Friday, May 23, 2008

Gimme a Break, Coffee Break, that is...

Sometimes I want to throw my hands up at all the contradictory and confusing information out there about what's healthy and what's not. "Eat organic, eat local--vegetarian isn't healthy for you, but it is for the planet--cut fat, eat fat."

I make it easy on myself and hopefully, the planet by doing what I can the majority of the time and forgetting about the rest of it. I'm not 100% anything all the time. I eat organic when I can, but I don't obsess about it. I figure everything in moderation means less stress for me and my traveling companions seem to appreciate it, too.

Organic coffee is one thing I skip, especially given the cost of coffee. Buying organic foods usually means less exposure to pesticides and fertilizers, but coffee is one exception. The roasting at high temps removes toxic residue in conventional beans according to Sandra Marquardt, Organic Coffee Collaboration spokesperson. This means there's no real health benefit to choosing organic over regular. But choosing organic it does support environmentally sound harvesting and farming practices.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tonic for the Soul--Mothering is our Nature

On Mother's Day, I wandered out on the mudflats of the river to watch a family of raccoons scamper on the shoreline. It was a tonic for my soul. Breathing in the wonder of the outdoors nurtures me. When I am low, I find solace in nature. When I am outside, I am more myself. Nature writer Diane Ackerman describes our need for the tonic, "There are noble reasons for protecting the environment...but we also need a healthy, thriving, bustling, natural world so that we can be healthy, so that we can feel whole."

Right there on the mud flats, I made a commitment to take care of myself as well as I take care of others. "Taking care of yourself is your right and your responsibility," says Vimala McClure. And it is said, she who values her body more than dominion over the empire can be given custody of the empire. I want to value my soil and sea, as much as I do the bodies of others.

And in doing so, I cannot help but wonder how much richer, cleaner, kinder the planet would be if mothers everywhere started caring for themselves in this way--nurturing the mother, the nature in us all.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dictionary for Eco Newbies

Eco. Prefix referring to ecological terms.

Defined in Wikipedia as a form of tourism appealing to ecologically and socially conscious individuals; focuses on personal growth and learning new ways to live on the planet; typically involving travel to destinations where flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions.

Responsible ecotourism includes programs that minimize the negative aspects of conventional tourism on the environment, and enhance the cultural integrity of local people. Therefore, in addition to evaluating environmental and cultural factors, an integral part of ecotourism is in the promotion of recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, and creation of economic opportunities for the local communities.

Ask what makes the destination "eco" or green. Green washing is common, not only because people want to jump on a hot trend, but most often because they're uninformed. My properties are certified by the Green Vacation Hub which has fair, but deeply green certification standards. You can use their list to ask businesses about their green policies or initiatives. Just being in the jungle or have a recyling been doesn't make it "eco" in my book.

Eco-luxury. A high comfort, low impact way of life promoted by yours truly. In my home it means a natural home that is easy on me & the environment WITHOUT compromising my gracious standard of living. We use only fragrance free cleaning products, furnishings & building materials. Low-toxin environment, no harmful out-gassing, no chemicals. I'm not talking yurt with a composting toilet. I don't wear earth shoes, I eat meat (occassionally) and I'm into my "soft surroundings."

GHG. Green House Gases such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2), the leading green house gas contributing to climate change. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon into the atmosphere. During the combustion process, the fossil fuels are turned into carbon dioxide.

Green or Sustainable Design, Green Building, Green Remodel. The goal of green building is to minimize the impacts on people's health and the environment and the efficient use of energy, water and materials during construction. For homes, this includes architecture, landscape and renewable resources. For example, a green home might use a cistern to capture grey water from indoors and rain water outdoors. This prevents polluted dishwater, laundry wash water, and runoff from pavement from entering the streams, lakes, or ocean . The cistern water is then used for drip systems in landscaping to water plants.

IAQ. Indoor Air Quality. Mold, bacteria, allergens and carbon monoxide are among the many elements that can negatively affect a home's IAQ. Cleaning products, fabric softeners, air fresheners, scented candles, and other household products with synthetic fragrances usually contain harsh chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic-most of which irritate respiratory systems.

The EPA reports that about 70% of indoor air is more polluted than the air outside. To help you evaluate your exposure to household pollutants and find tips for improving indoor air quality see the information at the American Lung Association. Switch to unscented cleaners or better yet, replace them with white vinegar or baking soda and water.

Stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED awards points based on fulfilling requirements in six major areas: Sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation and design. New buildings can earn certified, silver, gold or platinum awards based on how many points it achieves. LEED is mostly used in new construction and to rate a project on its level of greenness and does not apply to remodeling. A few states have green certified remodeling certifications based on LEED criteria. Even if contractors in your state cannot be LEED certified for remodels, they can use the project checklists. Items included would be:

  • Recycling or reusing packaging and materials removed from the home during the remodel instead of adding to the landfill.
  • Use of wood furnishings and finishes that are either recycled, reclaimed, or from harvested in ways that did not threaten old growth or rain forests.
  • Water Efficiency. Low volume toilet and shower head. Showerheads that remove chlorine. Most chlorine exposure comes not from drinking water, but from our skin while bathing. Use filtered water in the shower and you may notice your hair color lasts longer (if you get it from a bottle).
  • Energy Efficiency. Use Energy Star rated appliances and heating, air conditioning units.

For more easy tips download 16 Easy Ways to Green Your Home.

Slow Movement/Slow Food/Slow Travel. The cultural initiative, SLOW FOOD has burgeoned into a whole way of life known as the Slow Movement, which emphasizes connection — connection to food, connection to families and, in the case of travel, connection to local peoples and cultures.

Slow travel is not so much about the transportation on your vacation as it is your mindset. It can mean renting a cottage for a few weeks or hiking and biking while at your destination to get a feel for the land. A slow itinerary gives you a break from the blurring pace of American or business life. Slow travel is also kinder to the environment and your wallet, as vacation rentals are less expensive than hotels and resorts with comparable amenities. Staying in one place often reduces transportation costs and by cooking instead of eating out for every meal, you save even more.

VOC. Volatile Organic Compounds found in many building materials such as dry wall, paint, wood, glue, or carpet, paints and finishes. To avoid them, look for construction or remodeling from reclaimed or untreated wood, upholstered furniture that has long since out-gassed sizing and other chemicals, no carpeting as most carpet padding and glue contains toxins, including formaldehyde. Xenoestrogens and nanoparticles are the latest offenders. More on those later or send me links to articles about it! 5/10/08 by Dana Ghermine Mayer