Five ways to improve your indoor air quality

From a recent blog post I read: “Commercials and slick marketing techniques have led us to believe that ‘clean’ equates to a scent that you would not find in nature.  But what does a clean home really smell like?  Nothing at all!

It’s true: we’ve become accustomed to air ‘fresheners’ and ‘fresh’ smells in our cleaning products.  But often the chemicals that produce those pleasant smells are very unnatural concoctions, negatively impacting the quality of the air where most of us spend most of our time: indoors.

So what to do?  Here are five quick tips for better indoor air quality:

  • Choose fragrance-free products, because most ‘fragrances’ are chemicals your lungs and skin would be better off without
  • Avoid aerosols, because they create fine particles that are more likely to be inhaled because they float in the air longer; use spray pumps instead
  • Look for logos of third party certification like EcoLogo (Canada) or Safer Choice (US EPA); don’t accept manufacturer claims of ‘green’, ‘natural’ or ‘new and improved’ at face value
  • Read labels, and beware of vague ingredients like ‘parfum’ or ‘preservative’
  • Diffuse natural oils like lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus or others to naturally freshen your air

More info here and here (the sources of this info)!

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Ever wonder how much land it takes to support your lifestyle?

I often share with audiences the story of when I first completed an online Global Footprint questionnaire a decade ago.  I was shocked when it told me that if everyone lived like me, we’d need four planets.  Four planets.  It was a ‘light bulb moment’ that launched me on a journey to consume less – a journey that continues to this day.

Ever wonder what your footprint on the planet is?  You can find out quickly and easily, thanks to this new and updated calculator developed by the Global Footprint Network.

The downside: you may find your results a bit disconcerting.  The upside: the calculator will show where your largest impacts are, so you can zero in on what actions will make the biggest difference.

My footprint today?  According to the calculator, 2.4 planets, with the largest opportunities for improvement being travel and diet.  The journey continues.

The Big Four

August 12, 2017

The most important ways to reduce your carbon footprint

There is much fruit on the proverbial ‘tree of sustainability solutions’.  Some of it is large fruit, some of it is small.  Some of it is high in the tree and hard to reach, some of it is low-hanging and easily picked.

Make no mistake: EVERY act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the greatest difference, it’s the large fruit we want.

Unfortunately, it’s usually not low hanging.  A study published last month concluded that the four biggest ways we can reduce our carbon footprint are:

  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Avoiding air travel
  • Living car free
  • Having smaller families

Uncomfortable?  Me too.  Those are tough.

But perhaps much solace can be taken from the fact that each of these can be chipped away at slowly.  (Even the fourth?  Yes, because large families committed to sustainability can have smaller carbon footprints than small families without such commitment; and perhaps the former can teach the latter.)

Again, to be clear: every act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the biggest difference, it’s good to know where that big difference can be made.

Toothpaste, soap and a moisturizer/fragrance

A few years ago, our family went on a four week backpacking vacation.  If you’ve ever backpacked, you know ounces count – so one of our weight-saving strategies was to limit our toiletries to one tube of toothpaste, a small bar of soap, a bit of moisturizing cream and some sunblock.  Light and simple, they suited our needs perfectly.

Akamai, a new personal care company, suggests that most of us could live on just three personal care products: toothpaste, soap (for skin and hair) and an oil spray for fragrance and moisture. So that’s all it offers.

Akamai’s motivation isn’t weight in your backpack; it’s sustainability and simplicity.  In the words of the co-founder, “Typical personal care product companies want you to consume more of their products, so they say wash your hair and body every day.  We have been led into this false sense of what is required to have healthy skin, teeth and hair.”

Plus – more products mean more chemicals, water, packaging and transportation.

So why not consider simplifying your toiletries cupboard?  Good for you, good for your wallet, good for the environment.  And, if you travel, good for your back!

Straws suck

June 6, 2017

Plastic straws? Just say no.

A plastic straw seems pretty small and innocuous.

But consider this: 500 million of them are used in just the US every day. Few are recycled; many end up in the ocean. They’re one of the top 10 pieces of trash collected in beach cleanups around the world, according to the Surfrider Association. And they’re hazardous for marine mammals, as is obvious in this video (warning: graphic) of a straw being pulled from the nostril of a sea turtle.

The Town of Tofino, BC, has launched a campaign, Straws Suck, and most of the town’s restaurants have stopped serving plastic straws. Thelastplasticstraw.org aims to get restaurants to stop serving straws, and NoStrawPlease encourages people to pledge to go without straws, and help spread the word.

In your own small way, you can help too. For most of us, straw usage is more habit than necessity – so, the next time you order a drink, why not just say no when it comes to plastic drinking straws?

Bottled water? Just say no.

Oops… during a presentation to a high school audience last week, I let it slip that one of my greatest environmental frustrations is bottled water.

Why bottled water?  Because:

  • Most bottled water is not natural spring water, but merely filtered tap water.
  • Most bottled water is not local; it’s trucked long distances and has a huge transportation footprint.
  • The Maritimes have plenty of clean, clear water; surely it’s the last thing we should be sending our money out-of-province for!
  • Most empty water bottles are not recycled; instead, they end up in landfills, roadsides or waterways. A recent study warned that the world’s oceans may contain more plastic than fish by 2050.  Yuck!
  • The water bottles that are recycled don’t come back as bottles; they’re ‘downcycled’ into products like carpet, which eventually end up in a landfill anyway.

You can make a difference, with one simple choice: seek out a tap or fountain, and, whenever possible, just say no to bottled water. On the tree of environmental solutions, it’s hard to find lower hanging fruit.

The unsavory side of polyester

Polyester, once the object of fashion ridicule, is probably the most common synthetic material in clothing today.  It’s strong, wrinkle resistant and moisture resistant.

But polyester is a type of plastic, and in recent years a very significant problem has come to light: it sheds tiny fibres, especially during washing.  These microfibers are often too small to be filtered out by sewage treatment plants and thus end up in our waterways and oceans.  A 2016 study estimated that synthetic fleece jackets released 1.7 grams of microfibers every wash.  And now they’re showing up in fish and seafood too.  (Watch The Story of Microfibers here.)

What to do?

  • Where possible, avoid polyester and choose clothing made of natural fibers like cotton or wool
  • If it has to be polyester, choose high quality as it sheds less
  • Wash polyester clothing as little as possible and on as gentle a wash cycle as possible
  • If you’re up for it, contact manufacturers to express your concern and ask them to research and develop better products. Polyester shedding is a global issue, and all textile manufacturers will need to be part of the solution.

Our waterways and oceans are worth it.

Five tips for greener hair!

October 11, 2016

Simple ideas for more eco-friendly hair care

Hair care is part of most people’s daily routine, but it has more environmental implications than one might realize (for example, water consumption, energy consumption, undesirable chemicals and waste generation).  Here are five ways you can reduce the environmental impacts of your coiffure:

  • Resist your shampoo maker’s tease to ‘rinse and repeat’, and shampoo just once (because if you need to shampoo twice, you’ve got to wonder about the quality of the product in the first place!). Plus use as little shampoo as you can get away with.
  • Try washing your hair every second time you shower instead of every time
  • Use a leave-in conditioner to cut down on shower time
  • Let hair dry naturally if you can, or else use the coolest setting on your hair dryer
  • Bonus: make your own shampoo! Learn how here.

Happy greener hair care!

Vote wisely with your wallet

September 27, 2016

It’s easy to be a Better World Shopper

Most of us spend thousands of dollars a year on goods and services – and every dollar we spend is an implicit endorsement of the business we’re patronizing.  But even as some businesses are working hard to improve the world, others are doing more harm than good.  How is a conscientious shopper to know the difference?

The Better World Shopper can help.  It’s a well-researched guide that ranks companies from A to F based on their performance in five key areas: environment, human rights, animal protection, community involvement and social justice.  The guide has dozens of categories, from clothing brands to coffee to energy drinks to soap.  It even has a list of the Top 10 Categories where you can make the most difference.

Check out the Better World Shopping Guide – and vote wisely the next time you shop!

More ideas about less stuff

September 13, 2016

Simple strategies for buying less stuff

From the Better World Handbook: “Everything you own owns you.  Everything you buy, you must maintain, store, repair, clean and perhaps insure.  Our stuff quickly becomes a psychological burden.”

Phew!  And a financial burden too, requiring more money – which means more work and less time for family, friends and fun.

Here are a few more tips to help you buy less stuff:

  1. Fix broken things instead of discarding them: a challenge, I know, in a world where more and more things are designed to be thrown away and replaced. But at the very least, it will be a learning experience!
  2. Figure out ways to reuse stuff, even things designed to be used once. For example, plastic containers and milk bags are great for freezing food.
  3. Borrow things you’ll only need rarely, like tools, movies or trucks. Get to know your neighbours and your library.
  4. Ask yourself: do I really need it? The honest answer is often no.
  5. Take a shopping list, and stick to it; don’t fall prey to clever advertising, fancy displays or colourful packaging.
  6. Avoid impulse purchases because you’ll often regret them later. If you feel the urge, promise yourself you’ll buy it next week – if you still feel the urge.

Less stuff is good for our well-being, our wallets and the planet!