I’d like to applaud you if you’re making 2011 New Year’s Resolutions to live a greener life, I really would.
The truth is,resolutions are as easy to abandon as they are to embrace. Yes, they’re noble. They may even be inspiring. But do they usually work?
No. They’re just too vague, too lofty; they leave too much wiggle room. And if there’s anything the planet doesn’t need more of, it’s wiggle room!
That’s why, rather than make resolutions this year, I hope you’ll consider setting a specific goal. Something not just to aim for, but to surpass. A benchmark. A way you can prove to yourself that you’re actually DOING something. Making a difference.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’d like that goal to be about how you spend your money. In fact, I’d like to encourage you to set a specific goal of shifting at least $1,000 of your normal household budget to the greenest products and services available: no-VOC paints, BPA-free bottles, energy-efficient cars or mass transit, organic food. You get the idea. The “green” version of what you buy anyway.
Why does it matter?
As I pointed out previously, we're drinking the same water Cleopatra drank.
That's another way of saying, the world just doesn't make more water. What's here is what's always been here. And it's what's always going to be here, even though there are more and more people using the limited water we have. Which is why we have to figure out how to make every drop of H2O count. In honor of Blog Action Day's focus on water, here are 10 No Brainer Ways to Use Water Wisely.
1) Give up bottled water. How many reasons do you need? Toxic plastic is used to contain bottled water. Bottled water generates mountains of trash. Making bottled water and moving it around the globe wastes enormous amounts of energy. Bottled water may not be as safe to drink as tap water. Here's the real kicker: bottling water wastes water. Two gallons of water are wasted for every gallon bottled. Stupid, no?
2) Give up the idea that you have to drink water all the time. Where did that notion come from, that somehow, your outfit isn't complete without a bottle of water by your side? I've gotten along just fine drinking from drinking fountains and -- believe it or not -- going for a couple of hours at a time without drinking water. Try it. You won't die.
But in this day and age, it seems like that's exactly what they have to do. A new study reported in the journal Pediatrics found that very little girls are developing breasts earlier than ever before, increasing their risk of breast cancer and other health problems and subjecting them to taunts from boys that undermine their self esteem. The study's authors say exposure to toxic chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA), some preservatives, and additives found in plastic may be among the reasons why.
Red flags have been flying for several years about the threats toxic chemicals pose to girls' reproductive organs. “Young girls are exposed to dozens of potentially toxic chemicals on a daily basis,” Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., Science Director for the Science and Environmental Health Network, told the New York Times. “Some of these can mimic the natural hormone, estrogen. Although individually their estrogenic activity may be relatively weak, their effects are additive. In the aggregate they could be having significant health effects, including contributing to the early onset of breast development. We need a new law to evaluate chemicals and protect our children from harmful exposures.”
Cosmetics and personal care products literally touch every part of our bodies. We've been convinced that they'll make us beautiful. They often make us feel better. But evidence is emerging that the cumulative use of these products may be contributing to asthma, the onset of puberty in girls as young as three years old, and even the feminization of baby boys. Because cosmetics, soaps and shampoos are washed down the drain, they get into our water system, where they're wreaking havoc on wildlife. And what about their relationship to breast cancer?
While there's no specific link between any one product and breast cancer, scientific evidence is growing that women face some risk of contracting the disease due to their cumulative exposure to the chemicals in cosmetics and personal-care products.
"Is there a direct connection we can make between the use of these products and breast cancer?" asks Dr. Julia Smith, the director of breast cancer screening and prevention at the Lynne Cohen Breast Cancer Preventive Care Program at the NYU Cancer Institute and Bellevue Medical Center, in New York City. "No. But there are strong scientific suspicions that some of the chemicals found in the environment, including those used in cosmetics and other personal-care items, might increase the risk, especially if there is heavy exposure before the age of twenty-five."
That's because these are the years when breast tissue is developing and most susceptible to outside influences. It is possible that multiple exposures to common cosmetics could create a cumulative or "domino effect" that could ultimately result in the disease.
Why aren't we safe?
Despite these concerns, lipstick, eye liner, nail polish, shampoo, perfume, deodorant and the other concoctions we liberally apply to our faces, lips, eyes, noses, nails, heads, necks, legs, armpits and vaginas are among the least-regulated substances in the marketplace.
It's true. The makers of cosmetics and personal-care products are not required to meet specific federal standards that guarantee our personal health and safety. The fedral Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to put a warning statement on the front of products that have not been tested that reads, "WARNING -- The safety of this product has not been determined." But not many of them follow the rules.
It's easy to say you want to do something to protect the planet. Actually doing it is another matter altogether - unless you're Fredia Banks. Not only did this Washington, D.C. resident launch a non-profit organization to promote sustainability in the nation's capital. She took our One in a Million challenge to show people how spending their money makes a difference.
Fredia created the House of Green organization to "encourage residents and business owners (of the District of Columbia) to embrace environmentally-friendly lifestyle alternatives as a solution for sustainability." The organization offers workshops, connects consumers to green products, and helps raise awareness about green businesses that are operating in the District of Columbia.
She was inspired to shift her spending because she wanted to "live healthy and elmininate toxins" in her lifestyle. Fredia says that the increasing availability of products where she shops and online is making shifting her spending easier than she'd anticipated. However, the challenge is determining what's organic and what's not, especially for products that are not food, but still claim to be organic.
In the future, Fredia plans to put solar collectors on her home and replace her current vehicle with one that is more environmentally friendly. Meanwhile, the House of Green will continue to share Fredia's knowledge with D.C. residents.
How Fredia Shifted $1,000 in 2 Months:
Only if you want to protect the planet and save money...
Seriously, buying products in bulk is one of the most "eco" ways to shops; it's one of the best ways to save money, too. Why? For starters, larger sizes deliver the same amount of product using less energy and materials than the equivalent number of smaller packages.
Next time you go shopping, browse the snack aisle and compare the difference for yourself. When you buy one large box of cookies, all you pay for is the cookies and the one box. But if you buy a "snack pack" of ten or twelve small bags, you end up with all those individual bags, plus the display box they came in and the cellophane wrapped around them. That's a lot of excess packaging!
All that extra wrapping costs you more money. At Peapod, an online grocery store, a 15 oz. box of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip cookies runs around $3.99 or $.27/ounce. The package of 12 snack bags costs $5.79 or $.34/ounce. If you need snacks for yourself or your kids, why not buy reusable containers you can easily refill with cookies from the larger bag? Bonus: The snack containers will do a better job of protecting the snacks from getting crushed in a lunch bag or backpack.
Wal-Mart claims that a family of four can save as much as $2,000 per year just buying in bulk. When you have the space, choose the largest available sizes of shampoo, laundry detergent, toilet tissue, light bulbs, blanks CDs, pencils and pens...you get the idea.
Here's how I saved $20 buying bulk cat food.
Got any bulk bargains of your own to share? Let us know.
Our latest One in a Million member is Nancy, an Episcopal priest and practicing psychologist who lives in central New York state. The One in a Million campaign encourages people to shift $1,000 of their household budget to greener products and services. I was amazed to learn how Nancy has shifted so much she is actually saved more than $10,000 without feeling deprived. Here's her story.
What inspired you to make so many "green" changes in your life? My doctoral studies were in MindBody medicine and holistic healing...which led directly to my first change: become a vegetarian(1991)—which reversed bone loss. In the intervening years I continued to study, teach courses, and give lectures and workshops on holistic healing and spirituality. My studies and workshop presentations expanded in 2005 after I learned about the known health risks associated with land fills at a meeting of the local chapter for the League of Women Voters. The local land fill had expanded despite opposition and was (and is again) asking to expand.
Troubled by the evidence, I began reading about recycling, which led me to studies about plastics, cleaning agents, bath and body care, cosmetics, and, surprisingly, food safety and how they affected human health and the environment. The readily available evidence was, and remains, shocking and deeply distressing. I believe that all of us need to be more conscious of the factors which affect our health and over which we can chose to have control, with our voices, pocket book, and votes. As a person living with a life-long disability I felt that, based on this new learning, I had a responsibility to act on it by making conscious choices about my life and health as I move toward retirement and continued aging! That led to my second change: I became a vegan, eating only organic foods at home, and have reaped more health benefits than I imagined possible. No more antibiotics and hormones I didn’t chose, need or want; no more insecticides and pesticides bred into Genetically Engineered foods—as far as I can determine and choose; reading labels to avoid corn derivatives and high fructose.
All of this learning, alongside continued growth and new learning in my spirituality and prayer life, led me to my third change: a decision to become conscious and present to the world and nature around me, as well as to family, friends, and neighbors. All of life breathes the same air, is exposed to the same water, and shares the consequences of toxins in the land fill. The very least I could do was to avoid adding toxic, disposable, meaningless stuff or organic garbage, leading to my fourth change: changing my patterns of consumption, understanding the what and why of every purchase. Suddenly you see the stuff that clutters home, office, car and life. Stuff that wastes financial resources and generally obscures the meaning or purpose of one’s life. De-cluttering is a lesson in letting go and led to my fifth change, saving money as my shopping habits changed.
Are your choices for you alone or for a household? I live alone but children and grandchildren visit often. They know the routine -- I have posted a list of what items go in the paper basket, the compost pail, the small garbage basket, the shredder and the recycling can (in kitchen). The cleaning woman, handy man, and lawn person know what does where in garage containers each week.
What was harder than you thought? Eating out with NO dairy products. My experience has been that the majority of restaurants, chefs, and cooks in small cities are not well-informed or prepared to serve vegetarians and vegans.
What was easier? The absolute easiest thing was simply adding each new change as I came to it and then living into it. I have a savings account for my ‘annual savings,’ which I use for life-giving organic foods, addressing needs (recreation, retreat, play) instead of wants, and enjoying a healthier and more purposeful life!
What's next? These changes are part of a spiritual journey that I hope will continue to evolve and deepen. I hope my example or words will save at least one person and one child from the toxic effects known to exist in our environment, water, food, and products we consume or purchase in blind faith. My greatest hope is that in the near future, Americans will take to the streets and demand accountability of corporations and government agencies for safe food and water, and non-toxic, renewable and sustainable products. If we dream GREEN, we will become GREEN!
Nancy's Green practices explained with savings:
Erin Peters knows a thing or two about "green" shopping.
The stay-at-home mother of three young boys lives with her family in Raleigh, North Carolina. She writes The Conscious Shopper blog, where her motto is "Go Green. Live Better. Save Money." She's also the newest member of our One in a Million campaign, joining almost 5,000 other folks who have shifted at least $1,000 of their household budgets to the greenest products and services available.
One thousand dollars sounds like a lot of money. But since we're talking about shifting our spending, rather than adding to what we already spend, it's something most of us can afford. Plus, if a million people do it, we could send a message worth a billion dollars to manufacturers that we want them to make our health and the environment a priority. Here's how Erin made the shift:
Every month I spend about $600 on local and/or organic groceries for my family of five. Over the past year, I've also spent:
$400 on a winter CSA membership
$60 on Charlie's Soap laundry detergent
$54 on Seventh Generation dishwasher detergent and dish soap
$16 on recycled paper towels
$10 on trash bags made with recycled content
$45 on recycled toilet paper
$72 on Tom's of Maine toothpaste
$30 on Preserve toothbrushes
$60 on organic make-up
$7 on Crystal deodorant
$173 on thrift store clothing and Simple Shoes
$27 to set up a worm bin
$52 on recycled printer paper
$1606 - Total
Erin's shifts did not happen overnight.
"For a long time, I had a misconception that living green was expensive and therefore out of reach for my family," she said. "Then one day, I got frustrated with the feeling that I was buying inferior and unhealthy products and that I wasn't spending my money in accordance with my values. I decided just to go for it and see if I could buy organic, non-toxic, and fair trade products without blowing my family's budget.
"At that time, our budget was extremely tight, but I found that by living more frugally and doing the green things that save money, I was able to shift our savings to our food and clothing budget. Without affecting our overall budget at all, I was able to go green!"
Erin said some shifts were pretty easy. "I love buying fresh foods from the farmer's market and through our CSA. I love that my family is eating healthier, but I also enjoy meeting the farmers and hearing their passion. Knowing where our food comes from is such a wonderful feeling," she says.
But there are still some challenges - like clothing. "In my past life," Erin admits, "I was a Target-clothing addict. I've learned to enjoy thrift store shopping, but there are some items (like shoes) that I prefer to buy new and the price difference of eco-friendly clothing versus Target clothing is a hard one for me. Mostly, I get over that hurdle by not going to Target. Out of sight, out of mind."
Erin is taking what she's learned as a green budget shifter and launched a campaign to encourage others to make small behavior changes, too. It's called The Conscious Shopper Challenge, and it provides weekly goals to help people go green in a year without spending a lot of money. "We start with "trimming your waste-line" (reducing your trash production), then we work on energy, water, transportation, shopping, food, and finally looking "beyond your front door," explains Erin.
"I think a lot of people have the same misconception that I used to have: that going green means big expensive changes like buying a new car or putting solar panels on the roof. But I've learned that there are so many small things each individual can do, and those small things add up to make a big difference.
"I hope The Conscious Shopper Challenge will show people how easy and affordable it can be to go green while providing a strong supportive community to go green with. But beyond that, I hope people will feel inspired to be conscious shoppers, aware of how their decisions in the marketplace affect other people and the planet."
If you’re looking for ways to live a greener life, take some pointers from Fran Martin.
Fran is the newest member of the One in a Million campaign, a feat she achieved by switching more than $1,000 of her household budget to products and services that offer the greatest environmental benefit. The campaign doesn’t ask people to spend MORE money. Instead, it encourages consumers to throw their marketplace clout behind non-toxic, eco-friendly alternatives that often end up saving people more money in the long run.
Who is Fran?
Fran, who is married, 67, and the mother of grown children, has lived in Butler, PA for the past 43 years. Her husband trains and breeds Labrador retrievers; “We have two,” she says. Fran is retired, but works part-time conducting food demonstrations where “I really push the organic products whether it is my demo of the day or not.”
"At home I am an avid cook - everything from scratch,” says the One in a Million devotee. “After the Women for a Healthy Environment conference last year, and after reading Omnivore's Dilemma, I extended my organic garden and got two hens so I could have organic eggs. I erected a hoop house in October to have a winter garden which proved to be quite successful. The only red meat we eat is venison, and I can and freeze everything possible.”
“I also made homemade mouthwash and fabric softner,” she said.
How did she shift $1,000?
Here are the actual eco budget shifts Fran made between October 2008 and December 2009:
Organic Grains, Beans - $40
Organic Coffee - $208
Organic Dairy - $155
Organic Nuts – $52
Organic Pasta - $21
Household Products (like eco-safe laundry detergent, dish soap, and cleaning soap) - $115
Nontoxic Health/Beauty Products - $66
Organic Chicken Feed - $26
Beverages - $23
Soymilk (2 cases) - $25
Meats/Fish - $123
Snacks - $8
Veg/Fruit - $90
Organic garden fertilizer and soil amendments: $75
Stopped using clothes dryer almost completely: undetermined energy savings
Total: at least $1,025
When I asked Fran why she made the shifts, here's what she said:
* What inspired you to join the One in a Million campaign? I attended the Women’s Health and the Environment Conference in Pittsburg and heard you describe the difference we can make based on how we spend our money. I thought, “I can do that.”
* What change was unexpectedly easy to make? Keeping track of my purchases!
* What proved to be most challenging? Finding the best prices (ed. Note: This is true for many people, but a little bargain shopping can make organic food and recycled products very affordable)’
* What's your next step? Continue to purchase present organic products and add new ones as I find them.
Great job, Fran! Thanks for sharing your success with us.
And for all of you who are inspired to make your own spending shifts, get started here.