We've been hearing so much about the environment lately - most
of it bleak, disturbing and downright scary. Are things really that
bad? Is it too late to fix all of the problems we humans have
created? And how do we genuinely incorporate green living into our
We need answers, and we know just where to get them: from Manda
Aufochs Gillespie, a.k.a. The Green Mama! For more than a decade,
she's been at the forefront of environmental research, policy and
real-world practice. Here she is, giving it to us straight; the
good, the bad and the hopeful.
Question: Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought
and heat waves with temperatures rising above 120 degrees. Is this
extreme weather an aberration or a preview of what's to
The Green Mama's Response:
Weather isn't climate, but climate-change scientists tell us
that, yes, crazy weather is getting more common. Climate change can
seem overwhelming, but living green can actually be quite easy.
Everything we do - from eating, to shopping, to caring for our
family - is connected, and even the smallest of changes can keep
our children healthier while helping the environment.
Organic food is the perfect example. Current science tells us
that our children are less likely to suffer from a number of
illnesses (including diabetes, obesity, and ADHD) if they are not
exposed to pesticides. We also know that conventional agriculture
is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gasses.
What does that mean for us parents? On the simplest level, it
means staying focused on our child's health is the greenest thing
we can do. Some people may want to do more, but in almost all cases
the healthiest thing for our kids is healthiest thing for our
Question: What can we do to make our lives even a tad
What do you think parents report as the biggest barriers to
making more environmentally-friendly choices for their families?
Guilt! Parents are too hard on themselves and worried that if they
can't do everything, they shouldn't "pretend " to be green at all.
The best advice I can give you as you start on your path to greener
living is… give yourself a break!
Start with steps that actually seem like fun. Sure, using cloth
diapers is the green and cost-effective choice, but if every time
you think about doing it you want to cry, pick something else to
do! If you feel good and enjoy green living, your enthusiasm will
lead to other green habits AND it will inspire others.
If you're looking for a few other easy ways to live greener,
here's what I recommend…
1. Become a regular at your local farmer's market or
join a CSA (community supported agricultural project, a.k.a. a farm
Yes, you can save money and save the world - all at the same
time! By joining a CSA or frequenting your local farmer's market,
your family will save approximately $500 a season and get the
highest quality produce: local, organic and fresh. The health
benefits will be felt by the whole family, and you'll sleep better
knowing that even if your toddler eats only two bites of carrot the
whole day, those two bites have the most nutrition possible -
without the pesticides.
2. Toss the "throw-away" habit
Bottled water can cost a family $1,200 a year, paper towels $50,
disposable batteries $30, and so on and so on. Other habits that
can add up? Disposable dishes, Ziploc bags, baby wipes, and
cleaning products. There are greener alternatives for all these
things that will save you money and the help the planet. The best
part, besides the savings, is fewer trips taking out the trash!
3. Eyeballs on the Labels
To avoid being greenwashed (as in brainwashed), bring along your
reading glasses and flip to the fine print next time you're
shopping. The most-likely trouble spot: your personal care
products. If it isn't certified organic (USDA Organic or Canada
Organic Biologique Label) then be skeptical of claims like
"natural," "non-toxic" or "safe-for-baby."
Other gimmicky claims that you read on packages are often
meaningless as well, with baby products' labels typically being the
most misleading. Remember: your skin is the largest organ, and 60
percent of the chemicals you put on it can end up in your blood and
then can pass into your brain. These same chemicals are polluting
our waterways, hurting wild animals, and damaging other parts of
our environment. So do a quick review of the label before heading
to the checkout line. Trust yourself: if you can't pronounce an
ingredient, do you really want to feed it to your child's skin?
4. Make Big Ticket Items Green Ticket Items
If you're paying more than $500 for an item or if you have to
save for it at all, make sure that green is one of its key
attributes. That means asking how the specific product will affect
you and your family's health. What does this include? Nursery items
like cribs, mattresses, any item of furniture, and even your car.
Thinking green before you buy can actually save money in the long
run (examples are buying a more fuel efficient model of car or an
energy efficient appliance) and have a big impact on the health of
your home (one crib can off-gas enough formaldehyde to increase
everyone in the home's chance of asthma).
5. Avoid the Plastic Trap
So much about having a child forces you up against plastics:
plastic bottles, plastic toys, and even plastic lining on cans of
formula or food. Many plastics have been found to leach BPA,
phthalates or other chemicals. Other likely sources include the
lining of canned goods (including formula) and soft chewy toys. The
exposure levels for North American children are among the highest
in the world. If you are looking for an alternative, get back to
the basics with glass, stainless steel and natural fibers like
cotton and wool.
6. The Uber-Coolness of Composting
Talk about fun! Your kids get to watch their organic food turn
into soil and then turn into more organic food (or flowers). And
you get to reduce your household garbage by more than 40 percent.
But no, you say, I live in an apartment. No problem! Learn how to
compost in your apartment at www.thegreenmama.com.
Question: We want to talk to our young kids about the
environmental challenges we're facing, but not in a way that is too
frightening. How do we broach the topic carefully?
Ultimately, your child will likely become your teacher when it
comes to the environment. For now, model what you want them to do.
Start a compost pile or worm bin together if you have a young
child. If you have an older child, get them to research the health
and environmental aspects of your next big purchase.
Start asking questions about green topics in front of your
children and find the answers, together. Thoughtfulness and
curiosity about our planet are the most important green habits you
can teach. How is my carrot being grown? What is this
strange-sounding chemical in my shampoo? What do you mean it isn't
toxic if it says keep out of reach of children? If you start
asking, they will, too. Then the whole household will be engaged
and learning, and companies will soon recognize that a healthy
environment matters to your family.
The future is ours!
Most of my work as the Green Mama is with parents and with
businesses that serve parents. Why? Because becoming a parent is
the greatest act of hope there is. And it is that hope that propels
us into taking steps - big or small - to ensure the future is safe
and green for our children.
Learn more tips for practical green living
or in person at The Green Mama Cafe this
About Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green
Going green is no longer a trendy catch
phrase; it's a way of life for us parents. No one knows that better
than Manda Aufochs Gillespie, a.k.a. The Green Mama, who provides
green consulting, education, and inspiration to families and
businesses. With over a decade of experience as a
community planner, project manager, consultant, and writer, Manda
established Chicago's first green daycare and served as a
consultant on a multi-million dollar eco-village project. Manda's
work has been showcased on ABC's Save My Planet, HBO's The Lazy
Environmentalist, and shares current research and
ideas on The Green Mama blog (http://www.thegreenmama.com/blog).
She travels internationally and virtually to offer workshops,
classes, and consulting on the many aspects of green
Wendy Widom is CEO of Familes in the Loop (FITL), Chicago's hippest hub for parents and kids.
See more of Wendy 's stories here.
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