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Green Purse Alerts!

Why My Purse is Green

Because I believe…

  • the fastest, most effective way to stop polluters is by pressuring them in the marketplace
  • women can be the world’s most powerful economic and environmental force if we intentionally shift our spending to the best green products and services
  • women have the power right now to solve many of our most serious environmental problems by using our green purses to make a difference
  • women must act – intentionally, collectively, and with the full force of our purse power behind us – if we hope to leave our children and grandchildren a better world.
  • « July 2008 | Main | September 2008 »

    August 30, 2008

    How "Green" is Sarah Palin? Not very (unless you count her experience).

    Before women get too excited about the nomination of Sarah Palin to the GOP Presidential ticket, they should pause long enough to take a look at her record. Political pundits have focused on her cred as a social conservative. But where does she stand on the environment? This summary compiled by tells all:

    * She favors oil drilling on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the calving ground for thousands of migratory caribou. The Refuge is considered sacred wilderness by environmentalists, biologists and millions of Americans. Even McCain opposes drilling here. Her response? Bring on the derricks!

    * She opposed a statewide ballot initiative to prohibit or restrict new mining operations that could affect salmon in the state's streams and rivers.

    * She sued the Interior Department over its decision to try to protect the polar bear by listing it as a threatned species. 

    * She opposes a windfall profits tax on oil companies, even though most of their profits come from drilling on public land that you and I and every American citizen own.

    * She faces an immediate conflict of interest in developing national energy policy: her husband is an oil production operator for BP on Alaska's North Slope.

    * She believes intelligent design should be taught along with evolution in science classes.

    Says Carl Pope of the Sierra Club, "Senator McCain has lost any chance of having a balanced or moderate ticket with this choice and has instead opted for the same, business-as-usual reliance on the outdated oil companies that has been the hallmark of the Bush-Cheney administration. On the third anniversary of the hurricane that knocked loose oil rigs and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf Coast that is bracing for another hit, McCain is sending a terribly indifferent message by selecting a candidate who only repeats Big Oil's talking points."

    The only thing "green" about Palin is her level of national and foreign policy experience.

    August 28, 2008

    Check out Maggie's Organic for Back-to-School Fashions

    Even after you've cut your shopping budget to the bone, you may still need to get a few things to cover your kids as they head off to school. If so, take a look at Maggie's Organics.

    Maggies_boys_socks_3The company integrates certified organic cotton or wool in all its products and manufactures according to fair trade principles. They sell a terrific collection of socks, scarves, tights, loungewear, legwarmers, tees, baby clothes, new sock monkeys and fashionable tops.Maggies_girls_tights_2

    Conscious of energy consumed by transporting products across the globe, Maggie's has developed supply chains as close to home as possible. The company uses a minimum amount of packaging to save energy during transportation and to reduce waste.

    Thumb_green Thumbs up, Maggie!

    August 27, 2008

    Taming the Back-to-School Shopping Beast

    For the last two weeks, I’ve been trying to keep the “shopping beast” under control. My “kids” – a daughter heading off to college for the first time, and a son returning to college to continue his studies – have been beating the drums for stuff they think is “essential” to their academic experience. They’re not talking about books, or even paper and pens so they can take notes. They’re thinking new iPods, new wardrobes, new computers, new sheets, pillows and towels, and anything else preceded by the word – you guessed it – “new.”

    Fortunately, both my freshman and my junior know they have to make a pretty good case for “new” when they’re talking to me.

    Go shopping in your closet first,” I told them. “Look around your room. Then make a list of what you actually need.”

    (I tried not to mention the same refrain they’ve heard over and over again: “In my day, I packed one suitcase and a manual typewriter, headed off to campus, and did just fine.”)

    My daughter emerged from her room with a pile of gently worn clothes that she eventually took to Mustard_seed Mustard Seed, our local thrift store, and exchanged for “new” (to her) sweaters and skirts. She seemed content to pack up the boots and shoes she already wears. We agreed that she needed new bedding to fit the extra-long twin mattress she’d be sleeping on at school, plus fluffy pillows and a fresh comforter to make her dorm room cozy.  In place of a new laptop, she got a new laptop case. I couldn’t begrudge her a few picture frames (though something tells me my smiling face won’t grace them). And she has no choice but to bring her own desk lamp, hangers, and even rugs, since the university doesn’t furnish them. I’m insisting she take a reusable water bottle and her floor length robe (yes, it’s a co-ed dorm…enough said?). She and her roommate have agreed to share a refrigerator and microwave, both of which they can rent from student services. I refused to buy her a tv, and she opted to save her own money rather than spend it on more electronics. “Besides,” she noted practically, “we don’t get cable.”

    As I look at the stuff she’s been setting aside, I'm satisfied to see that the pile is relatively small. By inventorying what she already has, sharing what she can, realizing she has most of what she needs, and buying just a couple of things to fill the gaps, she’s heading to college feeling confident about the comfy cocoon she’ll be able to create for herself. Meanwhile, I don’t worry that we’ve either broken the bank or left a horrible carbon footprint in our wake.

    My son also managed to get a grip on his “needs.” He finally concluded that while his computer hard drive was irreparably fried, his “old” printer and monitor could easily last another year. We happily bought him a new pair of tennis shoes, which he will wear until, like the last pair, he completely wears Mug_2 them out. He will reuse the furnishings he acquired when he first headed to college a couple of years ago, including a fabulous travel mug from Hudson Trail Outfitters that keeps coffee hot for a solid two hours. His book bag is still in good shape, as is his calculator, so no additional purchases there. He did get a new electric razor, having somehow lost his other one half-way through the summer, but no complaints from me on that score. “With the electric, I won’t have to throw away all those disposables or use shaving cream,” he argued. Music to my ears.

    Their personal gear under control, we turned our attention to the practical. They still needed supplies like paper, pencils, pens and binders, as well as shampoo and soap. Trips to Staples and Target were equally frustrating. The only available pencils were made by Ticonderoga, a company that recently received an “F” from Forest Ethics for the clearcutting it practices in California's Sierra Nevada forests. There was no recycled notebook paper to be seen.

    Woody_pen Fortunately, I can mail order sustainably certified #2 pencils from Forest Choice and pens (left) made from sustainable wood scraps from The Green Office. I'll call Greenline Paper for that recycled item. We’re stuck with PVC plastic binders; I’ve seen some options made from recycled cardboard, but didn’t think they would stand up to the drubbing they’d take given my students’ rough-and-tumble lives. Besides, the kids really didn’t like them.   

    As for personal care products, both kids are particular about what they put Burtsbees_2 on their bodies. My daughter tends towards Burt's Bees, which she'll be able to find as easily on campus as here at home. My son, true to his gender, uses very little beyond basic bar soap and (Tom's) toothpaste. Plus, he avoids any product containing anti-bacterial agents.

    I couldn't send either child off without an energy-conservation care kit: energy-saving power strips for all their electronics, a four-pack of mini compact fluorescent light bulbs they're welcome to share with roommates (and bring home at the end of the year), and umbrellas so they can walk even when it rains.

    "But, Mom," my daughter wondered, "What about the cookies?"

    Oops. Better break out the organic sugar and flour for those.

    August 25, 2008

    Will the next president do more for the environment than focus on energy?

    It may be sacrilege to say so, but there’s more to protecting the environment than stopping global warming, especially where women are concerned.

    I admit this acknowledging that climate change is probably the pre-eminent environmental issue of our time. Melting ice caps, catastrophic hurricanes and droughts, rising sea level, and changing weather patterns are altering the very nature of Nature. By and large, scientists agree that the window of opportunity to reverse the atmospheric build-up of hothouse gases like carbon dioxide is rapidly closing. Predictions for an overheated future grow more dire every day.

    Still, moment to moment, our lives are affected in a more immediate way by other environmental threats that have been completely ignored by the Bush Administration. Will the next president have the foresight to tackle them sooner rather than later?

    Eye_makeup Consider our exposure to toxic substances. From the water we drink to the soaps and lotions we slather on our skin to the toys that entertain our children, we face a daily assault from chemicals that wreak havoc on our reproductive system, cause cancer, and increase our likelihood of contracting diseases like asthma, blood poisoning and heart failure. Right now, the cosmetics industry regulates itself, which is why many manufacturers of lipstick, make-up, shampoo and perfume continue to include phthalates, parabens, synthetic fragrances, and unnecessary antibacterial agents in their formulations. What should the next presidential administration do? Making the “precautionary principle” a keystone of its approach to environmental health and safety would be a first important step in the right direction. At a minimum, the new president should require the Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use in personal care products of any ingredients that have not proven to be safe.

    Protecting wilderness is another area of critical concern. Both candidates Barack Obama and John McCain would safeguard the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling. But what about other sensitive ecosystems? Any serious presidential environmental agenda should embrace proposals like creation of the Yellowstone-to-Yukon wilderness corridor and the addition of several million acres to the national wilderness system.

    Deforestation Now take a minute to consider the migratory songbirds in your backyard, along with the tropical plants that provide the basis for 25% of all disease-fighting pharmaceuticals. I’ve just returned from a trip to the Amazon basin, and I can tell you, the rainforest is still being burned down to make way for cattle ranches that supply fast food restaurants and soybean plantations that power ethanol distilleries. It should be at the top of the next administration’s agenda to lead a global campaign to ramp up protection for rainforests and biological diversity worldwide.

    As for what you eat, despite the demand for healthier food, only 3.5% of fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products are organic. One way the next president can accelerate the transition to safer food production is by using the power of the government’s annual Farm Bill to switch federal subsidies away from conventional, pesticide-using growers and towards the thousands of farmers who want to raise livestock and produce without insecticides, herbicides, antibiotics and synthetic hormones but who can't afford to do so on their own.

    Carrots_bunch Finally, consider the confusion you face each time you want to use your purse to purchase the safest, most environmentally friendly product available. The challenge of distinguishing “green” from “greenwash” impedes environmental progress, as it discourages consumers  from deploying their shopping carts as green "carrots" to encourage industry to adopt more eco-friendly practices. The next administration could revolutionize green manufacturing – and make tremendous strides in energy conservation, pollution control, and environmental health and safety – by advocating for certified sustainable standards that make eco-friendly choices clear for shopper and manufacturer alike.

    All these actions are within reach. The question is, will the next president aspire to such ambitious goals? 

    Clearly, it will depend on who is elected. If you examine the voting records of both Barack Obama and John McCain, Obama emerges as the most likely environmental champion hands down.

    According to the watchdog League of Conservation Voters, McCain’s lifetime LCV record is 24% compared to Obama’s 86% and running mate Joe Biden’s 83%.  Says LCV of John McCain, “he repeatedly clings to outdated policies and flip-flops on core environmental issues.  In his 25 years in Congress, McCain has faced 294 crucial environmental votes and he voted in favor of the environment only 71 times.”

    Still, it is unlikely that even the Obama administration will tackle many of these issues without active encouragement from concerned Americans. As the old saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Right now, the only wheel squeaking is the one advocating to control climate change. Unless it's a unicycle, most vehicles have more than one wheel. To keep moving forward, the other wheels need a little grease, too.

    August 22, 2008

    Should you use up cosmetics you already have before buying new, safer products?

    When do you use up products you already have, and when do you either try to return them or just opt to throw them away?
    I got that question today. Here it is in full, along with my answer:
    "I would like your opinion. Before I heard you on Martha Stewart on Sirius, I was purchasing my normal stuff.  I would do recyclable as much as possible, didn't know much about free trade or organic or all that.  Then I bought your book. Now, I've read your book and would like to do what I can to protect myself and the environment.  What would you suggest I do with several unopened cosmetics, or the rest of already opened cosmetics?  I've got half bottles of shampoo and conditioner that I would gladly replace with organic.  I've got unopened bars of Neutrogena soap and unopened bottles of Neutrogena acne wash.  I've got unopened Neutrogena cosmetics (powder, under eye concealer). Should I use up what I have already opened?  Dumping it and just recycling the bottles doesn't sound right. If you would share your opinion, I'd appreciate it."
    Here's how I responded:
    "Is there any chance of returning the unopened products? The easiest would be to take them back to the store where you bought them. I called the Neutrogena customer service line ( ) and they said that as long as the products are unopened, the store should take them back, even if you don't have a receipt.
    "Re: the opened and half used shampoo, conditioner and soap, I would go ahead and use them up, since if you throw them away you have probably a worse effect because you're dumping more concentrated materials down the drain or in the dump than diluting them somewhat with water. Also, these are products that don't usually penetrate your skin. There is the least health risk in using soaps that only stay on your body for minutes, as opposed to products like make-up and deodorant that are designed to penetrate the skin over time.
    "With the opened cosmetics, honestly, I have an old cosmetics bag that I've unwanted dumped lipstick, blush and mascara into. I no longer want to put these products on my body, but I don't want to throw them away either. Someday, I'll include them in my city's hazardous waste pick-up. They don't really qualify as hazardous material, but that just seems better than tossing them in the trash (though, if you didn't want to bother with that, you could double bag them and throw them away. Most things don't degrade in a landfill, so they'd probably remain intact, especially since they're also in a case)."
    Anyone have any other ideas?

    August 21, 2008

    We need sustainable standards so consumers know what to buy.

    One of the biggest obstacles green consumers -- or green "wanna-bees" -- face is knowing what's really "green" and what's just being hyped, or greenwashed, so businesses can make a buck.

    Woman Reading Label - USDA PhotoA recent poll shows just how confused consumers are.

    Called Eco Pulse, the national study, which was reported in Brand Week, asked shoppers open-ended and multiple-choice questions about green issues. The results are disheartening for those of us who spend our time trying to help clarify marketplace and lifestyle choices.

    According to the research, many people still don't have a clue whether what their purchases actually make a difference. Neither can they vouch for the eco-status of the companies whose products they buy. If you ever wondered whether the certification efforts of the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability and other organizations were worthwhile, studies like these leave no question: certified green standards would help hold companies accountable while shining a bright green light on choices that actually are as eco-friendly as they claim to be. 

    Specifically, here's what EcoPulse found:

    * Half (49%) of respondents said a company's environmental record is important in their purchasing decisions. But only 21% said they had actually chosen one product over another because the company was a good eco-citizen. And it gets worse: only 7% could name the environmental product they purchased.

    - Despite the intense efforts of the past few years to educate people about climate change, only 57% agreed that "Global warming, or climate change, is occurring, and it is primarily caused by human activity." At this point, shouldn't that number be closer to 100%? 

    - The study also asked consumers to name which features a home should have for them to consider it green. Four in 10 (42%) said they didn't know, while 28% said solar, 12% said compact fluorescent light bulbs and 10% named Energy Star appliances. Nothing else really registered. In a second survey that listed 17 features, consumers were asked to check those a home must have before they'd deem it green, reported Brand Week. The average number was 10.4.

    - People weren't even sure what makes a cleaning product green. Though the top-rated answer - "no harmful toxic ingredients or chemicals" - is essentially correct, the runner up  - "the packaging is made of recycled or recyclable materials" - is important, but secondary to the product's actual ingredients.

    The survey posed some juxtapositions that are inherently false, such as whether people would put their personal comfort ahead of the environment. Of course, most respondents answered yes, even though quality of life usually improves, not diminishes, the greener one's life gets.

    And it should be no surprise that 40% of those queried felt "skeptical," "irritated," and "guilty" when the media focus the spotlight on people's environmental impact. No one likes to acknowledge they've screwed up. The good news is that fully 60% said they were "better educated" or "glad" to be aware of the crisis the planet faces and what we can do about it.

    Overall, cynicism seems to reign in the mind of the green consumer. When asked why companies adopt environmentally friendly practices, the most common response (47%) was "to make their company look better to the public." Only 13% believed it was "because their owners/shareholders care about the environment."

    Businesses that actually go to the trouble of ensuring that their products and services meet independent, certified sustainable standards could go a long way towards reversing these numbers. They'd also help out consumers, who increasingly need a straightforward way to avoid the greenwash that is keeping them from parting with their greenbacks.

    August 20, 2008

    The Amazon is Still Burning - Are you buying tropical wood?

    As I flew over the Peruvian rainforest, I kept a lookout for flames. I'd heard that, despite international outrage over the loss of millions of acres of trees, the Amazon basin was still going up in smoke. Now I'd come to see for myself, and it didn't take long. Out the window of the small LAN-Peru jet I was taking from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado, a bustling frontier town perched on a tributary of the Amazon, I saw a tall grey column billowing up from the ground 19,000 feet below. 

    Deforestation_3 Not everything was on fire  - because much of it had already been burned and cleared. A patchwork of thin, pale green rectangles intermingled with darker, bubbly patches that indicated intact forest. But I couldn't help but worry that the amount of forest left serves more like an invitation to clearcutters than a deterrent.

    Oscar, my guide for the next four days, confirmed that that was the case. As we boarded a long, narrow motor boat for our five-hour trip into the wilds that host the Heath River Wildlife Center, the rainforest specialist noted that fires and clearcuts remain the biggest threat facing the region known for serving as the "globe's lungs."

    Aerial_1026_3234_2 "Why is the forest being cleared?" I asked, thinking the answer was linked to consumer demand for mahogany, teak and other exotic woods.

    Oscar acknowledged that logging is a major problem. But, he said, agriculture also figures substantially into the destruction equation. "Raising cattle and growing soybeans leave a big scar on the land," he said. "You want prestige in the Amazon, you clear the forest, grow crops, and make money. It's as simple as that."

    Independent research from various scientists as well as groups like Mongo Bay , the Nature Conservancy, and Greenpeace verify that raising cattle, growing soybeans and logging are the most damaging forces behind rainforest destruction. Though most studies have focused on Brazil, Peru isn't immune to the same marketplace forces. While many fastfood restaurants in the U.S. have pledged not to use beef or soy products grown on recently deforested tracts of land, the Asian and European markets haven't been so responsible. And consumers everywhere continue to buy tropical woods because they are beautiful, unusual, and resistant to rot.

    The impact of consumer demand is making itself felt in Peru. As points out, about half of this medium-sized country is forested. Of this, more than 80 percent is classified as primary forest. In other words, it's never been cut. Nevertheless, the international Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the country loses somewhere between 224,000 and 300,000 hectares of forest per year.

    Notes Mongo Bay: "Currently most logging in Peru is illegal. One scientist at the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon estimates that 95 percent of the mahogany logged in the country is harvested illegally. Because the wood is so valuable, traffickers are known to cut trees inside national parks and reserves. They also have little to fear: as of early 2006, not a single commercial logger had been imprisoned in Peru for illegal logging."

    A further source of deforestation and environmental degradation in the Peruvian Amazon, says, is gold mining. "Peru's forests are home to alluvial gold deposits that are pursued by large-scale operators and informal, small-scale miners. Both kinds of operators rely heavily on hydraulic mining techniques, blasting away at river banks, clearing floodplain forests, and using heavy machinery to expose potential gold-yielding gravel deposits.

    "Mercury contamination and increased river sedimentation can be a problem downstream from operations, while mining roads can open remote forest areas to transient settlers and land speculators. Further, shantytowns that spring up in areas believed to hold gold deposits increase pressure on forests for building material, bushmeat, fuelwood, and agricultural land."

    Indeed, during the first two hours of our boat trip, we saw at least a dozen prospectors industrially sifting gravel in their search for gold. Eventually, they would use mercury to bind small gold chunks into bigger nuggets, and think nothing of washing all the residue into the same river water that serves as their kids' swimming hole -- as well as the water source for Peru's 2,937 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles, according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Of these, 16.0 percent are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 7.6 percent are threatened. In addition, Peru is home to at least 17,144 species of vascular plants, of which 31.2 percent are endemic.

    Scott Paul, the Director of Forest Campaigns for Greenpeace USA, says the marketplace can play a critical role in helping to curb rainforest destruction. Already, McDonald's in the U.S. and Europe has pledged not to use products - including beef and soy-based feed for chickens - produced in newly cleared rainforests as a way to discourage further forest destruction. Home Depot minimizes the amount of wood it buys from rainforests and sources as much wood as possible from producers that meet the sustainable forestry criteria established by the Forest Stewardship Council.

    Paul credits consumer pressure as well as high-profile publicity campaigns like those Greenpeace wages for these successes.

    "I've seen individual consumer actions change government and corporate policies," he says. The way people spend their money can be "insanely effective" in persuading companies to safe the rainforest rather than destroy it.

    Paul says here in the U.S., consumers can take two key steps to protect the Amazonian basin.

    Buy locally produced food. Read labels and look for products made in America. Choose locally-raised beef and chickens, an increasing feature at farmer's markets, food co-ops and natural-food grocery stores. Avoid canned meat. Apart from the fact that a "food" like this sounds unappealing to begin with, it is also one way that Latin American producers are sneaking their goods into the marketplace. Most tofu and other soy-based foods are made from soybeans grown in the U.S., so for the moment, anyway, Paul says that purchasing those goods won't impact the rainforest either way.

    Fsc_logo * Buy FSC-certified wood. When choosing flooring, indoor or outdoor furniture, patio decking or other wood products, make sure the wood has been produced from a certified sustainable forest. Pier 1 and Crate and Barrel earned four stars from National Wildlife Federation for the sustainable garden furniture they offer.

    Oscar, my Peruvian guide, would add:

    * Support sustainable tourism. "Owning and running an eco-lodge is fast approaching cattle ranching and farming as a prestige occupation in Peru," he says. "And it's far better for the forest because protecting the forest ecosystem is key if lodge owners and their employees are going to make any money."

    August 05, 2008

    Cheapest, Fastest Oil Fix? Pump Up Your Tires!

    If you have a car, stop whatever you're doing and go check the air pressure of your vehicle's tires.

    Tire_gauge Apart from keeping your car in park, pumping up your tires to their proper "PSI" - pounds per square inch - is the fastest, cheapest way to reduce the amount of gasoline you use. Tires have a tendency to lose pressure over time or when the weather changes substantially; a car driving on underinflated tires needs more gas to move. You can gain 3.3% in fuel efficiency by inflating your tires. And with gasoline costing over $4/per gallon, every 3.3% gain means money in your pocket.

    That gain also affords an immediate way to increase our supply of oil. As Barack Obama has noted in his vision for an energy independent America, if we all pumped up our tires to their proper PSI, the U.S. could easily gain from conservation  (i.e., using less fuel) three times as much oil as we could reap from far more costly and environmentally dangerous off-shore oil drilling. And that oil is available TODAY, not ten or twenty years hence - the time it takes to develop oil fields and convert petroleum into gasoline.

    "Efforts to improve conservation and efficiency happen to be the best approaches to dealing with the energy crisis — the cheapest, cleanest, quickest and easiest ways to ease our addiction to oil, reduce our pain at the pump and address global warming. It's a pretty simple concept: if our use of fossil fuels is increasing our reliance on Middle Eastern dictators while destroying the planet, maybe we ought to use less," writes Michael Grunwald in Time.

    Thumb_green Tire gauges are cheap. You can buy one for $10-$15 at your local auto supply store; or look here.

    If you don't know how to check your tire pressure, this video offers a good explanation.

    You can easily save $20-$50 a month on gasoline if you pump up your tires and take other simple steps. Here are the top ten ways to beat high gas prices and increase America's oil supply.

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