Book Review: Big Green Purse & Giveaway
In Big Green Purse, Diane MacEachern offers a simple message: Use your spending power to create a cleaner, greener world. It's clear this is happening already. Organic and other environmentally friendly products are moving beyond the specialty stores and popping up in big chain grocery and department stores. When consumers make demands with their wallets, companies will always come running to meet them.
Why not use that consumer clout to pressure companies to save energy, protect forests, use safer ingredients, and otherwise become more responsible environmental citizens?
The author gives pretty compelling reasons to go green, too:
- In 2005, the CDC discovered 148 toxic chemicals in the bodies of "Americans of all ages." Among the ingredients that were found in the bones and blood were pesticides, mercury, and phthalates.
- Dangerous environmental contaminants are fed to babies through breast milk (scientists have found PBDE, a flame retardant widely used in furniture and electronic equipment, in American women's breast milk).
- An Environmental Working Group and Commoweal study revealed that the umbilical cord blood of some newborn babies contained hundreds of industrial chemicals and pollutants.
Why do these findings matter? Not only is it obvious that carrying these chemicals in our bodies our whole lives, many of them possible carcinogens, is simply not healthy, there is evidence that these chemicals have disrupted life already. Pesticides and other chemical runoffs have caused birth defects and reproductive problems in alligators, polar bears, frogs, and all types of fish. Likewise, we've already seen a dramatic increase in children reaching puberty at very early ages. Also, as many as one in every four couples experience difficulty getting pregnant or having normal children. Studies by doctors, scientists, fertility specialists and researchers have reinforced a troubling conclusion.
Scientific evidence indicates that infertility...sperm count decline, pregnancy loss...early puberty...endometriosis, and cancers in women and men -- are associated with environmental contaminants that many Americans are exposed to in their daily lives.
The problem lies in the EPA and FDA's system of regulating chemicals in our products. First, the burden of proof is on us, the consumers. Companies don't have to prove that their products are safe. We have to prove that they aren't. Second, their studies focus on levels of individual chemicals per dose. This method completely ignores the sum total of our experience, which includes hundreds of chemicals from hundreds of sources every single day of our lives.
In the face of these disturbing facts, it may seem overwhelming to even know where to begin. This is where Big Green Purse comes in. It doesn't just tell us why we need to shop green, it provides guidelines and principles to follow. Of course, many of us simply can't afford to go green all the time. Diane MacEachern focuses on items that make the most impact, highlights eco-cheap money saving strategies, and reveals marketing techniques that try to sell "greenwash" products that aren't really green.
The book is a helpful resource when trying to navigate through the different labels -- it explains which labels are legitimate and which ones are marketing slogans that are not regulated. It explains the environmental impact of particular products that have very reasonable replacements (I now look for "shade grown" coffee beans). It also gives you a variety of options to help you prioritize your green spending based on the cause close to your heart.
After learning that the U.S. paper industry is the country's largest single consumer of wood, ranks first in use of industrial process water, third in toxic chemical releases, and fourth in emissions of the air pollutants that cause respiratory problems, making pulp and paper manufacturing the third-most-polluting industry in North America and one of the largest and most-polluting enterprises in the world, I've resolved to cut down my use of paper (saving files as pdf and only buying recycled paper). Paper products using recycled paper is more expensive, but that is all the more reason to make me limit my use of paper. Also, producing recycled paper generates 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution than producing paper from trees.
I also did not know that cotton was one of the most pesticide-intensive crops in the world. Approximately 25% of all insecticides and more than 10% of pesticides applied in the world are used to grow cotton. It takes one-third pound of pesticides and fertilizers to produce enough cotton for just one T-shirt. These chemicals then contaminate our drinking water, streams, rivers, and lakes. In the United States five of the top nine pesticides used in cotton productions are known carcinogens. Harvested cotton seed are fed to cattle, pressed into oils and mixed into foods.
Now, I don't know if I'm going to run out and buy clothes made of bamboo and hemp, but now that I know the true cost of cotton clothes, I will buy less and donate more of it.
There is no doubt that the best way to minimize our impact on the environment and health is to consume less. Consider whether you really need the item you're about to purchase. Then consider whether you can buy it used. If those options are not available, then follow the guidelines in Big Green Purse.
Imagine if one million of us collectively pledged to shift $1,000 of our annual spending on green products. We'd have an intentional marketplace impact of $1 billion a year.
I have four copies (printed on recycled paper) to giveaway. To enter the drawing, leave a comment with a green pledge for one item in your life. Don't forget to pass the book along or donate it to the library when you're done. Entries will be accepted until 11:59pm EDT on friday 4/25/08.