Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day To You!

I promise this is still Alex's blog, but since it's Earth Day, I'm straying a bit...

Yesterday I was reading some Earth Day articles online while the baby napped. They pointed out some facts I had never considered. When we think of being "green", we think of buying organic & environmentally friendly products. This article made a very valid point: Do you have to buy it at all?

Another article I read made the point that, even when we need something, we don't necessarily have to buy new. Shopping at thrift stores & garage sales is actually helping the environment. I had never thought of it that way before, but I suppose it's true. You're giving new life to something that might otherwise end up in a landfill. You're getting what you need, saving money, and helping the environment. Frugal & Green go hand-in-hand.

My challenge to myself is to really consider the purchases we make. Now, that new entertainment center that I'm wanting so badly doesn't seem quite so important.

My challenge for all of you is to find one way to change your lifestyle to be more "green" (and, as a side-benefit, more frugal) in 2008. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use more rags & less paper towels.
  • Switch to an earth-friendly dishsoap (I'm loving 7th Generation dishsoap from Target. They have coupons on their website that make it the same price as any other dishsoap. I'm pretty sure Palmolive just came out with a more earth-friendly dishsoap, if you prefer a brand you recognize.)
  • Wash your clothes at a lower water temp. I'm washing most of our clothes in cold water now, and I don't think we're dirty or stinky! ;)
  • Buy a refillable water bottle instead of a 24 pack of bottled water. (That was a hard change for us, but now I *love* our reverse osmosis filter on the sink!)
  • Think before making purchases...are they necessary? Will you use it for a short time, and then get rid of it? If you buy it, will you dispose of something similar that still has a little life left in it?
  • Before throwing things away, try freecycle.org. It may benefit someone in your community instead of ending up at a landfill.

Here's the article that really got me thinking:

Are We Going Green With Guilt?
By Monica Hesse
The Washington Post

Congregation of the Church of the Holy Organic, let us buy.
Let us buy the eco-friendly 600-thread-count bed sheets, milled in Switzerland with U.S. cotton, $570 for queen-size.

Let us purge our closets of those sinful synthetics, purify ourselves in the flame of the soy candle at the altar of the immaculate Earth Weave rug, and let us buy, buy, buy until we are whipped into a beatific froth of free-range fulfillment.

And let us never consider the other organic option — not buying — because the new green consumer wants to consume, without all the hand-me-down baby clothes and out-of-date carpet.

There was a time when buying organic meant Whole Foods and farmers markets. But in the past two years, the word has seeped out of the supermarket and into the home store, into the vacation industry, into the Wal-Mart. Almost three-quarters of the U.S. population buys organic products at least occasionally; between 2005 and 2006, the sale of organic nonfood items increased 26 percent, from $744 million to $938 million, according to the Organic Trade Association.

The privileged, eco-friendly American realized long ago that SUVs were Death Stars; now we see that our gas-only Lexus is one, too. Best replace it with a 2008 LS 600 hybrid for $104,000 (it actually gets fewer miles per gallon than some traditional makes, but, see, it is a hybrid).
When renowned environmentalist Paul Hawken is asked to comment on the new green consumer, he says, dryly, "The phrase itself is an oxymoron."

Oh ho?

"The good thing is, people are waking up to the fact that we have a real (environmental) issue," says Hawken, who cofounded Smith & Hawken but left in 1992, before the $8,000 yard became de rigueur. "But many of them are coming to the issue from being consumers. They buy a lot. They drive a lot."

The culture of obsolescence has become so deeply ingrained that it's practically reflexive. Holey sweaters get pitched, not mended. Laptops and cellphones get slimmer and shinier. We trade up every six months and hope we're buying the right things, though sometimes we're not sure:

When the market research firm Hartman Group asked devout green consumers what the USDA "organic" seal meant on a product, 43 percent did not know.

Which is why something gets lost in translation.
Polyester = bad. Solution? Throw out the old wardrobe and replace with natural fibers!
Linoleum = bad. Solution? Rip up the old floor and replace with cork!
It's done with the best of intentions, but that "bad" vinyl flooring was probably less destructive in your kitchen than in a landfill (unless it was a health hazard). Ditto for the older, but still wearable, clothes.

And that's not even getting into the carbon footprint left by a nice duvet's 5,000-mile flight from Switzerland. (Oh, all right: a one-way ticket from Zurich to Washington produces about 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide.)

Really going green, Hawken says, "means having less. Everyone is saying, 'You don't have to change your lifestyle.' Well, yes, actually, you do."

But, but, but — buying green feels so guiltless. "There's a certain thrill, that you get to go out and replace everything," says Leslie Garrett, author of "The Virtuous Consumer," a green shopping guide.

Garrett describes the conflicting feelings she and her husband experienced when trying to decide whether to toss an old sofa: "Our dog had chewed on it — there were only so many positions we could put it in" without the teeth marks showing. But it still fulfilled its basic role: "We could still sit on it without falling through."

They could still subscribe to the crazy notion that conservation was about ... conserving. Says Garrett, "The greenest products are the ones you don't buy."

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