Make a Lighter Footprint…Now!
‘All across the world, in every kind of environment and region known to man, increasingly dangerous weather patterns and devastating storms are abruptly putting an end to the long-running debate over whether or not climate change is real. Not only is it real, it’s here and its effects are giving rise to a frighteningly new global phenomenon-the man-made natural disaster.’ -Barack Obama
Lifestyle: Doesn’t the very word signal airy-fairy, touchy-feely, new age sensitive stuff? Sorry. That’s not my style. What I want you to get is good, solid information that you can use to become a fitter, healthier human who leaves a lighter footprint on the planet. The fact that you will also be happier, kinder, more compassionate just comes along with the package because living a natural life will change you in ways that you might never have imagined, ways that encompass more than your physical body.
And I guarantee that you’ll love those changes.
When I was first studying macrobiotics under the famed teacher Michio Kushi, my fellow students and I were bemoaning the plight of the environment and trying to figure out what we could do about it. Kushi said that we didn’t need to organize rallies or make signs to protest. Rather, all we needed to do was teach people about food and how to eat. His theory was that as we ate foods appropriate to humans, we would find ourselves in harmony with the environment around us. As more and more people ate well and became naturally more fit, the improvement in the environment would follow because as we’d learn to live as natural humans and we’d have it no other way.
Over the past twenty-five years as I changed my food and my life, I have become much more conscious of the impact that my choices make on the planet. While my personal journey might have started with something as simple as giving up paper towels and paper napkins, it’s certainly progressed since then. (I’ve also been re-thinking that concept we call “progress”...) There’s no denying that I still make a footprint, but I make every effort to make that it smaller and lighter. I do fly commercially for much of my work. I do have to drive for my work as well. But as I grow in this lifestyle (yes, I still grow…), I discover new and wonderful ways to lessen my impact on the environment and even try to make it a little better for my being here.
You may think that it’s a no-brainer to live consciously and be kind to the planet. Or you may be one of the millions of people who have no idea of the impact you are making or how to make greener choices in life. As you change your thinking and actions about food you will be more awake to the bigger problems we humans create for our planet. You will, as I do, wonder how people can call themselves environmentalists and still sit down to steak dinners -- an inconvenient truth to be sure, but truth nonetheless.
Choosing to live a sustainable lifestyle begins in the kitchen, extends throughout your home, into the garden, and into the community. Like the ripples from a pebble thrown into water, each choice you make has an impact that is felt around the world. It will take the effort of each and every one of us to alter the collision course that we are currently on but if you want to ensure a future for generations to come, the time to act is now.
I am not saying that you have to give up your car completely (unless it’s one of those gas-guzzling, debt-creating, mammoth vehicles) or that you have to live “off the grid”, but you do have to make choices that let the rest of the world see that you are awake! You can begin with small changes and see where they lead you -- just like with your food. But the one thing you can’t do is nothing. The good news is that once you have cleaned up your diet, well, the rest just follows. It’s like your consciousness grows with each healthy meal, with each exercise session. You want clean water, clean air, pure food and you are willing to do what it takes to get it.
I know you want to save the planet, but some of the following ideas can also help you save money. Now I know I have your attention!
We all know that we should turn off the lights in rooms where there are no people, right? I say, take it a step further. Shut down your computer and printer, instead of leaving them on ‘hibernate,’ idling away energy when not in use. When you leave the house for the day, take a second and unplug fans, televisions, stereos, the coffee machine, the toaster. It may be a bother at first, but when you see those few dollars savings on your electric bill, you…and the planet will have won a small battle. And if you have kids, it’s a great chore for them in the morning. Unplugging the appliances before leaving for school creates a consciousness in them that they will take with them through life. Everyone will get used to the new routine in a few days.
When you are on the market for new appliances, always look for the energy-efficient models with fewer ‘bells and whistles.’ Do you really need a fridge with a tv set in the door? Even an icemaker uses more energy than you might think.
For your appliances already in use, take a few minutes to make them more efficient. Clean the filters on your air conditioners; insulate water heaters and keep up with the simple maintenance needed to keep them running efficiently. You save money; your appliances will last longer; you take a bit of the burden off the planet.
You Are the Light of the World
Don’t you dare tell me that you won’t switch to fluorescent bulbs because you think they are like the ones buzzing and flickering and throwing off that institutional light that reminds you of old hospitals and prisons! There’s real progress on this front and manufacturers have responded to both our environmental and aesthetic sensibilities with bulbs that, shall we say, are more flattering. Look for high ‘lumens,’ not watts for brighter light and read the labels for indications of color renderings that give warmer light, more like the incandescence that you are used to. (And the prices are coming way down on these long-lasting, energy-efficient bulbs, so you win again.)
If you think that light bulbs are no big deal, think again. If every American household replaced their five most used light fixtures with florescent bulbs, this country would save $8 billion in energy costs. There’s a lot of Mother Nature preserved in that number.
You’ve heard these ones a million times, but just in case you missed it: Insulate your home to conserve the energy used to cool and heat it. Block up any drafts or leaks in windows or doors. Ceiling fans can help you to use less air conditioning in the heat of summer and can also help to keep heated air from being trapped near the ceiling, so you use less energy to heat and cool your home. Just setting your thermostat to 66 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer will save you hundreds of dollars in energy costs and countless resources.
Power Up -- or Down
In many areas, you can now opt to buy renewable energy from your local power company. Wind power, methane and the sun are now being tapped by large energy companies to provide you with green sources of electricity.
How do you know if you have an enlightened power company? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one…) Check out the Green Power Network’s map of the United States for information on utility companies that are working for the environment as well as for you.
Renewable energy may cost a few cents more each month but you help support its use if you opt for it when it’s offered by your local power company – and save lots more than just a few pennies in the end.
Water: Save a Little, Save a Lot
When I was a kid, my mother would stand over us at the sink while we brushed our teeth. Of course, her main goal was to make sure that we actually brushed our teeth. But she also reminded us to turn off the water while we brushed. I can hear her voice in my head to this day, when I brush my teeth. ‘Do you think that there is an infinite amount of water on this earth?’ she would ask. Yes, I would think. But she was right. So I learned to conserve water, which I do to this day.
Check this out, the water heater in the average American home is the second largest consumer of energy, right behind heating. Turning the thermostat on the water heater down to 120 degrees will give you plenty of hot water for your needs and save energy. You can also install a timer on your water heater so that it’s working only at the times when you are most likely to use it. There’s no need to use the energy to heat water while the house is sleeping. The timer can switch the heater on an hour before you get up and it’s ready to go! You can even go to the step of installing a pump that recycles the water you use, filtering it so you use less water -- up to 21,000 gallons[pgi3] each year for an average family of four people.
As much as you love long, hot showers, those leisurely streams of water coursing over you are luxuries this planet can’t afford. A quick 5-minute shower is wiser for the planet and your wallet, but if you like the idea of a long, relaxing steaming in hot water, try a bath instead[pgi4] . You use much less water that way. You can also install low-flow showerheads, which prevents heavy torrents of water from flowing, but you have plenty of power to clean up. And of course, you are using natural soaps to clean your bodies, right? They are better for the health of your skin and our waterways.
In the kitchen, fill the sink or a basin with water and wash the dishes. Then rinse. Constant running of water to do dishes wastes gallons and gallons of this precious resource. Turn off the water while scrubbing pots and pans. Dishwashers used to be total water hogs, but the newer models can actually save water and energy, with some using only 4 gallons of water for a full load of dishes. Check them out.
Turn up the temperature in the fridge a little. It doesn’t have to be like the North Pole in there to keep food fresh. And use ice trays for your ice cubes instead of water-guzzling ice makers.
And then there’s laundry. Wash only full loads, using warm water with a cold rinse. That will get your clothes plenty clean. And since we’re on the subject of laundry, use only those soaps that are kind to the planet. There are so many good options now, some available right in your supermarket. Your clean laundry should not result in polluted waterways.
And don’t forget to turn off the water when you’re shaving or brushing your teeth. Happy, Mom?
Cleaning Your House
And speaking of Mom and water, I know that she’d be happy to hear that I love to clean. I think it’s genetically wired into my ancestry[pgi5] . To me, there is nothing more gratifying than surveying my sparkling clean house. I have worked up a sweat, to be sure, but wow! Whether[pgi6] you share my passion or have some help in the house cleaning department, there is no excuse for polluting the planet – or endangering your own health -- as you spit shine your countertops and floors.
Even the EPA is on board with this one, issuing a statement that 50% of all chronic illnesses can be traced to indoor pollution, most of which comes from ordinary household cleaners. Interestingly, they believe that indoor pollution is about ten times more toxic for us than the outside poisons we worry so much about.
My own experience has been that most household products don’t really warn of the dangers of the chemicals in their products or tell us that the disposal of these chemicals is toxic to our waterways.
Here are some of the villains to look for when you are reading labels in the cleaning aisle of your supermarket:
Petroleum is used as a solvent for cleaners. You can recognize this one in the cleaners that evaporate quickly and leave no streaks or marks behind. The toxic fumes are delightful, too.
Phosphates are compounds used in commercial laundry detergents that contribute to serious water pollution.
Butane and pentane are just two of the chemicals used in those smelly air sprays. Before you spritz your home to create the scent of wild flowers, consider this: The organic chemicals in those sprays contribute to the formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere, a major contributor to air pollution, especially in cities. Buy fresh, fragrant flowers instead. You get a lovely perfume in the air and your home is prettier.
Chlorine is used in bleach to create the whitest whites and sanitize surfaces, but it is a major contributor to water pollution, killing off lots of wildlife and creating fish that are too toxic to eat.
So are you meant to have a less than sparkling home, dull whites, and smelly rooms? Of course not. There are so many natural alternatives to clean your home and you won’t be polluting the air and water or leaving behind a chemical haze when you wipe your counters.
You just have to re-think how you clean. You can purchase some of the many products that have been created to make cleaning more green, from glass cleaner to laundry detergent to dish liquid, toilet cleaner and floor polish. If you need to clean it, there is a natural product available.
Some of the natural cleaners can be more expensive, but don’t worry. There are items that are probably already in your pantry that clean so well even Martha Stewart would be impressed.
Humble baking soda is one of the stars of my cleaning tools. Sure, you all know that you can place a box in the fridge to absorb food odors. But did you know that you can use it to clean and deodorize other bits of the house? It softens water, which improves sudsing, so you can use less soap. It’s great for scouring…anything. You can place about a half cup of it in the bottom of a trash can to keep odors at bay. And here’s my favorite: it is the greatest fabric softener I have ever used. Oh, if you dissolve it into a thick paste with a little water, it makes a great silver polish.
Borax, found in the laundry aisle of your grocery, is a great deodorizer and a fabulous cleanser when mixed with soap. Great for disinfecting, borax also works very well as a color enhancer, brightening coloreds and whitening whites, so no bleach is necessary and you still have bright, clean laundry.
Before I discovered green cleaning products, I had no idea what washing powder[pgi7] was or did. You can find it in the laundry section of your market. It is the best natural de-greaser and stain remover I have found. You know all those stain removers that exist? You spray them on or rub them in with a brush. Well, your laundry may be stain-free, but these products are seriously toxic for the environment. Simple washing powder (called precisely that) removes stains as well as anything you can shout out.
White vinegar is big favorite in my house. I use it for everything: cleaning and freshening surfaces, including my hard wood floors; to cut grease and remove stains (even from carpet); to clean drains and as a fabric softener. You can even use it, straight up to clean chrome surfaces to a spit shine sparkle.
On the occasions that I need to clean my oven, I use simple everyday ammonia to get the job done. It works beautifully. I’m supposed to tell you not to mix it with bleach when cleaning, but since you won’t be using bleach anymore, that warning is not needed, right?
I love to mix lemon juice with a touch of vegetable oil to polish any unwaxed wood surface in the house. A brisk buff brings out the shine and you get stronger, leaner arms in the process of buffing.
Also remember to open the windows to create a bit of ventilation in your home and to help freshen the air. Even on the coldest days, just 10 minutes of fresh air in the house changes the environment completely. Try it!
Junk mail is aptly named, It adds clutter to our lives and just think of all the trees that are sacrificed for the fourteen Victoria’s Secret catalogs that you get every week. Re-think: Log onto www.catalogchoice.org and follow the simple steps to rid your mailbox of a lot of junk.
Garden projects, planting trees, creating or contributing to community gardens, working with schools or your neighborhood to create edible gardens offer gratification like nothing else you can do in nature. And if that’s not enough for you, consider this. You get some much-needed exercise when you plant. You work up a sweat, so your body’s stronger and healthier and, because you planted something, the planet’s stronger and healthier, too.
Trees are amazing creatures, each with a personality all its own. And boy do they love us! Trading carbon dioxide for oxygen, we breathe easier having trees around. They shade our homes, allowing for less energy use in the summer heat. They increase the real estate value of our homes. Birds and squirrels love to live in them. They add beauty and serenity to any neighborhood[pgi8] .
A garden is a place of nourishment for our bodies and souls. Flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits all serve as signs that life is a beautiful and precious thing. If you want to re-connect to your natural self, plant a garden and watch it thrive under your care. As the garden matures and the flowers burst with color, fragrant with their perfume, you will be intoxicated by life itself. Make a salad from your own garden greens and you will feel the life inside you. It’s hard to feel depressed when you are out in the garden, coaxing life from plants with your gentle touch. From window boxes to container gardens to small farms, planting is life.
If getting your fingers in the dirt is just not your cup of decaf tea, well then buy a tree. You heard me; buy a tree. Many organizations offer the chance to buy trees to be planted in areas of the world devastated by industry or natural disaster. You can help to bring those places back to life with your donation.
Get involved by donating your time and/or money to a community or school garden. I work as a volunteer in one of my city’s high schools and when we instituted our edible garden program, no one was certain we would succeed, even me. But as the school year went on, I noticed a light in my students’ eyes as they watched their seeds break through the soil. I watched these tough city kids nurture lettuce, peas and basil to tender maturity with a pride I had not seen in them before.
Want some serious self-satisfaction in life? Plant something and watch it grow!
The Grass is Always Greener – or Is It?
More than 31% of the water used in this country waters lawns. Now, I would never tell you to get rid of the glorious green that carpets your property, but look around for better ways to irrigate it. There are new innovations that use less water and still maintain the vivid green you love. Oh, and skip the fertilizer on your grass, unless it’s natural. All those chemicals sprayed on lawns pollute the air and water and with natural options being just as effective, why go the chemical route?
Better yet, find alternatives to grass….There are many sources to help you including the earth-friendly folks at www.eartheasy.com .
Recycle…More and More and More
Recycling is certainly a popular topic nowadays – and you probably think you’ve heard everything there is to say about it. But there’s so much more than using canvas totes at the grocery store instead of “plastic or paper” although it’s a good place to start. Take all your plastic bags back to the supermarket and use them again or drop them into the recycling bin that most markets have at the door. Use those hip-looking canvas totes to transport your groceries – it’s a great way to advertise your commitment.
And here’s a bunch of other ideas that might not have occurred to you:
Many participating mechanic shops recycle motor oil, anti-freeze, tires and car batteries. Do some research and find out who they are and give your business to them…or at least recycle with them.
Buy only greeting cards and note pads made from recycled paper. They are so lovely and well-designed. You will be sending your heartfelt thoughts to your loved ones and the planet.
Donate your old cell phones, electronics and computers to charities that will repair and recycle them. Many cell companies give the phones to shelters for abused women so they have access to emergency aid. Cars can be donated to various charities for repair and re-sale. You get a tax write-off and the planet has one less car in the junk pile.
Compost your food scraps and use them to feed your garden (or your neighbor’s, if you don’t have your own patch of heaven) and let the cut grass clipping lay on the lawn. They are a great source of nutrients to keep your grass healthy and vividly green.
Donate your clothing, shoes, coats and handbags to shelters, thrift stores or charities that aid disaster victims. There’s no reason to throw those pea coats, sling-backs or shoulder bags in the trash, just because you are ‘over’ them. If they are in good condition and clean, lots of people can get lots of use out of them before they need to hit the trash pile.
Just about anything and everything that you own can be re-used or re-purposed. Once man’s junk is, as they say, another’s treasure. There are so many people who have so little and many who have so much. Your excess can become someone’s salvation. The more we can recycle, the less we burden the landfill with our trashed belongings -- and the more we share the wealth, the richer we all will be.
It’s time to think outside the box on recycling…literally.
Skip the Package
We simply must remove some of the layers that come between us and the products we consume. Think about it. You buy a bit of stuff. The stuff is in a plastic pouch, inside a plastic mold, maybe a blister pack, inside a paper sleeve or on a paper card. You purchase the stuff, which is placed in a bag for you to take home. Wow! We buy razor blades, tooth brushes, mascara, snacks, cookies, cereal, soda, chewing gum -- all in so much packaging that our landfills are choked with this trash that will take decades to decompose, if ever. The fact that you can never get the damned packages open should be enough to inspire you to look for something simpler.
It’s easy to choose products that use less packaging, if you look. Certainly, packaging is necessary for some things. Certainly there are sanitation issues that make packaging necessary in some cases. There’s no need to be obsessive, but we have moved a long way from natural. Use your head. Refill where you can. Buy in bulk – things like grains and beans are much more economical when you reject all the little pouches inside packages. Buy a head of lettuce instead of salad in a bag. Purchase carrots loose, if you can. You get the idea. [pgi10]
With gas prices skyrocketing and no real, substantial relief in sight, everyone knows that there has to be a better way. There is, but it requires new thinking.
Alternative fuel sources are certainly the way of the future, but the planet -- and your wallet need relief now. How any single person can drive a Hummer or any oversized SUV (that’s not a hybrid) is completely beyond my comprehension. It seems unconscionable to me to burn resources at that level to drive to the mall or supermarket. I truly don’t buy the whole ‘these cars make us feel safer’ argument either. Do we live in war zones? I apologize if I have insulted anyone who drives one, but you might want to re-think your transportation.
Ranting aside, simply driving less than twenty miles a day can add up to more than $2000 in energy costs. Most cities have decent mass transit systems, trains, buses, suburban routes to the city. There are lots of options to driving. And there’s always the old reliable idea of carpooling.
Ride a bike to work; walk for errands…or jog. You’ll be fitter, richer, and kinder to the planet. I know that leaving the car at home every day is not an option for many people. But if you could replace even two car trips a week you’ll save money and energy. Or you could just drive smarter. Combine several errands in one trip, mapping a route that saves miles. Group appointments into one day; shop near your home for essentials; drive the speed limit.
And walk, walk, walk…
Live It -- a Little at a Time
If you live greener, people can’t help but notice. Everyone wants to do better. Everyone is worried about this fragile planet of ours. Everyone is shocked by the loser who throws soda cans and cigarettes (not that anyone drinks soda or smokes anymore, right?) out of their car windows. We all want to make a difference, contributing to the health of the planet. We can all learn from each other, if we just pay attention. Start out small and just watch how quickly the little steps lead to the bigger strides toward living green.
Start with the small things in life, changes you can live with. Pick your battles. For me, it began with paper products. I decided that I could live without paper towels a long time ago and just stopped buying them. I keep a bin of rags under the sink and just add them to my loads of laundry. From there, we stopped buying paper napkins. I invested in simple cotton napkins that launder easily. Over the years, our use of paper products has been reduced to only toilet tissue. And life is no more complicated, no more work than before. We wash and re-use produce bags and plastic re-sealable bags (it takes us about three years to go through a box). We put filters on all out faucets that power down the use of water. From paper products, the ‘greening’ of our home grew and grew…from composting to recycling things we no longer use. We are pretty happy with the footprint that our day-to-day living leaves behind, but are always looking for ways to do better.
[pgi11] Remember that awareness is the first step toward action. It’s all about changing the way we think about the planet, recycling, buying responsibly, supporting the good guys and the worthy causes, and becoming a very powerful part of the solution[pgi12] .
Obviously, I have my ideas on being greener, but I am sure that there are so many things that I have not considered.
One of the best ways to ‘green’ the world is by spreading the word. Talk to each other and share ideas. What works and what doesn’t in the day to day chaos of life?
[pgi1]Your Organic Kitchen has been moved to chapter 5 as a box
[pgi2]Reworded because “last year” is too timely a reference.
[pgi3]Add the time frame for saving this amount of water? Is this for, say, the average family of four, etc.
[pgi4]Conventional wisdom tells us that showers actually consume less hot water than the bath – unless, of course, one is taking excessively long showers! Quick internet search: 5 minute shower takes 20 gallons; average tub, 30 gallons. But, as you indicate, a “long, hot shower” could easily take more than 30 gallons. So I’ve inserted 5-minute above.
[pgi5]CP Since you are of mixed ancestry we could make this generic – I am sure that many of your ancestors were noted for their love of cleanliness.
[pgi6]CP I heard a story from Heloise about getting a letter from a reader of her column in response to her suggestion about cleaning with baking soda and a little elbow grease. The reader asked where she could buy “elbow grease.” Funny, ha ha.
[pgi7]Not sure what you mean by this: powdered laundry detergent? Explain? And why is it good for the environment. Lots of things “really work” but are really toxic!
[pgi8]Deleted mention of studies on trees and crime since this is open to a lot of interpretation….and doesn’t really add to the issue.
[pgi9]CP I think that suggesting alternative to lawns is a good idea. I happened to come across this site that offers lots of good information about natural lauwn care and alternatives. If you don’t want to include this here, I’d suggest adding it to your resosurces for this chapter. Or if you want to suggest alternatives, OK.
[pgi10]I deleted the bottled water comment and it can be used as a tip of the day/ re-think in your 21-day plan.
[pgi11]I delted idealbite.com mention and suggest that you add it as a tip of the day with one of the menus.
[pgi12]CP If you want to encourage readers to share their ideas on recycling or whatever, I think rather than just telling them to go out and spread the word you could encourage them to go to your website. So, I suggest that you end this section with a boxed item to this effect. Include your website address. I assume that you can take comments from readers. If not now, then is that something you could do to start a forum of sorts to get ideas/question/etc from readers? (I haven’t check out your site recently.)