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Green Tips for the Bride

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
By Christa

As I mentioned a while back, green topics have actually come up pretty frequently at the other two blogs I author: Manolo for the Home and Manolo for the Brides. In the last post, I shared a list of eco-friendly posts from Manolo for the Home, and today I want to share a similar list taken from the archives of Manolo for the Brides.

eco weddings

Green Tips for the Bride:

10 Ways to Enjoy the Great Outdoors at Winter’s Gnarly End

Monday, March 14th, 2011
By Christa

So, March. Where you live, March may be totally delightful and filled with sounds and scents of springtime. Where I live, there is still ice blocking quite a few of the sidewalks. Dirty, gross drifts of snow still line the edges of parking lots and block access to walkways. At the same time, said snow is melting, which means lots and lots of mud everywhere. And sand, too. Plus it’s not exactly warm out.

But I want… no, I need to get out of the house! My toddler also needs to get out of the house, though her idea of what constitutes good mid-March fun differs somewhat from my own. She’d like to have full access to all dirty puddles and mud, which may or may not be your notion of fun. On the grownup side of things, here are 10 ways I am getting back outdoors while the weather is still cold:

1. Get out and just walk – be careful of the ice

2. Plant your bulbs (and enjoy the fruits of your labors in the springtime)

3. Put out suet and birdseed for birds who may have had a long, lean winter

4. And then watch the birds go crazy

5. Shovel a maze through the remaining snow in your yard, then run the kids or the dog through it until maximum exhaustion levels have been reached

6. Alternately, look for animal prints in the remaining snow

7. Go to the park and find a sunny spot to just sit and meditate on winter’s decline

8. Or maybe the beach, where the sand is finally peeking out from under the snow when the tide’s not high

9. Pull all the dead plants from last year’s garden that weren’t pulled before the snow set in

10. Break in your porch swing or deck chairs early and read a book under a big, warm blanket

No matter how you celebrate the fact that it’s almost starting to warm up and the snow is almost getting to manageable levels, just remember those snow or rain boots since it’s wet out there! (And maybe a scarf, too.)

How do you enjoy the outdoors when it’s still cold and gross – but slightly less gross and cold – outside?

Insulation: First the Body, Then the Home

Sunday, March 13th, 2011
By Christa

In light of last month’s post about lowering the thermostat to lose weight, I was totally jazzed to happen upon a really fascinating article about how clothing impacts comfort indoors in Low-Tech Magazine.

There is another way to reduce energy consumption for space heating that does not have any of these disadvantages: lowering the thermostat and putting on more clothes. Although room temperature is hardly ever mentioned as a factor in energy use, it is a decisive factor in the energy consumption of heating systems…The insulating properties of clothing can be expressed in “clo”-units, where one “clo” equals the thermal insulation required to keep a resting person (for instance, a couch potato) indefinitely comfortable at a temperature of 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit)…The clo is an interesting unit because it allows us to precisely calculate which clothes we have to wear to feel comfortable at any given indoor temperature. According to the “Encyclopedia of occupational health and safety”, the required clo-value to maintain a neutral thermal sensation rises to about 2.7 at an indoor temperature of 10° Celsius (50°F). When the indoor temperature drops to 0° C (32°F), the required thermal insulation rises to 4 clo…The energy savings potential of clothing is so large that it cannot be ignored – though in fact this is exactly what is happening now. This does not mean that home insulation and efficient heating systems should not be encouraged. All three paths should be pursued, but improving clothing insulation is obviously the cheapest, easiest and fastest way.

I don’t know about you, but it’s nice to hear some advocating the wearing of a little more clothing over jacking the thermostat. Particularly since I’ve got myself pretty well trained to reach for another layer when I feel a chill instead of bumping the numbers. Now that I read the article I linked, I’m really excited to get some awesome high-tech, slim-fitting thermal gear for next winter. What about you? Are you rocking the long undies?

Neckwarmer by Cushy Company

Fur Still Not Demonstrably Eco-Friendly Despite Advertising to the Contrary

Thursday, March 10th, 2011
By Christa

I first read about at Treehugger, and I have to admit, the web site is compelling. Animals breed, making the main component of a fur coat a renewable resource. A fur coat in good condition can be repurposed into other accessories, which is a form of recycling, and maybe even composted. Kept well, fur garments are durable, which could translate into fewer new garments for fur enthusiasts. And the folks, aka the Fur Council of Canada, argue that fur is humanely trapped and farmed, super non-polluting to process, and provides a much-needed livelihood for indigenous peoples in the north.

On the other hand, the Humane Society tells a different story:

Mink, foxes, raccoon dogs, rabbits and other species with the misfortune of having attractive fur are raised in wire mesh battery cages on fur confinement operations, described euphemistically as “fur farms,” to account for 85% of the world’s production of animal fur.3 The animal wastes contain high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus.

A 2003 Michigan State University study in the Fur Rancher Blue Book of Fur Farming states that “the U.S. mink industry adds almost 1,000 tons of phosphorus to the environment each year.”

The 2003 European Commission Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau “Reference Document on Best Available Techniques for the Tanning of Hides and Skins”
recognizes the tanning15 industry as “a potentially pollution-intensive industry.”

The Industrial Pollution Projection System rates the fur dressing and dyeing industry one of the five worst industries for toxic metal pollution to the land.

Personally, I don’t wear fur, but I’ve always found it a bit difficult to accept the OMG FUR IS SUPER GROSS argument from someone wearing a leather jacket made of leather that came from who knows where. Tell me, is leather more acceptable because it’s made from a big dumb cow while the fur in a fur coat is made from a majestic wild animal?

As for whether fur is green, I think the arguments on both sides are clothed in shades of gray. claims that fur in general is fair trade, non-polluting, and sustainable – in other words, quite green – but provides no actual evidence to back up its claims. But while processing and dyeing fur requires some gnarly chemicals and can lead to industrial pollution of waterways when factories are less-than-careful about disposal and containment, so can the processing of leather – which happens on a much larger scale. The same goes for energy consumption and whether it’s good for the primary producer versus the manufacturer who sells a fur or leather product for hundreds of bucks.

Do I think that some fur (and leather) can be produced in a green way? Absolutely. Do I think the fur and leather on an average pair of boots made in China and sold at the department store has much chance of being green? No. With regards to, my greenwashing detector is going off in a big way.

Could You Go a Year Without a Clothes Dryer?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
By Christa

Annie Hintsala did, after her dryer broke one day and her handy husband pronounced it dead. Rather than buy a new one, she swapped her dryer for two clothes lines… and she liked it. The bonuses were a lower electricity bill, no need to run a humidifier in the winter, and clothing that lasts longer. Oh, and a little family time.

….as the days went on and we thought about giving up and just buying a new dryer, we found that the chore became a chatting time to catch up on the day. Our son would often help, and it turned into less of a chore. It became a routine that simply was part of the daily set, like doing dishes and cooking.

Not that there haven’t been downsides. A line of laundry does take up space, especially when you’re a family of three. And a clothes dryer gets rid of lint and stiffness and a certain amount of static electricity. But if you have the space for it and don’t mind dealing with some fuzzies on your clothes, ditching your dryer is not a bad way to live a little greener.

My own answer to the question of whether I could go a year without a clothes dryer is sure, probably. Here in Massachusetts it wouldn’t be ideal in the winter, but it would certainly be doable in our particular house. And when I lived in Costa Rica, I went without a dryer or a washer – that’s right, for four months, I washed all of my clothing by hand in a great big tub, stomping on it with bare feet and ringing it out in the shower. Ever tried ringing out a soaking towel all by yourself? Not fun, but again, doable.

Could you go a year without a clothes dryer?

Image: Tabitha Blue

Thinking In Terms of Needs Versus Wants Can Green Your Life By Default

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
By Christa

What do you think when you hear the word ‘downsize’? Or ‘simplicity’? It might not be the most popular way to go green, but it’s often the easiest: Buy less crap. Especially crap you don’t need and crap that’s not going to add any beauty or positivity to your life. I got to thinking about this topic after reading one woman’s account of returning to the U.S. – specifically, New York – after residing in Mexico and what she felt upon visiting a common Target store.

I walked through the automatic doors, took a deep breath of that familiar, Target-scented air, and accepted a cart from an overly-enthusiastic 50-something with really bad makeup. Above her was a huge sign that perfectly represents what I believe to be one of the biggest downfalls of our culture. It read, “Are you sure one cart is going to be enough?”

According to Sharon Beder, a professor of social sciences who researches the “power relationships” between corporations and consumers, “Advertisers spend 100s of billions of dollars a year worldwide encouraging, persuading and manipulating people into a consumer lifestyle that has devastating consequences for the environment through its extravagance and wastefulness.” Psychologists are paid big bucks to determine how to most cleverly convince the human brain to want what is being sold.

I don’t even live in Mexico *sniff* and that’s how I feel pretty much every time I set foot in a Target. I’m even fairly good at getting in and out without needing that second cart because having a budget or practicing simplicity can make a person’s life greener by default. For example, I don’t buy a lot of goods that recently came off a less-than-stellar from a human rights and environmental standpoint factory production line in Chine that had to be shipped to the U.S. – but that’s because I don’t buy a lot of goods in general.

Which isn’t to say I’m some holier-than-thou minimalist who never buys anything that wasn’t produced by a well-paid local artisan. There’s that budget, remember? I’m living squarely in the culture of stuff, just like everyone else.

Remember this?

If you’re not living on a budget – lucky lucky you! – then you can still go green by default by faking it. Just make an effort to analyze your consumption habits and make a habit of asking yourself if what you’re buying is a want or a need before grabbing that second cart. Buying less crap won’t make you mega green, of course, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction!

Are Mock Meats Green?

Sunday, March 6th, 2011
By Christa

I would never argue that a person can’t eat meat sustainably, though I’ll certainly argue that most people don’t. Which makes sense, because for a lot of folks, organically farmed meat and humanely raised meat are cost prohibitive. So sometimes the easiest way not to be a part of the abuses and pollution that are the hallmarks of the modern factory farm is to eat less meat or even no meat at all.

The only problem is that meat is totally tasty, and it’s familiar, too. Which means that a lot of us vegetarians and sometimes vegetarians gravitate toward faux meats or fake meats or meat analogs or veggie meats. But is switching to meat analogs better from a green standpoint?

Obviously the greenest way to be a vegetarian or ‘flexitarian’ is to eat fewer processed foods and more whole foods, not to replace meat with meat analogs. According to a 2008 study:

In conventional production, a kilogram of raw [soy] beans generates about 150 grams to 300 grams of carbon-dioxide equivalent, as opposed to 2,500 grams for the equivalent quantity of edible chicken meat.

But since faux meat can also be totally tasty, people are going to eat it. And let’s not forget tofu, which some people use in place of meat and even eggs or cheese in their cooking. Speaking of, back in 2009, Slate’s Green Lantern looked into how green tofu et al. is compared to various meats. While tofu naturally beat out factory farmed beef by a mile, it performed only slightly better than chicken and fish.

Last year, the Dutch government commissioned a study of the environmental effects of vegetarian “meat substitutes,” including veggie burgers, Quorn and tofu. According to the analysis, a kilogram of tofu sold in the Netherlands produces about two kilograms of carbon-dioxide equivalent from the farm to the supermarket. That’s only a little less than Dutch chicken, at 3 kilograms of CO2-equivalent per kilogram of meat. Mackerel, herring, pollock and mussels — some of which the Lantern has already championed as low-carbon options for seafood lovers — scored about the same or better than tofu. That’s a much smaller difference than the Lantern would have expected.

Full disclosure: I love Grillers Prime veggie burgers. I loved them before I became a vegetarian. Meat analogs have always been on my menu. But green they are not. My veggie burgers come wrapped in plastic in packages of two inside a cardboard box. My veggie meatballs are sealed inside a non-recyclable plastic package wrapped in a cardboard sleeve. Some of my favorite mock meats come individually wrapped inside even more packaging.

Plus various sometimes-not-so-nice chemicals are used in the processing of all these delightful treats, they are chock-full of sodium and additives, and they’re often manufactured in Asia or some other faraway locale. Consequently, I don’t kid myself about how Earth-friendly they are and, because of that, they ARE treats, not food for every meal. *sigh*

BUT I should add that the fake meats you make at home from scratch are an entirely different… ahem, animal. We’ll occasionally make homemade seitan (from the recipe in this book and there are tons of great burger recipes out there. Do you have a favorite veggie burger recipe? How heavily do meat analogs feature in your diet?

5 Quick Reasons to Buy Organic Dairy

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011
By Christa

It’s so wallet-clenchingly painful to see the dirt cheap conventional milk on the supermarket shelf right next to the higher-priced organic milk. But there are some compelling reasons to reach for the pricier stuff if your budget can take it. Here are five:

1. When you buy organic dairy products, you’re supporting a system of agriculture that is good for animals and good for the land.

2. We already have enough hormones in our bodies without putting more in via Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). And there’s never a good reason to take secondhand antibiotics.

3. Milk from organically raised cows is higher in Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLAs) content – those are the good fats that have been linked to decreased heart disease and diabetes.

4. The cows producing the raw materials for organic dairy products often have access to pasture, fresh air, exercise, and other perks not enjoyed by factory-farmed cows. (I recommend looking into the farms producing your dairy to make sure it’s actually animal-friendly.)

5. Organic dairy looks better and tastes better according to some.

Do you spring for the good stuff?

Eco-Friendly Eyewear Means Bamboo for Those Baby Blues

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
By Christa

As sustainable materials go, bamboo is sweet. It grows fast (it’s one of the fastest growing plants on earth), releases lots of oxygen as it does, doesn’t require a lot of fertilizers or pesticides, uses less water than most woods, and can be re-harvested in just three years.

The downsides of bamboo, besides the always-present dangers associated with monoculture growing, lie in how it’s processed. A bamboo fiber shirt, for example, takes a lot of not-so-nice chemicals to get from plant to fashion.

But what if you’re using bamboo like wood instead of processing the heck out of it? Then like I said, it’s definitely green. While bamboo might not be the best choice for straight up green fashion, it’s a great choice when it comes to fashion accessories. Like bamboo glasses, for example:

Bamboo glasses are hot and getting hotter, with more and more options on the market. Two manufacturers of bamboo glasses are Bamboo Optics and Unidot – both have prescription options that are pretty awesome. Bamboo glasses are definitely on my list to check out next time I need new frames.

What do you think – are ‘wood glasses’ for you?

What Are Your 10 Rules of Life?

Monday, February 28th, 2011
By Christa

Two weeks ago, I asked you to mull over your 10 essentials for living. It’s a wonderful concept to mull over, whether you’re thinking about the 10 things you’d take with you if you had to get out of the house in a hurry or the 10 activities you can’t live without. Today, I thought it might be interesting for us all to choose 10 rules of life. Maybe they’re your 10 green rules. Could be 10 rules for staying upbeat. Or 10 rules of success at work. Leo Tolstoy did it when he was 18, and here’s the Rules of Life he came up with:

Get up early (five o’clock)
Go to bed early (nine to ten o’clock)
Eat little and avoid sweets
Try to do everything by yourself
Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for evry minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater
Keep away from women
Kill desire by work
Be good, but try to let no one know it
Always live less expensively than you might
Change nothing in your style of living even if you become ten times richer

Obviously, this is a very personal exercise, so no need to share. It’s just something fun to think about, and actually penning your 10 rules of life can help you gain a little perspective whether the topic at hand is happiness or green living or creativity. Thoughtful living is one aspect of green living that gets glossed over too often with campaigns against bottled water, but I like to think that most people, if pressed to analyze their lives, will naturally move toward a more eco-friendly existence.

Image: Artist Julien Pacaud

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