you know of where to get them nationally–let us know! And last, but not least–use reusable napkins, or at least recycled paper ones.
Do you have other ways you are greening the game? Let us know! (And also, here’s a cheer to the underdog–Go Saints!)
I’m trying to be greener, but still practical. I guess I’m in the right place.
I’ve owned my home in Eastern Massachusetts for five years, and I’ve upgraded (sometimes by choice, sometimes not) much of the infrastructure in the house: the boiler, the washer and dryer, the refrigerator/freezer in the garage, the deck, and more. I’ve dumped enough money into this house that I’m wary of putting in more. Still, I’m intrigued by the “Cash for Appliances” program.
I’d love to upgrade some of the remaining original elements in the house, especially if Uncle Sam is going to chip in for it. I took advantage of similar programs over the past few years when I re-insulated the attic and put in central air conditioning. Everybody wins: my energy bills are lower and I’m dumping less into the environment. So, it’s a slam dunk, right? Bring it on!
Maybe not. We’re moving next year.
I really don’t want to drop more money into this house if I’m not going to get it back when I sell. Times are tough. And I’m not that hardcore.
CNN is reinforcing my worry, writing this morning that home-energy retrofits aren’t paying for themselves at resell time.
Nearly everyone agrees that performing an energy retrofit will make your place more comfortable and save a lot on bills. But if the retrofits don’t add value to the home’s price, will homeowners make the improvements, regardless of whether or not the government decides to pick up half the tab, as they are considering?
I think that a lot of the trouble is that the real-estate market hasn’t caught up to the green trends yet.
Part of the problem is that many real estate appraisers aren’t trained to look for energy efficiency upgrades.
[Appraisal Institute President Leslie] Sellers said the institute is currently running green certification programs that will teach appraisers how to better value upgrades like efficiency improvements.
Will Realtors and home-buyers be able to properly price these enhancements when they’re looking at a house? Eventually? Yes. In 2011? I don’t think so. To really be able to perform these retrofits if you’re planning on moving within a couple of years, the upgrades must pay for themselves as reliably as updating the 70’s bathroom and redoing the kitchen.
I want high-efficiency furnaces and zero-VOC paint to be this decade’s marble countertops. I just don’t think we’re there yet.
So, I’m probably going to hold off, even with the tax credit. I’m going to save that money and use it to upgrade the next house.
What do you think? Have you seen the housing market reward green retrofits? Let me know in the comments, or send us a tweet @practicalgreen.
Clorox has launched an improved consumer website that lists product ingredients and provides access to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). You just click on the logo of your favorite brand and it lists the ingredients, along with a description of what that ingredient does from a “usefulness” point of view. From a transparency point of view, it’s very helpful and a great step forward. My only major complaint is that the site does not tell you easily what each ingredient is like from a “hazardous” point of view. That’s where the MSDS’s are interesting.
For example, if you look up Formula 409, you will find 3 hazardous ingredients listed including n-Alkyl (C12-16) Dimethylbenzyl Ammonium Chloride, n-Propoxypropanol, and Monoethanolamine. You can then check out those hazards on The Environmental Working Group site as well as The US Occupational Safety & Health Administration and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What you find out about the ingredients for Formula 409 is:
- N, N-Alkyl(C12-16) Dimethylbenzyl Ammonium Chloride: listed as a moderate hazard by the Environmental Working Group and has been linked to cancer, immune and respiratory problems, skin and eye irritations, and is a suspected mutagen.
- N-Propoxypropanol: an alcohol that can cause skin and eye irritation and can affect the central nervous system. When involved in fire, it can create irritating vapors and toxic gases, such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
- Monoethanolamine: a flammable, corrosive metal that is known to cause skin and eye irritation, affect the central nervous system (creating lethargy), can be toxic to humans if swallowed and can harm aquatic life when exposed in large amounts.
No shocker—pretty nasty stuff. It was also interesting to check out their Greenworks line, which I didn’t know much about. I was surprised to see pretty typical natural cleaning ingredients and nothing hiding that was a big green no-no. A few checks of other sources to confirm what I thought–and yes, Clorox Greenworks is pretty green from a health standpoint.
But let’s be practical, who the heck has time to be checking out MSDS’s on products or doing the random google walk through scientific journals to figure out whether a chemical is good or not. That’s one of the reasons I am loving the Good Guide–which ranks products on health, environment, and corporate responsibility using a simple numerical scale. Greenworks, for example, gets a good grade (7) on health, but does not do as well in the other categories. The “best” all purpose cleaner, in terms of health, environment, and social responsibility was Method.
I am a big believer that improvement is what matters when embracing green and in that sense, it is GREAT that Clorox is putting more information out there for people like you and me. But unless that information is accompanied by something to translate ingredient mumbo-jumbo into easy to understand connections between ingredients and health and environmental risk, it stops short of being truly transformative. Maybe that’s coming in version 3.0?
It’s February and in Boston that means two activities are on many parent’s list: skating and skiing. Personally, I’m torn on skiing and not just because my knees are awful. First, the pros. You are enjoying the outdoors and nature, having fun, using your own energy for at least part of the effort, they have daycare & ski school, and who doesn’t love apres ski! And many skiiers are pretty green people. After all, global warming really ruins the skiing.
But then you consider how they actually operate ski slopes. Cut down trees or bulldoze runs, throw up high energy using lifts, serve pretty bad food in styrofoam, and when nature doesn’t cooperate, make a lot of snow. Not so green.
Fortunately, the Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition has a site for those of us who want to TRY to be as green as possible while skiing. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, but if you are out West or headed out West, you are in luck.
Every year, they rank ski areas on a series of environmental factors to produce a scorecard (kind of like what Practically Green is going to do for you…). The grades are based on four criteria: Habitat Protection, Protecting Watersheds, Addressing Global Climate Change, and Environmental Practices and Polices, which then form a overall grade. Their work is endorsed by major conservation organizations and they publicize a Top 10 Best and Top 10 Worst list.
The winner for greenest ski area? Squaw Valley, California. The least green? Breckenridge, Colorado. You can also search for the place you choose to ski on the site specifically.
So no, I readily admit downhill skiing isn’t the greenest way to enjoy the outdoors (this is where all you hikers and cross-country skiiers get to remind me how virtuous you are relatively speaking). But you can still support green living by voting with your lift ticket or encouraging your local mountain to lift their grade–their eco-grade that is.
Danny Seo’s blog entry today was devoted to the topic of laundry and had some truly stunning statistics about how much time and money is devoted to laundry (and a some good tips too).
The Environmental Protection Agency says the average family washes nearly 400 loads of laundry a year–more than one load a day–and Americans spend more than $3 billion on detergent.
Who knew? Well, you did. Because you likely do some, if not all, of that laundry. So why does going green with laundry matter? Four possible reasons: you can save energy and water, reduce stuff, and improve health. And by greening your laundry, you can make green strides in all these areas.
1. Switch to an eco-friendly detergent: improve your health and your planet’s health
A typical laundry detergent contains a number of chemicals, some of which have negative environmental and health effects. The most direct negative impact is due to chemicals in the waste water harming plants and fish, although some chemicals, particularly phthalates, can aggravate or trigger chemical sensitivities, are being found in breast milk, and research is showing some impact of exposure to phthalates on infant development.
2. Turn to cold water and line dry (or at least clean your filter and throw in a towel!): save energy
The majority of energy used in laundry is heating the water. By switching to cold water, you will reduce nearly 90% of the energy used versus washing in hot. According to the Green Book, if every house switched even to warm-cold, the US would reduce oil usage by 100,000 barrels A DAY. The other energy hog is your dryer. Line drying is obviously super green, but not always practical, particularly in the cold weather parts of the country. You can save drying time, and thus energy by making sure your filter is clean and throwing in a dry towel to speed drying times.
3. Switch to a front-loading washer–and/or wash with the washer full: save water
An Energy Star model uses 50% less water than a standard model, and there are “Tier 3″ models that cut down an additional 40% of water usage. You want to look for a “Water Factor” score that is under 4.5 for the most water efficient models. And if you haven’t switched over yet, the new Cash for Appliances rebate program is either already in effect, or will be in effect, in your state this year. But if switching just isn’t in the cards, the most water efficient thing to do is make sure the washer is full before you run it and reduce overall quantity of loads.
4. Buy concentrated green detergent in smaller packaging: reduce stuff
Walmart actually drove the downsizing of laundry packaging several years ago by insisting that every manufacturer double concentration. We are now entering the era of tinier and tinier bottles–just make sure you don’t over use the detergent or it defeats the purpose. Yes, it requires a 15 minute “laundry primer” for anyone else who might help you–kids, cleaning person, babysitter, and the spouse. But it will cut down on packaging significantly. And of course, recycle the bottle if you can.
Most importantly, is green laundry clean laundry? For us, yes. Granted, we are not working construction, but we do have lots of grass-stains and as my family and co-workers can attest, I spill wine, coffee, balsamic vinaigrette, and Indian food on myself a decent amount. We are fans of both Costco’s Environmentally Friendly Detergent and Seventh Generation Free & Clear. Here also is a fun road “test” of six different detergents from Grist.org.