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by Wendy Gabriel

Chris Baskind is a writer and the publisher of several websites, including Chris Baskindthe green living journal Lighter Footstep. He recently launched More Minimal, a new site focusing on the benefit of a simpler lifestyle. A frequent spokesperson on Environmental issues, Chris has appeared on venues as diverse as National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” Business Week, and Slate.com. He’s also a familiar presence on Facebook and Twitter. He lives in Pensacola, Florida.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

For one thing, I quit driving. It started as a one-month “carfree” experiment, and I’m now going into my fourth month without getting behind the wheel. Bicycle advocacy is becoming an important feature of my writing and outlook on personal sustainability.

You cofounded the groundbreaking site Lighter Footstep in 2007 with business partner Lisa Cagle. What was the impetus for starting a green living site?

It extended from my conviction that greener living is for everyone. There weren’t many sites dedicated to lowering one’s environmental impact in 2006 when Lisa and I started laying the groundwork for Lighter Footstep. There are hundreds now, of course, but just a few years ago, most green websites were primarily targeted to the treehugger crowd. I’m a treehugger myself, but “dark green” environmentalists account for a tiny slice of the population — and they’re not the ones looking for practical answers to difficult lifestyle questions. So that’s where were pointed Lighter Footstep.

More Minimal is your personal blog. A wonderful site that promises: Leaner. Greener. Happier. How do the pieces you write for your blog differ from the articles you include in Lighter Footstep?

More Minimal is very new, so we’ll have to see how these siblings get along. But the big difference between the two sites is that More Minimal is largely written in the first person. Lighter Footstep is very direct, pragmatic, and how-to oriented. More Minimal is more intimate. It’s also focused on downsizing our hectic, overstimulated, vastly consumptive lives. Learning to make more of less is the new green.

You were recently interviewed by Sean Daily at Green Talk Radio. It was a wonderful interview with some very quotable phrases including, “It’s not what we buy, it’s what we don’t buy.” Can you elaborate on that concept?

To be honest, a lot of green living and environmental websites and magazines are starting to look like product catalogs. Buy this, buy that — shop green and spend your way to a more sustainable world. This is nonsense. I am totally behind people and companies who are genuinely reevaluating the production chain: how we get products to market; how can we minimize the energy and materials involved without compromising quality; what should we do with these products at the end of their lifecycle. But the surest way to minimize a product’s impact is not purchase it at all. This is particularly true in the middle of a steep recession. Money is dear, and we don’t need a bunch of luxury goods presented as “green” products convincing people that simpler, more conscious living is only for the rich. It’s for everyone.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Carole Brown is a Conservation Biologist with a passion for Ecosystem Carole BrownGardening–giving a little back to wildlife by creating welcoming habitats in our gardens, conserving natural resources, and choosing sustainable landscaping practices. Carole has worked as a wildlife habitat landscaper for almost twenty years, designing, installing and maintaining Ecosystem Gardens for wildlife for homeowners, businesses, and other property managers. She is a consultant, educator, and author of Ecosystem Gardening. Avid birder, butterfly watcher, and lover of all wildlife.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

I try to do this in as many ways as possible. We belong to a local CSA for produce as well as a local food co-op, and try to get as much of our food as we can from local sources. I’ve installed CFL light bulbs throughout the house, low-flow adapters on all of the faucets and shower and low-flow toilets.

My next project inside the house is to install a hot water on demand system, which only uses energy when we need hot water as opposed to a traditional hot water heater which is constantly running.

We recycle everything that we can and attempt to find new owners for the stuff that we no longer need, usually by donating it to people in need or to charities who can locate people who need what we have.

I installed a programmable thermostat and keep the temperature as low as possible during the winter. This means wearing wool socks and sweaters through the cold times, but I’ve found that I much prefer that to an overheated house.

I’m always looking for new ways to “green” my life, which is why I so enjoy your “Four Questions” series because I’ve learned a lot from the other people you have interviewed.

You are a Conservation Biologist who teaches people to manage their properties sustainably, in an environmentally friendly and conscious way. How do you educate people to be aware of the impact they are making on the environment?

One backyard at a time. For almost 20 years I have worked as a wildlife habitat landscaper designing, installing and maintaining ecosystem gardens for my clients who included homeowners, businesses, and other property managers.

I’m now continuing this work as a consultant and educator to larger audiences, trying to stress how critical our gardens are to the survival of wildlife and the health of our environment.

We humans have made some pretty bad choices for the environment and we’ve destroyed a lot of habitat in the process. In fact, habitat loss is the number one reason why so many species are in such trouble. Do we really need one more Walmart, Starbucks, or Home Depot?

I try to show people that we can choose to make much healthier decisions, we can give a little back in the form of creating welcoming habitats for wildlife, using more sustainable practices, conserving natural resources, and eliminating our use of toxic chemicals.

I really enjoyed a recent post on your site entitled, Why Your Ecosystem Garden Matters, Even When We Already Have Protected Lands. Can you explain how our gardens can have a huge impact on the health of the wildlife around us?

We have taken so much habitat away from wildlife, either by destroying it outright, fragmenting it into smaller and smaller pieces, or poisoning or otherwise degrading it, that many species simply have nowhere left to go.

This is where our gardens come in: if we can learn to share our space with wildlife, to provide for their needs, we can create habitats that will support many species of wildlife and bring nature right up to our back doors.

By removing invasive species from our gardens and incorporating more native plants we can create beautiful gardens for us to enjoy that also support a wide variety of wildlife, including birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles and amphibians, native pollinators and other insects, and bats and other mammals.

All of these species are dependent, either directly or indirectly, on native plants. When we choose to add more native plants to our gardens we are giving something back wildlife instead of driving them away.

Our gardens can be stepping stones between larger natural areas. When neighbors band together, larger habitats can be created which can become safe corridors for wildlife to use.

You say on your site that you have been saying for years that if every one of us did one small thing for wildlife, the cumulative effect would be enormous, and can contribute to the ecological health of our neighborhoods, regions, country, and even have a global impact. What are some examples of one small thing we could do for wildlife?

• Plant a tree. Oak trees support over 500 species of butterflies and moths, plus many birds and mammals. Many other native tree species also support many butterflies and moths.

• Make a Monarch waystation by planting milkweed and a variety of nectar plants.

• Install a wildlife pond and watch dragonflies, frogs, toads, and birds almost immediately move in. This is truly a “if you build it, they will come” activity.

• Find out which butterflies are native to your area and plant a patch of their host plant. Each species of butterfly is dependent on a particular plant on which to lay their eggs.

• Reduce your lawn. Lawns are a monoculture of (usually) non-native species which support very few species of wildlife. A wildflower meadow with native grasses would be much better for wildlife.

• Fill in that bare spot in your garden with a native plant.

The possibilities are endless, but it’s so important that each of us start with just one thing that will help wildlife. All of us doing this will mean that there’s a lot more places for wildlife to go. It’s the actions of one multiplied by the power of many, and that can only be a good thing!

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by Wendy Gabriel

Beth Buczynski is freelance writer currently living in sunny Fort Collins, Beth BuczynskiColorado. A transplant from Eastern Tennessee, Beth has always lived around and loved the natural beauty of the mountains. She believes that sustainable living means doing more with less, and taking into account the health and happiness of future generations who must live with the consequences of our decisions.

Some places you’ll find Beth’s writing are Examiner.com, Care2.com, greenUPGRADER.com, Healing Path Magazine, and the EcoSpheric blog.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

I live on my bike. Fort Collins is by far one of the most bike friendly towns I have ever lived in, and we have trails and bike lanes that will take you just about everywhere. I am truly disappointed when a long trip across town requires me to get in my car. Besides that we are pretty dedicated recyclers, we shop at thrift stores, and eat from the local farmers’ market whenever we can.

You wrote a wonderful article recently about genetically modified foods, The FDA’s Dirty Little Secret: Watch out for bio-foods at the EcoSpheric Blog. Why should we avoid foods that have been genetically altered?

We are more unhealthy than any generation that has come before us, and I am convinced that this is directly related to the fact that we consume a horrific amount of processed and otherwise industrially produced foods. Due to the craftiness of certain financially-invested companies, like Monsanto, which pushes genetically modified crops to farmers and agricultural companies, this has happened without informing the American public or conducting serious scientific studies into the effects that this might have humans and livestock. Many people think that because genetically modified foods have been approved by the FDA, they are completely safe, when in fact almost no rigorous, in-depth, or long-term studies have been used to arrive at that decision. When these studies have been conducted, GM foods are found to contain unpredictable and hard-to-detect allergens and toxins which can lead to new diseases and nutritional problems.

I believe that where you live can play a role in how easy it is to be green. For example, finding local and organic produce is a challenge in some areas. How does living in Colorado help or hinder living a sustainable life?

I think that location definitely plays a role in what is feasible and what is not. Living in Colorado, and meeting people that are truly invested in “walking the walk” has been eye opening for me. There is an active culture of sustainable agriculture here, which makes eating organic and local products a lot easier that it might be elsewhere. The general climate is one that is very open to discussion and progressive thinking, and our state representatives are quite dedicated to making Colorado a hub for renewable energy production. And of course the cycling culture here makes alternative transportation a no-brainer.

Have you always been concerned about the environment or was there an a-ha moment in your life that created the girl that informs and inspires others to live sustainably?

The seeds were definitely planted during my childhood, which was not at all conventional as I was homeschooled for many years. I grew up questioning the system and knew that just because something had always been done in a certain way, that didn’t make it right for everyone. Later on in life these qualities drew me to issues of environmental conservation and protection, which, in my opinion, are so directly related to our own health and happiness, and which so many people seem to be able to ignore. If I had to pick a significant moment though, it would be learning the truth about mountaintop removal mining from an activist friend of mine.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Alison Kerr is an American from Scotland who lives with her family in a Alison Kerrleafy suburb in North East Kansas, within the Kansas City metro. She writes about our connections with nature and with each other and ways to grow greener kids, home, garden, and community at Loving Nature’s Garden. Visit Alison’s blog for thought-provoking conversations, tips, and interesting tid-bits about nature, gardening, sustainability, and learning.

How do you make your day-to-day life a littler greener?

Firstly, I think it’s essential to have contact with nature and have a sense of place. The feeling of connectedness with others, with community, and with nature is what keeps me working toward being a little greener. I was raised in an essentially frugal family. I do things like keeping my mileage down, air drying laundry, eating only 4oz of meat a day and setting the thermostat low in winter, warm in summer; I love wearing sweaters, which helps! These all result in savings for me as well as for the environment. On top of that I grow a vegetable garden and subscribe to a farmer’s alliance (similar to CSA).

My husband and I have agonized over the myriad of schooling options for our daughters. Public schools, private schools, home schooling. What have been the benefits you’ve seen in home schooling your children?

When my kids were younger we would meet other homeschoolers at the park once a week and stay until the schools got out. Those were great outdoor times for us. Like you say though, responsible parents agonize over educational choices. I don’t think choices are set in stone though. My kids have been in public school as well as Montessori and homeschool. I tend to go with what feels right at a particular point in time for a particular child. As to the benefits of home schooling, there’s a lot of flexibility to find something that works. There is so much choice now for materials, but there’s a fair bit of trial and error involved. I feel very fortunate to spend so much time with my kids and watch them develop. They love to learn and I enjoy being with them, which to me is what it’s all about.

I really enjoy your site, Loving Nature’s Garden. On it, you mention you love good food. What is one of your favorite recipes?

Thanks, I’m so glad you enjoy my site. I like to cook meals with minimal ingredients. Here is a simple soup I make quite regularly. 

  • 6 cups of stock – chicken or vegetable
  • 2 small or one large green onion (washed and sliced)
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh corn
  • 1 can of black beans (drained and rinsed)

Basically you just warm up the stock, then throw in the corn. When the corn is warmed up add the other 2 ingredients and serve. I rarely make things exactly the same way twice – I might throw in some parsley from the garden, or anything else suitable which is on-hand.

You are originally from Scotland. Are there any challenges to living sustainably that you’ve noticed, specific to the U.S., that you didn’t have to deal with in Scotland?

Yes, in Scotland public transport is very available and I used it a lot. I got my first car when I was 25 years old; I only felt I needed it because it was hard carrying a kayak though the streets of Edinburgh to the train station. I think one of the biggest challenges to sustainability in the U.S. is the sheer scale of our country. Things in Scotland are closer, homes are smaller, and the year-round temperature range in Scotland is significantly less. This all translates to more energy use in the U.S. for a similar lifestyle. Overall I’d also say that the Scots are just a bit less concerned with appearance and more with functionality and frugality, which is good for achieving sustainability. The Scots are a kind of down-to-earth, practical race. On the other hand, America has huge strength in diversity and innovation. Once we set our minds and hearts to something we can’t be stopped. I think there is great reason to be hopeful of a sustainable future once we all start doing our part.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Karen Stoker is the proud owner of the Hotel Donaldson, a luxury hotel in Karen Stokerdowntown Fargo, North Dakota.

In 2000, amid what Karen refers to as a mid-life awakening, she purchased the 115 year old Hotel Donaldson building in downtown Fargo. Her mission was to create memorable experiences. The next three years were spent working toward that vision. In August of 2003, The Hotel Donaldson team opened the doors and began living their mission of creating memorable experiences by celebrating the community’s visual, culinary, performing and literary arts.

Karen enjoys reading, music, cooking, traveling – most of all being a Mom. She considers herself the luckiest girl she knows.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Keeping our environment in mind has been a part of my life as long as I can remember thanks to my parents, so being conscious and conscientious of what our family does is a way of life. It’s almost a fun game (how many times can we reuse the aluminum sandwich wrapper in the lunch box, or wash and reuse plastic bags before they don’t zip lock (a very long time!). We eat at home a lot. I need to know where our food comes from and how it’s raised. It’s nice there are so many places to get cloth bags now. I buy our eggs and all our meat from local producers and this time of year, the weekly box from our CSA is better than Christmas. Little things such as using a dish pan to rinse dishes before putting them into the dishwasher rather than letting the water run. The soaps we use are detergent free and environmentally friendly. Etc. Etc. Cliché’, but little things really do add up.

I love your email tag line, Please consider the environment when printing emails and living in general. How do you incorporate this philosophy into the running of the Hotel Donaldson?

We’re always looking for ways and again, by being mindful, we continue to do more. We recycle, which I was surprised to learn when creating The Hotel was NOT common. This is becoming easier in the industry, so hopefully more restaurants, bars, and lounges will. Since we opened, we’ve asked our guests to consider water, energy and soap by reusing their towel and we make the beds as nicely as clean sheets, but change them at the guest’s requests. This has become quite common, thankfully. Six years ago in luxury hotels, however, it wasn’t – waste isn’t luxurious. We recently posted a note on the back of the room doors asking guests to turn the lights off when they leave. Many people leave lights on! We work with our vendor who handles our maintenance to stay on top of efficiencies and recently did an energy audit with a specialist. Our bison, beef, pork, chicken, lamb and wild game are purchased within a 100-mile radius. We use local flour and bake all our bread and pastries. Again, this time of year we enjoy a lot of wonderful produce. Our coffee is fair trade, sustainably raised and locally roasted. The list keeps getting longer.

What has been your biggest challenge being environmentally friendly while running a hotel and restaurant?

When we opened six years ago, there were few purveyors and it took a lot of work to identify places where we could get the quantity and consistency we needed. Now, we can get tomatoes from DL or Duluth all winter. Commercial cleaning supplies continue to be a challenge. “Greener” products are more expensive and often don’t work as well as chemical based products. We keep looking and have found some. As the market becomes more aware of the importance, I think consumers will appreciate the effort and be willing to pay more knowing the business they’re doing business with is making a positive difference environmentally. Another challenge is health code related. There are restrictions on sharing food and our hotel toiletries with soup kitchens and shelters. It’s sad to see what’s wasted. It lacks any common sense.

What do you hope the guest of the Hotel Donaldson comes away with after dining or staying with you?

Our mission is to create memorable experiences by celebrating Our Community. We have over 70 regional artists on the property; I mentioned our commitment to local food and to culinary art, local musicians, poets, etc. We hope after guests have spent time with us they leave with a sense of place. National Geographic Traveler chose us to be on their first ever “Stay List” – places that understand and celebrate their sense of place. It was wonderful to be recognized by the world’s most widely read travel magazine for living Our Mission. More importantly however, is that our guests have a memorable experience. It’s an honor to have so much of who we are in this area under one roof.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Katherine Center is an author, wife and mother. Her second novel, Katherine CenterEveryone Is Beautiful, was featured in Redbook and got glowing reviews from People magazine and USA Today. Kirkus Reviews likens it to the 1950s motherhood classic Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and says, “Center ’s breezy style invites the reader to commiserate, laughing all the way.” Booklist calls it “a superbly written novel filled with unique and resonant characters.”

Katherine’s first novel, The Bright Side of Disaster, was featured in People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, the Houston Chronicle, and the Dallas Morning News. BookPage named Katherine one of seven new writers to watch, and the paperback of Bright Side was a Breakout Title at Target. It was also optioned last fall by Varsity Pictures.

Katherine’s essays about motherhood have appeared in Real Simple Family and in the anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond. She has just turned in her third novel, Get Lucky, and is starting on a fourth. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two young children.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

We are big composters. We compost everything–bread, tea bags, coffee grounds. I even dump out my old coffee in the garden. We keep a mixing bowl on the counter and just fill it up as the day goes along, then dump it in the mulch pile before dinner and wash it with the dinner dishes. This summer, I went out of town and saved a bag of compost to drive back with me in the car because I just couldn’t throw those banana peels and egg shells away! I love knowing that I’m keeping our scraps out of the landfill, and I love the idea that it all just magically turns back into soil.

We also have a garden with lots of native Texas plants and herbs in it. It’s fun to think about plants not just as decorations but as functioning parts of our yard’s ecosystem that attract wildlife to the garden. We have hummingbirds, tons of bees, and many monarch butterflies. The kids love it! Though we’re very laissez-faire with the garden and never put chemicals on it or even water it much!

We also do lots of little things, like take re-usable bags to the grocery store and try to use re-usable stainless bottles for water instead of plastic. I have many things I’m not yet doing that I’d love to do, too. I’d love to paint our roof white–it’s so hot down here in Texas!–and I’d love to have a rainwater collection system to save rain runoff for later. I also love to fantasize about keeping chickens in the backyard.

You mentioned that you recently watched Food Inc. How, if at all, has this changed how you look at food?

A lot. It confirmed a lot of things that I suspected about what’s going on with the food system in our country, but it also shocked the heck out of me with very vivid things that I hadn’t even imagined. I was especially horrified by the industrial system’s treatment of animals. The idea that we are voting with our dollars for local food or not, organic or not, has really stayed with me. I’m very mindful at the grocery store about supporting organic and humanely-raised food.

We’re also not eating at restaurants as much anymore. Houston is a huge city with every type of cheap, delicious food you can imagine. But ever since seeing Food, Inc. (and also reading the companion book), we’ve really tried to eat at home as much as possible, cook from scratch, slow down, take our time with food and meals. My kids are very interested in gardening, and we’re looking into joining a Community Supported Agriculture group, too, at some point.

I have read all of your books and have loved every minute of them. As an author what is your view of devices like the Kindle?

Thank you! I’m undecided about all the changes going on now with books. I have an affection for tangible objects, like books and pages, but people sure do seem to love their Kindles! We’re definitely in the middle of a revolution that will determine how people find, read, and experience stories. In theory, anything that makes it easier for people to access books and stories is probably good, but I have no idea what things will look like–for authors, for the publishing industry, or for readers–on the other side…

What have you found is your biggest challenge to living a sustainable lifestyle?

Living in Texas! Three things in my home state put me at odds with mother earth on a regular basis. One, it’s hot as blazes here a good 6 months out of the year. Two, Houston is a sprawled-out, driving town. It’s almost impossible to get anywhere or do anything without a car. And three, the mosquitoes are so bad down here they make you want to slather yourself in poison. That said, we are trying! And the older the kids get, the easier it seems to get!

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by Wendy Gabriel

Adriana Herrera and Nichole MacDonald are the co-founders of Her Niche Adrian and NicholeProducts. Nichole’s background is in product development and graphic design while Adriana’s experience is in public relations and marketing. Realized their cohesive visions, philosophies, and goals the two entrepreneurs partnered together to work under one umbrella, Her Niche Products.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Our Bagonia handbags help us to live greener without extra effort. We use the hidden reusable bags when we’re grocery shopping, grabbing takeout, shopping at the mall, to pack a beach picnic or carry gym clothes. We are also very conscious to buy items with less packaging, to reuse anything that can serve another purpose and to recycle.

Your stated mission is to combine innovative function and cutting edge style to create eco-friendly products that help women and men live environmentally friendly lives while enhancing style. How do you accomplish this mission?

The fashion industry is known for creating trends that are “flash and trash.” Rather than creating seasonal, short-lived pieces our labels are designed to have function and aesthetics that have longevity (i.e. Green Fashion with Green Function). We look at everyday problems people encounter, like forgetting reusable shopping bags at home or in the car, and then creatively design solutions that will help solve that problem and empower people to live lighter.

You recently launched your new eARTH line, an amazing array of fabulous bags, how does the manufacturing and materials used for these bags support your company’s quest for socially responsible manufacturing and design?

The fashion industry is one of the most pollutant and wasteful industries. We work to source and reclaim materials and textiles that can be incorporated into making our products before purchasing new organic and eco-friendly fabrics and hardware. Once we’ve sourced all the materials that go into our products we have them manufactured domestically in Los Angeles where we pay US dollars for ethical labor and quality handmade products.

What have you found to be your biggest challenge as you work to design, manufacture and market environmentally friendly products?

As a startup company our largest challenge has been cost and consumer education. To us part of being eco-friendly and socially responsible means manufacturing domestically, using man made materials that replicate the look and feel of leathers and suede, using organic fabrics and vegetable dyes (all of which cost more than traditional materials). As a result our price points reflect the cost of our eco-friendly materials and domestic manufacturing. We’ve actually been told we need to raise our price points because they are too low for our costs but we would rather make our products available to more people then minimize the positive effect they were designed to have on the world. So as we introduce our labels to consumers we have to provide education on manufacturing differences (i.e. process, costs, price points, and quality) between the US and other countries like China.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Jennifer Taggart is a mom of two, an environmental and consumer Jennifer Taggart with sonproduct attorney, a blogger and author of Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Basically, I try to make more sustainable choices. Being green isn’t about buying green, but more about making do with what you got. That doesn’t mean that I don’t use the power of my purse to make green choices when I shop. When shopping, I prefer to buy from companies that support sustainable principles in all aspects, not just one product line. At home, we do all the basics- turn off lights and electronics, recycle, etc. My one big thing is trying to avoid disposable plastic. We use re-usable bags for shopping, including our produce bags. I buy in bulk when I can. The kids have re-usable stainless steel containers. It doesn’t always work – my husband bought a container of plastic wrap from Costco eight years ago that we are still using because I loathe it and hardly ever use it.

Your book, Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure, should be required reading for anyone who has children in their lives. What was your impetus for writing the book?

Thank you for the recommendation! I’ve gotten a fabulous response. One reader even tweeted that she tested her home for radon after reading my book, and found elevated levels. She is getting it fixed. That’s what motivates me, helping people out. But the impetus for the book was two miscarriages before the birth of my son. Those unexplained miscarriages prompted me to consider whether anything in my environment was causing or contributing to the miscarriages. Then, after having my son, I attended a weekly new mom/breastfeeding support class. Given my background and my interests, I was routinely asked questions about how much fish was safe, or how to read information from a termite company. The facilitator asked me to teach a class on going green and non-toxic for new moms, and from that, the book just flowed. I really wanted to provide a resource with easy-to-understand information for parents and caregivers.

I recently heard you on Martha Stewart radio giving some great green cleaning advice. What is one of your favorite green cleaning tips?

I have a couple. To clean your garbage disposal (or snow cone machine), make vinegar ice cubes. Just put 1 cup distilled white vinegar in an ice cube tray, fill the balance with water, and freeze. Once frozen, drop a couple down the disposal (or put in the snow cone machine), run it and voila! The vinegar helps disinfect and the ice helps remove any food stuck on the blades.

To clean your microwave, just use lemon slices. Place some in a microwave safe cup or bowl with 6 ounces or so of water. Heat on high for 3 minutes, let sit for 3 minutes (without opening the door), and then open and wipe clean. Crusted food should lift easily and your microwave will smell lemon fresh without hormone disrupting phthalates.

Finally, my favorite is Dr. Bronner’s rose liquid castile soap and baking soda. I use this combination as a soft scrub for sinks and counter tops, and also to clean my toilet. Just mix them until you get a consistency you like. I prefer to place them in a old squeeze bottle and stir with a chop stick. If you are cleaning your toilet, just squirt under the rim and let sit. After 5 minutes or so, follow up with some vinegar and left foam. Then flush.

You recently blogged about a new regulation that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued exempting various materials from the lead content limits for children’s products in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). As an expert, what kind of clothing would you tell parents to look for to ensure that their child is not getting exposed to lead?

The CPSIA has banned lead in children’s products above 300 parts per million (ppm) and in paints and coatings above 90 ppm. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that you don’t still find children’s products with lead. Most fabrics do not have lead in them and that is why the CPSC issue the exemption for certain materials, including textiles. After testing thousands of fabrics, the only fabrics I have found with let are some synthetic felts, certain leathers and some screen prints. However, you can find lead in some buttons, rhinestones and crystals, zippers, eyelets, etc. Most of those aren’t going to result in an exposure to a child, however. Lead is also sometimes used to stabilize polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. PVC plastic must be stabilized and it is usually a metallic salt, often lead. PVC is also bad for the environment and can contain hormone disrupting phthalates. So, I always recommend that people skip PVC, which includes many fake leather items.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Lisa Fahay is a working mom with two kids and a Jack Russell Terrier. About Lisa, Peter and kidsa year ago, she and her husband, Peter Troast, founded the home energy efficiency company EnergyCircle.com. Peter is a serial entrepreneur in the environmental and socially-minded business arena, whose past startups include Moulded Fibre Technology and FetchDog.com. Lisa and Peter have been passionate about the environment for most of their lives. In fact, through a recent Facebook message to Lisa, an old 6th grade friend wrote, “Of course that’s what you’re doing. I remember you yelling at me about cutting up six-pack rings when we were 12!” Lisa is no longer twelve, but she’s still doing her best to get us to think twice about the way we impact the environment in our daily lives. She annotates their home energy usage in real time, which feeds to Twitter at @EnergyCircleKW. Peter muses more seriously on energy issues @EnergyCircle.

1. How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

We’ve always been diligent recyclers, composters, organic gardeners, etc. Those efforts remain in habit, but our core focus now is energy use reduction.

2. Recently your company, EnergyCircle.com, launched Moolah Maker, a project aimed at getting kids actively involved in cutting energy consumption. How was this project conceived?

As soon as we started using a real-time electricity monitor in our house (TED, The Energy Detective), the entire family started to engage. It made a huge difference in our utility bills. Giving the kids incentives just made sense. (Now the teenager doesn’t IRON his clothes in the dryer!) MOOLAH MAKER makes it fun and easy to track the deals parents and kids make. And how cool is it to invoice Mom and Dad?

3. Your website is full of great tips for energy efficiency. Is there an easy energy saver that most people overlook?

We’re firm believers in a comprehensive energy audit as the starting point. That way, you have a master plan for reducing energy use & buttoning up your home. Even though it will take time to accomplish, you will move down a logical path. There is a lot you can do before you get the low-down from a pro. Again, the power of a real-time electricity monitor is huge. Start there. Then go for the low-cost no-brainers like energy-efficient lighting, smart strips to control vampire power and programmable thermostats.

4. I love how you end the About Us page on your site: When we are at home, we are entrepreneurs, activists, writers, partners, parents and handymen. When we are at work, we are dreamers, hoping to make the world better and cleaner, one house at a time. What has been your biggest challenge making your own home better and cleaner?

Our audit found that our house leaks a lot of air, in spite of a recent addition done by a competent architect and builder. Getting that leakage down is our big challenge. Air sealing is one of the least sexy things you can do but it makes a huge difference. At Energy Circle, we’ve sussed out the great products. Even I, with no chrome thumb, am getting into the projects. (I’ve fallen in love with my caulking gun!) Caulking and foaming will make our house more comfortable, reduce our costs, and cut back our carbon footprint.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Mindy Lockard is the founder of ManneroftheMonth.com, an interactive Mindy Lockardpublication that teaches manners and etiquette to everyday users as well as industry professionals. She is the president of the Mindy Lockard brand, which includes seminars and training materials, stationery, and industry coaching. Mindy teaches formal etiquette courses for people of all ages and provides valuable corporate training for schools, government agencies, and private companies. Mindy writes for Crane & Co.’s, The Crane Insider as well as Stationery Trends magazine’s column “What’s Write.” She is also the online etiquette consultant at GartnerStudios.com and works as a freelance contributor for several other publications and websites.

She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her two daughters and her husband and enjoys traveling throughout the United States.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Dare I admit it…I was a plastic-aholic! I loved plastic bags! I now make a concerted effort to reuse my plastic bags or find creative ways to substitute the itch to turn yellow and blue to green. For example, I will now wrap sandwiches for a picnic in cloth napkins which the etiquette consultant in me always loves having a good lap napkin on hand.

Your May 2009’s issue of ManneroftheMonth.com was entitled “Graciously Green.” What is one of your favorite ways to be Graciously Green?

I love the farmers’ market! I have a French market basket that I wheel around and fill with the bounty grown from my local soil. I think it’s really beautiful and gracious to support those who are committed to living organically, promote healthy living, and truly care for the environment. Not to mention the food we buy there tastes so much better!

What has been your biggest challenge living Graciously Green?

I think my greatest challenge to live graciously green is creating new habits, but just like any aspect of living graciously it takes denying my own desire to do what’s easier for me to impact the greater good. The Native American proverb rings true: “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Since we wouldn’t re-gift an item that had been misused, abused, chipped, or broken, we should not bequeath an eco-disaster to our children and their children.

As an etiquette expert and the mother of two little girls, what advice would you give others about ways to teach children Graciously Green manners?

As parents, it is so important that we are aware of what our words and actions are teaching our children. It’s much easier to tell our children a rule; it’s when we take the time teach and model behavior that our little ones can actually learn. At our house, we had many discussions with our children about giving items away so they could be used by another child. Children, almost more than adults, have an amazing capacity to care for others. Giving them the power to contribute brings smiles to their faces.

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