Category Archives: Green Living

Green Ways to Prevent Illness

By Leah Kaminsky

Between the germs your kids bring back from school and those you pick up at work, it’s hard not to feel like illness is inevitable during cold and flu season. And while you can blast your countertops and doorknobs with disinfectant, that’s not the kind of solution that will make my eco-friendly heart sing. So, what can a good old-fashioned greenie do to combat common illnesses?

 

Help your kids keep colds at bay

Take those everyday solutions and give them an eco-conscious spin.

1.      Wash hands frequently with natural soap. You can kill bacteria without the help of pesticides and chemicals, sulfates and dyes.
2.      Wipe down high-use surfaces frequently with natural disinfectants bought either from a store or homemade.
3.      Create your own hand sanitizer using essential oils and alcohol.
4.      Support your immune system with vitamins. While the actual effectiveness of vitamin C and zinc is still highly debated, they certainly can’t hurt to help support your body’s natural immune response
5.      Eat right. As always, eating healthily is one of the best ways to, well, stay healthy. During seasons when your chances of getting sick are especially high, develop a craving for spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, tea and nuts, which contain everything from vitamin C to antioxidants, phytochemicals, calcium, fiber and healthy fats –known to help prevent disease or simply keep your body strong.
6.      Get off the couch. You know exercise is good for you, but in gearing up for a big battle with your immune system, exercise is really good for you, improving your circulation and lung capacity and getting your body in fighting condition. That said, if you’ve already got a fever, rest is the best option.
7.      Cut back on sugar. The jury is still out on this one, but some people believe sugar and vitamin C are both absorbed by immune cells in the same way, so if you’re overloaded on sugar when your body needs vitamin C’s help, you’ll weaken your immune system’s natural defenses.

In the end, preventing illness the green way is very similar to preventing illness the non-green way. As always, you just have to stay aware and get a little creative.

How to Make Healthy Cocktails

By Leah Kaminsky

You’re having a little get together, and want to make the crowd a fun, fruity cocktail. But you’ve been eating so well lately, and the last thing you want is a sugar or calorie overload. What to do? The first step is knowing where those cocktail calories are coming from.

Do you know where the calories in your cocktail are coming from?

As you probably know, different kinds of alcohol vary widely in their sugar and calorie counts. For example, gin, rum, 80-proof vodka, whisky and tequila have about 64 calories per ounce, while champagne has 84. Up the proof, and you also up the calories, meaning 86-proof vodka will have about 70 calories per ounce, and so forth up to 100-proof at 82 calories.

But where the calories and sugar can really add up is in the mixers, syrups and sodas. That pushes a margarita up to 168 calories, and a Manhattan to 164.

Don’t despair just yet: there’s a whole lot you can do about it, and it doesn’t mean pouring vodka into a Diet Coke and calling it a night. Try these ideas:

  1. Mix your alcohol with freshly squeezed or no-sugar added juice to avoid high fructose corn syrup and other unneeded sugars and additives.
  2. Choose seltzer water, not regular or diet soda, when you can.
  3. Rely on the sugar in fresh fruit for maximum flavor.
  4. Set a limit on your drink size (8 oz. max) and number of shots per drink (just one).

From a good Bloody Mary to a Vodka Lemonade, there are all sorts of cocktails that fit this description. One simple solution I’ve found is simply blending frozen fruit, yogurt and vodka into a smoothie for a vitamin-packed treat. The best part of all: the more nutrients you consume, the better you’ll be able to process the alcohol, the less you’ll regret tonight tomorrow morning.

For a wealth of fantastic recipes, I highly recommend this guide over at Greatist.com. Happy blending, mixologists!

Green Your Coffee Drinking Habit

By Leah Kaminsky

When you live without sun for nine months out of the year, it’s hard not to become a hardcore coffee addict. I learned this pretty quickly when I moved to Seattle and began to work the hardest I ever had in my life. But much to the chagrin of eco-conscious coffee drinkers like myself, coffee isn’t exactly the most sustainable product. In order to mitigate coffee’s environmental and social costs, here are a few key things to keep in mind.

1. Find the Right Beans

First, take a look at how the beans are grown. You’ll want them to be organic and shade-grown. Why? Because organic coffee keeps pesticides and artificial fertilizers out of the ecosystem, while coffee grown in the shade of trees provides places for migratory birds to rest and feed themselves throughout their long journeys, and also produces the type of biodiversity that protects coffee crops from the kinds of pests that require herbicides. Look specifically for “rustic” shade cover, which provides 70 – 100% coverage.

Next, make sure those beans are Fair Trade Certified to ensure they were sourced from a farm with fair and humane labor practices.

Do you know where your daily coffee beans are grown?
(Image via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8896706@N05/with/6149598235/#photo_6149598235)

2. Go Local

If possible, buy from a local farmer or at least local roasters who work hard to develop relationships with farmers and co-ops.

3. Make Your Own and Clean it Up

Love paper filters as you might, they’re just not as sustainable as the reusable kind. If you must use them, compost them along with your grounds, the latter of which you can compost right into your garden. When cleaning your coffee maker, stay away from any chemicals, opting for vinegar or another natural alternative instead. To save energy, make sure to switch off your machine rather than warming your coffee all day.

4. Drinking in Style

It should go without saying, but drink from a washable porcelain mug rather than a paper cup. Most good coffee shops these days sell travel mugs that look like their paper counterparts, and they’re well worth the investment.

With a little foresight, your coffee drinking habit can be sustainable. You just have to put a little effort into sourcing and be willing to pay more not just for the beans but for the certifications as well. So green your coffee and drink up!

 

Purchasing Green Dishwashers, Washers & Dryers

By Leah Kaminsky

I’m kind of a, “Yeah, that one looks good” kind of shopper, so I was surprised at how interesting my recent dishwasher buying experience was. Apparently, there’s been a lot of innovation going on in the dishwashing world, and it’s worth taking a closer look at just what’s changed, and what the savvy green shopper should look for:

Energy Star

First and foremost, look for the Energy Star seal of approval, no matter what the appliance. While the EPA could certainly be stricter in its guidelines, it still provides a good basic minimum. Why is it important to go for an energy-efficient dishwasher? Because they use less water, meaning you’ll be using not just less water but less electricity, too.

Wash Cycles

Each load of dishes has unique requirements. Search for a dishwasher with multiple wash cycles so you can choose only the most relevant and efficient wash type. One day you might need a high intensity, scalding hot rinse for pots and pans, the next you might only need a gentle wash to clean those sandwich plates of crumbs.

Sizing

You might think buying a more compact dishwasher will significantly up your dishwashing green. If you’re living on your own and find yourself only running your current dishwasher once a week or so, yes, you’re correct. But if you’ve got a household of six and already have to run your dishwasher nightly, a compact will only increase your number of loads and your inefficiency, not to mention your aggravation.

Cool New Features
The highest end dishwashers are so chock full of features, I would be surprised if the next models don’t have a “Blast off into space” option. Many of these brands eliminate the need for electric heating by recycling the heat generated by the wash cycle. They can also sense the overall dirtiness of the dishes and automatically choose the correct water temperature and wash style.

Pretty neat, right? Stay tuned next week for more eco-conscious appliance-buying guides.

Green Honeymoons

By Leah Kaminsky

For those of us who love the earth and romantic getaways, thoughts of our carbon footprint can turn those daydreams of exotic destinations into guilt. This is especially true with honeymoons, a time when eco-conscious couples want to live life to the fullest without feeling eco-guilt. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to be green while honeymooning. We’ve compiled just a few below.

Couples that seek a green honeymoon have a world of options

Stay Close to Home

That far-off destination doesn’t actually have to be so far off. Couples that live in big cities can find a whole new world in a vibrant neighborhood on the other side of town, or head out into the countryside or regional hot spots. This will keep the travel footprint low and the bill low, too.

Honeyteering

For the idealistic couple a volunteer honeymoon is a great way to go. Get to know the locals by helping build rain barrels. Or, explore the world’s best organic farms when you volunteer with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). You’ll eat great food, learn about a foreign culture, and help promote sustainability all at once.

Eco-Retreats and Eco-Hotels

As eco-retreats increase in popularity, so, too, do the variety available. Explore the Honduran rainforest or spend the night in a treehouse in the Norwegian woods. Or simply look for hotels that promote sustainable practices, like not washing sheets every day and recycling toiletries.

National Parks

For outdoorsy couples, national parks make a great option. Spend your honeymoon exploring all the natural wonders these parks have to offer and learning about the Earth’s many beauties.

Couples that seek a green honeymoon have a world of options and a little research a romantic green honeymoon is well within reach.

Green Burial

The green movement is spreading to cemeteries as more green burial options become available

By Leah Kaminsky

If there’s one infallible truth in life, it’s that we’re all going to die some day. Yet, rather than facing up to this fact, we’ve developed whole industries to prolong the illusion of youth and life, from plastic surgery to marble caskets and embalming procedures that keep us looking good and as far away from decomposition as possible.

Unfortunately, this denial of death is pretty bad for the earth. Embalming fluid contains carcinogens, which can leak into the soil. Coffins made from hardwoods and metals needs to be transported across great distances, increasing carbon emissions, and most also leak toxic lacquers. Cemeteries require a lot of upkeep to maintain, including the use of fertilizers and pesticides. What’s more, it’s difficult to sustain a practice that prevents biodegradation.

But before you get too depressed (as if talking about death wasn’t enough), know that there are a few green burial options that are becoming increasingly popular. Embalming fluid can be replaced with non-toxic refrigeration or dry ice, which will be sufficient for keeping the deceased presentable through the viewing. There are also a number of companies supplying eco-caskets made from sustainably sourced woods or woven from natural fabrics like cotton, silk or linen. For the truly eco-obsessed, there are also wicker and cardboard options, as well newspaper-based biodegradable kayak-shaped caskets called Ecopods.

As the green movement spreads, there are more green cemeteries stepping up to the fill the void. Green cemeteries use flat stones or native trees as grave markers, or eschew the physical marker altogether with GPS technology. Some even restore the land to what it used to be. There is even a Green Burial Council to monitor it all.

So, how do you want to be buried? It might not be the most inspiring question, but the answers sure are interesting.

Why Biking is Good for the Planet and for You

By Leah Kaminsky

It’s been nearly a year since I packed up my studio in Seattle and moved down to Austin. And I’m ashamed to report that my bike sat in its shipping packaging for most of that time. Because, you know…unpacking requires effort.

Fortunately, a recent getaway to the Hill Country changed all that. Just a few minutes riding past wildflowers in full bloom and I was extolling biking’s myriad health benefits. Sure, it was a great way to mix up my regular cardio workout, but I also found it cleared my head, relaxed me, and was just a great way to get around.

Since I’ve returned from my trip, I’ve been into my bike, discovering all sorts of new treasures I’d passed a million times in a car and never noticed. It’s so much easier to get in a workout when I combine it with a commute, and I love skating around traffic jams. Plus, as someone who’s still relatively new to town, it buys me a ticket into a whole bike culture here, helping me meet people as I spin away.

Biking is a culture that’s growing as many green cities try to cut down on their carbon emissions and clear out clogged highways. Bikes help us reduce our dependence on gas, produce no more emissions than what we breathe out, and need fewer parts repairs.

Still, biking is unappealing to many people as it can be quite dangerous in cities that are built for cars. You’ll have to look out for aggressive drivers, opening doors, cars that don’t notice you when making turns, and blind spots when riding next to a truck.

If your city is in particular need of a reform, try forming a bike advocacy group and lobbying the city for larger, more visible bike lanes, particularly dedicated greenways and wider streets.

Yes, I know if you’re reading this from your home in San Francisco I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But for the rest of you, I say, give biking a whirl. It’s a great way to get exercise, reduce emissions and get to work in one go. You just can’t say that about walking or driving.

Get Your Back to School Green On

By Leah Kaminsky

As the bliss of summer fades – goodbye sweet barbecues, goodbye lovely visits to the lake – September returns along with all the exciting and overwhelming hassles inextricably tied to your children’s return to school. And while the biggest concern for your kids is likely choosing the right lunch table or doing better in their weakest subject, keeping things eco-friendly in a school setting is a major concern on your mind. How can you maintain your child’s summer green throughout the school year? Here are our top tips.

Get excited for back-to-school season by swapping old habits for greener traditions.

  1. The power of your own two legs. If you live relatively near your school, have your child bike, walk, rollerblade, skateboard, whatever to school, saving carpooling for travel to extracurricular events. This will get blood pumping to your child’s brain in the morning, putting them in the right mood for learning. And it will save on gas, too.
  1. Forget the packaged lunches. Bring your eco-friendly mentality to the lunchbox by packing your child a locally sourced, organic lunch. Be careful to include only as much food as you know they’ll eat – no unnecessary food scraps. Pack with reusable sleeves and containers, whether that’s stainless steel, washable bags, cloth napkins, or BPA-free plastic-ware.
  2. Be strategic with new purchases. So you’ve got your school supply list and your kid is foaming at the mouth with anticipation of your trip to the office supply store. Do your best to keep new purchases low, recycling backpacks and notebooks when you can, and purchasing recycled and refillable pencils and pens. Make old materials like backpacks new by sewing on fun patches. Try to keep your child’s use of paper low, saving old paper for scrap, using both sides, and switching whenever you can over to an e-reader.
  1. Clothe with care. For the perfect back to school outfit, look for clothing made from organic cotton. Buying second-hand clothes is also a great way to go, especially when you’ve given old clothes yourself for store credit. For even more fun, arrange a clothing swap amongst your child’s friends.

Going back to school doesn’t have to mean losing your child’s well-honed green. With a little forethought, your whole family can stay eco-friendly without dampening the excitement of the back to school shop.

Kid-Friendly Green Activities

By Leah Kaminsky

There are two questions that drive parents up the wall: “What’s for dinner?” and “What should I do?” There are a variety of eco-friendly answers to this second one, and they’re likely to be just as interesting to you as they will be to your kids. That’s because going green, at its best, involves getting a little creative.

Having your kids help with yard work on a sunny day is a great way to keep them entertained.

If you’ve got a crafty kid on your hand, have your child scour the house for old, unused materials you can repurpose into something new. Egg cartons can be turned into mobiles and that old tin of beans can become a great place to grow a small plant. Run out of space on the fridge for proudly displaying your child’s artwork? Make room by turning that old artwork into a fun bookmark that will get them crafting and reading. With an inventive mind, you can even build a robot from recycled materials.

Another great idea is to coach your child on growing his or her very first garden. This can be something as simple as planting a seed in a cup and watching it grow on the windowsill to building a raised bed for your deck or even planning for lots of vegetables you can use all year round. Or foster a sense of community by volunteering at your local community garden or at your CSA ­- local, subscription-based farm organizations that encourage eager members to help with the farming..

Learning green cooking principles can be another great way to both entertain your child and teach them important life lessons. Discuss why it’s important to eat in-season before brainstorming tasty recipes and checking out your local farmer’s market. You’ll be killing both the dinner and the entertainment question with one stone.

There are many more ways to have fun in classic green style, just as long as everyone involved gets a little bit inventive. And if all else fails, there’s nothing quite so green as, “Go outside and entertain yourself.” Right?

Make Your Summer Hours More Green

By Leah Kaminsky

Are any of us actually productive on a sunny day? We didn’t think so. That’s why so many kind-hearted and wise companies switch to summer hours during sun-kissed months, allowing employees to skip out early just as long as they get all their work done on time.

Summer is a great time for rest, relaxation and fun, but for the eco-minded office worker, it can also be a time for green activities. Here are our top three picks for the best green ways to spend those extra summer hours.

1. Go berry picking

Whether you’re on a mission to recreate the children’s book Blueberries for Sal, or you just can’t resist a freshly picked strawberry, berries are an irresistible glory in the summer months (as are all summer fruits). Do a little web research into what kind of fruit will be ripe in your area, skip out on that lunch meeting and head out to a local farm. You’ll have plenty of pie-making and canning opportunities waiting for when you return home.

2. Make a Rain Barrel

There are few things greener than water conservation, especially if you live in one of the many areas around the country that experiences terrible droughts. Make a rain barrel out of an old trash can and use what you capture to water your plants, garden, trees and yard. It’s easy and fun to do, especially for kids.

3. Go for a Hike

One of the best ways be green is to be out in green. Pick the kids up from summer camp, lace up your boots and head out to a local trail. Use your hike as an opportunity to teach kids about wild life and plants, or perhaps even as a lesson in how to forage. The whole family will get a good dose of fresh air and maybe even a lifelong love of the great outdoors.

There are more green summer activities than there is time in the day. Use your extra summer hours to their eco-max.