Green Schools: Five Lessons Learned the Hard Way

August 9th, 2009

Editor’s Note: This post is for the Green Moms Carnival on Green Schools, which will appear here at OrganicMania on Tuesday,   August 11th. There will be great contributions from green women bloggers from all around the country, weighing in on green schools – from nursery school to college!

It seems like just yesterday that I squeezed into a seat at the kid-size cafeteria tables at my son’s new elementary school. I was there to participate in my very first PTA meeting, and while I was interested in many of the things going on at the school, what I really wanted to learn about were the school’s environmental initiatives. I wanted to get involved in the Green Committee.

Imagine my surprise when the PTA leadership didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about. They invited me to become involved with the committee that watered the trees over the summer. Oh, and they  really wanted some help with a children’s garden.

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But I’m not much of a gardener. I may feel green, but my plants are brown. I wanted to focus on environmental issues like substituting  conventional school cleaning products with more environmentally friendly options;  introducing  waste-free lunches; eliminating the throw-away styrofoam trays used in our lunchroom;   replacing Sally Foster fundraisers with more eco-friendly options; and stopping the Cheap Plastic Crap giveaways used at school fundraisers.  And that was just for starters! Then I could see moving on to including walkable schools in our County and State Carbon Reduction Programs, retrofitting the school with solar or wind power, and more…

I think the other committee members went into overload just listening to my wish list.   Our principal suggested that the new parents hold back and watch and learn what went on at the school instead of jumping in with a million new directions.  So I did what comes unnaturally to this Jersey girl: I shut my mouth.

After the meeting, several other of the incoming parents approached me and said they understood and supported what I was proposing, and would be glad to help. The problem was that no one wanted to lead the effort. No one could seem to find the time.  I agreed to co-chair a committee, but soon found that coordinating with a co-chair and getting the committee off the ground fell by the wayside as I focused more of my energy on work, home, family, other volunteer work,  OrganicMania, and the Green Moms Carnival.

I blogged a bit about my Green Mom Culture Shock during this time and how I was Dealing with the Schools: Coping as  a Green Mom…but then I went all quiet on you. Didn’t say too much about what was going on…

So did we make progress this last school year? Yes, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. I did learn a few lessons, though, which I’m happy to share with other eager parents as they seek to navigate the new world of PTAs and public schools.  What about you? What’s worked for you? Please leave a message and share, because the new school year is about to start up and  we can all learn from each others’ experiences.  What’s worked for you as you’ve sought to green your school?

Lesson #1: Meet People Where They Are

Only months after that first meeting did I learn that the existing gardening committee had plenty of “greenies” involved who would have been happy to take on many of the other issues I proposed.  And had I volunteered first with that committee, proved myself, and learned how things worked at the school, our Green Committee probably would have had more impact.

Lesson #2 Get Support from Area Non-Profits

Through the Green  Schools committee of my town’s sustainable communities initiative, Bethesda Green, I learned that the Audobon Society’s Green Schools Initiative was  trying to reduce waste at my son’s school.   Several of the other committee members were from my son’s school, and we were encouraged us to go back and try again with the Green Committee, or just to do things on our own as we could fit them in.  The woman who led the charge? Probably the busiest one among us – she has triplets!

Lesson #3 Seek out Liked Minded Allies in the School Early On

Through the Green Schools committee, I met a teacher from my son’s school.  She was able to shed some light on mysteries like WHY the class buying lists contained so many plastic items, and how to get that changed for the next school year.

She was also able to explain that there were a bunch of different Green initiatives going on at school that would have more reach and impact if they were coordinated. Coincidentally, I heard the same thing from the PTA president at that time.  Soon we were able to get things a bit better organized, and on much sounder footing for this coming school year.

Having friends “on the inside” of the school really helps!

Lesson #4 Connect with other Local Schools and Learn  What’s Worked There

Some of the other schools here in Bethesda, Maryland  have had far greater participation in their “Waste-Free Wednesday” lunch campaigns than we did with ours. It may just take time for new ideas to take root, but  it would  have been ideal if we could have touched base with the green leaders at our town’s other schools to see how they achieved so much success.  Thanks to our community-wide Green Schools initiative, we’ll be connecting with those other green school leaders soon.

Lesson #5 Propose Well Thought-Out Alternatives

It’s not enough to say, “Get rid of the traditional school fundraising programs and  all of the “stuff” that they push on people!”   When well established fund raising programs are bringing in $20K or so for the PTA, you’ve got to have a plan to replace that money.  There are many new green school fundraising programs emerging, but how much money are schools actually making from these programs?  That’s one question I haven’t yet been able to answer to our PTA’s satisfaction.   (Perhaps a kind reader  will leave a comment here with that information!)

What about you? What’s worked and what hasn’t worked as you’ve sought to “green” your neighborhood schools?  Please leave  comment and share!

Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009

Why I Hope the EWG is Wrong

July 20th, 2009

No one makes a habit of displaying the inside of their medicine cabinet. But I’m doing it to make a point.

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The other night I took my skeptical husband to watch the filming of what’s being billed as “ ‘Inconvenient Truth’ for environmental health.” The Environmental Working Group’s  President,  Ken Cook, has presented “10 Americans” to countless groups across the country, and it’s even available on the web. But at this filming at DC’s Source Theatre, the EWG captured the reaction of a group of Washingtonians who gathered  to hear that:
•     82,000 chemicals were declared safe for use in household and personal care products with little or no data to support their safety;
•    the US has the highest cancer rate in the industrialized world;
•    industrial chemicals are showing up in the womb. In other words, embryos are being exposed to chemicals in the mother’s body before birth;
•     chemical exposures in people are increasingly associated with a range of serious diseases and conditions from childhood cancer, to autism, ADHD, learning deficits, infertility, and birth defects.

So why am I showing you my medicine cabinet? I’m like most Moms – my heart is “deep green,” but my buying patterns are a lighter shade of green.   The items I buy organic and green are those that my family consumes most often, particularly those items that are most often used by my children. But we still buy plenty of conventional  products (although we try to use them sparingly).

When I first learned about the linkages between probable human carcinogens and everyday personal care and household products,  I was shocked. That’s why I reached out to industry representatives to get some reassurances, as you can read here. And their reaction? While they spend hundreds of thousands to court Mom bloggers at  BlogHer and other conferences and launch fancy viral advertising campaigns, they still haven’t answered these three simple questions I posed here.

- What is your stance on the Kid Safe Chemical Act?
- What do you think about the adverse affects of long term exposure to the thousands of chemicals used in personal care products?
- Is this issue even being discussed at the industry level, through groups like the Personal Products Council?

In fact, as I blogged here, the Industry reps did everything they could to discredit the Moms asking these questions.

So now you know why I hope the EWG is wrong. Because like so many of you, I still use a lot of these products.

And as for my skeptical husband?

As he put it after watching Ken Cook in action,

DDT used to be called safe too.”

Watch the video yourself and tell me what you think.


@ Yahoo! Video

If you want to do something now that you’ve seen this video, visit the EWG’s Action Page.

And please leave a comment and let me know  your thoughts!

Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009

The BPA Battle Heats Up: The Endocrine Society Takes a Stand

June 15th, 2009

The other week I noticed that a somewhat-obscure scientific organization, The Endocrine Society, was meeting in Washington, DC. For a moment, I stopped and wondered if they too might weigh in on the bisphenol A (BPA) debate now raging in DC.

“Nah,” I thought. “They’re non-political. I’ve never heard about them. They’ll just report on research, but they won’t actually make a  statement or engage in the debate.”

Wow. Was I wrong.

As I learned from – once again – the Environmental Working Group – The Endocrine Society actually issued its first ever scientific statement on BPA – the first in its 93-year-history.  The Society warned that BPA and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) “ have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.”

The Society also warned that “The Precautionary Principle is key to enhancing endocrine and reproductive health, and should be used to inform decisions about exposure to, and risk from, potential endocrine disruptors.”

[For more on the Precautionary Principle, see this OrganicMania interview with Diane MacEachern, author of The Big Green Purse and a Founding Member of The Green Moms Carnival].

You can access the entire Scientific Statement here. It’s dense reading, and I confess I haven’t made it all the way through as yet – but what I have read is troubling. The report documents possible links between  endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA and a host of serious health issues such as cancer, ADHD, autism, and low sperm count.

In a separate action, EWG President Ken Cook sent a letter to Coca Cola’s CEO in which he noted “More than a decade ago, because of concerns about high levels of BPA in bioassays of teenagers and young adults, most Japanese food processing removed or dramatically reduced the use of BPA in can linings, switching to safer, less expensive PET(polyrthylene terephthalate) film lamination. As a result, a 2002 study found that BPA levels among Japanese students dropped by fully 50 percent between 1992 and 1999.”

Can you believe it? Those numbers are stunning.

When I started OrganicMania, I thought the main health issue we Moms faced was the food we put in our bodies. Little did I know it was just the tip of the iceberg. Plastic bottles, cans, household cleaners, make-up, baby shampoos, lotions and potions –   I’ve learned that substances like these contain minute amounts of carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and other chemicals. Scientists and regulators are still sorting out the cumulative effects of all these exposures.  As for me, there’s enough evidence there to follow the Precautionary Principle. That means sticking to simple, basic foods, make-up and personal care products, buying organic and natural whenever possible, and avoiding synthetic compounds.

I’ll be blogging a lot more about these issues in the future. I feel like the scales have fallen off my eyes. It’s not just about the food. It’s about so much more than that.  What do you think? Leave a comment and share.

Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009

Another Green Moms Carnival Is Up: World Environment Day and World Oceans Day

June 5th, 2009

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Head on over to The Smart Mama to see a small but mighty round up of posts on World Environment Day and World Oceans Day.

Interested in what we’re doing next? Check out the calendar, complete with submission instructions, right here. Hope you’ll join us again on  June 24th for Eco-Confessions with The Green Parent.

– Lynn

World Environment Day

June 4th, 2009

It seems like Earth Day was just yesterday, but here we are at World Environment Day, which falls on every June 5th.  The focus of this year’s United Nations – sponsored event is climate change.

What can you do?

How about planting a tree?

The UN is kicking off a campaign which aims to plant 7 billion trees, one for every person on the planet, by 2010.

Too tired to plant? Too wet outside? (It’s been raining for days here in DC!)

You’re not off the hook that easily!

You can plant your trees virtually.     The campaign’s Twitter account is trying to reach 10,000 followers by Friday midnight. The UNEP will plant one tree for every follower at http://twitter.com/UNEPandYou. (As of this writing, they were short by several thousand, so try to give them a hand!)

And then there’s Mokugift, which has a beautiful interface you can access either from its IPhone app or from its website.  Through Mokugift and a simple $1 donation, you can plant trees in 12 African, Asian or Central American countries. And they’ve just  launched a new partnership with artists and athletes, which you can check out here.

So take a few minutes and plant a tree for World Environment Day – all from your iPhone or computer!

This post is part of a special “mini” Green Moms Carnival hosted by The Smart Mama. Head on over and take a look at a round-up of  great posts about World Environment Day and World Oceans Day!

Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009

What to Get A Green Mom for Mothers Day (Or Any Other Time!): Top 10 Gifts for Green Moms

May 9th, 2009

Some may think posting about Mother’s Day gifts on Saturday morning is kind of late. But let’s face it – most guys put gifts off to the last minute, don’t they? So here it is – this Green Mom’s Top 10 Wish List.

In past years, I’ve taken a real minimalist view – all this Green Mom wanted was a clean car. That may still be a need, but with so many of us putting off desires this year due to the economy, I have a hunch that many of us secretly yearn to be a bit more spoiled this Mother’s Day.

1. The Gift of Time
Many Moms feel “guilty” about this. It’s Mother’s Day and (horrors!) they don’t want to spend the whole day with their kids? You mean, like they do every other day of the year? Give her some time off. Tell her to take the afternoon off. Go for a walk. See a movie. Lie in bed. Whatever. She can pretend there are no responsibilities on her plate, no to-do lists.

2. Crossing Something off Her List
For some, washing the car, running an errand, or crossing something else off her list is still a great gift. This year I’ve made peace with the messy car (and it’s not quite so bad this year!) But if I came home and found my containers brimming with plants, and my front garden weeded…wow! Would that ever make my Mother’s Day!

3. Eco-Chic
We may be green on the inside, but it’s nice to look green on the outside too! There are so many cool eco-accessories now. You can find purses and jewelry made of recycled materials, clothing from bamboo or organic cotton, shoes made of bamboo, and more… One of my favorite online sources is Eco-Artware.com (who also happens to be a client of mine). If you’re in my neck of the woods and want to buy at a store, check out the gift shop at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. I was there yesterday and saw a wonderful assortment of eco-chic bracelets and earrings made of old magazines. Prices were between $15 and $30.

4. Eco-Helpers
Going green requires preparation, especially when you are on the go. How about some useful green chic gifts such as To-Go Ware(R), which is reusable cutlery packaged in cute little bamboo bags. You can stash it in a reusable bag and reduce some of that green guilt when you find yourself at a roadside restaurant or to-go place that only stocks plastic utensils. Other great options include chic reusable bags like those sold by the Chico Bag Company. In my neck of the woods? Stop by Creative Parties in Bethesda and check out their selection of reusable bags. (And while you’re there, look across the street and see the new headquarters of our local sustainability initiative, Bethesda Green, located on the second floor of the Chevy Chase bank building).

5. Donations to a Favorite Green Cause
How about a gift in her honor? Try these fave green causes: Environmental Working Group, The Nature Conservancy, or The World Wildlife Federation.

6. Eco-Dining or Fine Dining

There are organic restaurants and restaurants specializing in local foods springing up all over the place. What better day to check one out than Mother’s Day? So many parents avoid dining at nice restaurants with kids in tow. One of the great things about Mother’s Day is that the fancy-pants places that don’t typically cater to children will grudgingly do so on Mother’s Day. That’s what we’re doing on Mother’s Day! At least I know that The Blue Moon will put up with my kids on Sunday!

7. Flowers – Make them Organic!

How about a twist on the time honored tradition of a beautiful bouquet of flowers? This time, make them organic! This Mother’s Day, Organic Bouquet is running a promo with The Nature Conservancy – you save 10% and it’s donated to The Nature Conservancy!

8. Great Green Books
There are so many inspiring books available about going green. One of my faves – a real resource – is fellow Green Moms Carnival member Diane MacEachern’s The Big Green Purse. You can order it here on Amazon, or check out your local bookstore or even Whole Foods for a great selection of books about going green.

9. Yummy Greens
What better excuse than to try some organic and fair trade chocolate? And what woman doesn’t love chocolate? Some of my faves: Divine Chocolate and Green & Black’s.

10. Green Entertaining
Having friends over, or just relaxing? Get her some wonderful sustainable, organic or biodynamic wine and cheese from your local natural market.

Happy Mother’s Day! Did you find these tips helpful? Leave a comment and share!

– Lynn

Earth Day & Graham Crackers

April 20th, 2009

“Mama, can you fix my graham cracker?”

It was a plaintive question from a small voice in the back of the car. As parents, our instinct is to help our kids whenever we can. But sadly, I had to explain that some things — like broken graham crackers — can’t be fixed.

No sooner had I responded than it hit me. With Earth Day reminders all around us, I couldn’t help but take that question and apply it to the environment. How much of the environmental degradation will we be able to fix? What is reversible, and what is not ?

The answers are not simple.

And as Earth Day continues its metamorphosis into a Buy Green Holiday, it’s important to recognize that we can’t buy our way out of this mess. Sure, investments in certain areas can help, as can replacing toxic products with eco-friendly substitutes.

But what would happen if we all took a close look at our local environmental issues and tried to figure out what we could do to fix things? Here are a few things you do:
- Clean up the litter in a local park or along a river, as these people do in DC’s Rock Creek;
- Plant a tree or take inspiration from this 21-year-old and support a reforestation program;
- Support one of the many fine environmental organizations trying to make a difference in this tough economic environment. Some of my faves: The Nature Conservancy; Environmental Working Group; and Healthy Child, Healthy World. Others? The local groups working hard to make a difference in your own backyard. Here in the DC area that means groups like Friends of Rock Creek, The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Bethesda Green.

What have you fixed recently? Leave a comment and share. Really, I want to hear what you’ve been up to! Haven’t done anything lately? Hmm…quit surfing the ‘Net and get moving!

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009

Green and Organic Savings Friday: CVS “Organic” Make-up, Late Night Specials at Whole Foods, Organic Baby Food and More!

May 16th, 2008

Last night OrganicMania discovered an advantage to waiting until the absolute last minute to pick up groceries. Never before had I heard the voice booming across Whole Foods announcing, “Two-for-one Special! Buy One, Get One Free!” Buy what? Where the heck was I? For a second, I thought I was back in Germany, where at Kaufhalle a flashing blue siren goes off before a voice announces “Sonderangebot!”

But no, it was the gorgeous sandwiches in the prepared food section that were on sale. Every night at about 9:55 p.m. you can pick up two sandwiches for the price of one. OrganicMania nabbed two gorgeous eggplant sandwiches for $3.15 each! Can’t beat that…

Well, maybe….we just tried the eggplant sandwich and sad to say, it is a bit past its prime, despite the prepared food manager’s assurances that it would taste just fine. My DH deemed it better suited to a midnight snack, and suggested we keep experimenting “in the name of research” to see if any of their sale sandwiches hold up better than the eggplant. More on that subject another week!

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Isn’t it great to see all these sale signs on organic make-up? Now’s the time to try Physician’s Formula Organic Make-up with the 2 for one sale at CVS. Not only is the make-up 2 for the price of 1, but CVS offers incredible coupon savings through their CVS card program. So savvy CVS shoppers may be able to get their make-up for nothing or next to nothing!

I haven’t tried this make-up yet, but one thing I love about it is the sustainable packaging. The powder is packaged in recyclable paper instead of petroleum-based plastic. That’s one trend we should all hope that the other cosmetics makers adopt.

On the flip side, this make-up is marketed as “organic” when it has many chemical ingredients and is not certified USDA organic. The marketing of this “organic make-up” falls into that “gray area” OrganicMania discussed here with Diane MacEachern, noted environmentalist and author of the eco best seller “Big Green Purse.”

But as with so many other cosmetics lines, you need to be careful about the specific products you purchase. Check out this overview of Physicians Formula ingredients by the Environmental Working Group, and you’ll see that the safety rankings are all over the map. Best bets?

The powder and foundation are both ranked 3, or “moderate hazard” by the EWG, which is actually very good compared to most cosmetics.

OrganicMania considers the eye make-up remover pads and sunscreen “best buys” with EWG rankings of 2, or low hazard. It’s unlikely you’ll find a better choice for your money .

Now that you’re all beautified, what does that lead to? Romance! Love! Babies! Baby food! How’s that for a segue?

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Safeway once again has its housebrand O Organics Baby Food 4.5 ounce baby food jars on sale, 10 jars for $7.00 or 17.5 cents per ounce, saving you 90 cents on ten. Unfortunately, that’s a whole dollar more per ten than this organic baby food sale Safeway ran about six months ago, when organic baby food was priced at a just a penny more than conventional baby food! But 10 jars for $7.00 is still a good deal with today’s rising food prices. Are you planning to keep buying organic for your baby? Leave a comment and share!

Did you find any good deals this week? Please share your tips! And check out these other savings tips here. (Warning: some green, some not so green!)

Happy shopping!

Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Gifts They Can’t Buy You for Mother’s Day: Ask Without Guilt

May 6th, 2008

Ah, Mother’s Day, that one day each year when it’s supposed to be all about us. As kids, we feted Mom with a fancy brunch, a gift, and some flowers.

So it came as a shock to me when I became a Mom and realized that I really didn’t want any of that stuff. The fact is, I just wanted some time to myself…and I felt so GUILTY about it. Then I thought about it some more, and realized that there was something else I really, really wanted – a clean car.

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Wasn’t I supposed to be looking forward to Sunday brunch?

When I asked my other girlfriends, I found that many felt the same way. But few dared to ask their husbands for time alone and a “honey do.” Instead, they put on a smile and tried to enjoy another restaurant meal out – always a challenge for those of us with little ones.

But the statistics bear out what I observed in my own inner circle. Check out this survey of Moms and Free Time by Kiwi Magazine and you’ll learn that 79% of Moms say they don’t get enough personal time. In that first, intense year of Motherhood, you really crave it, and unfortunately that’s when most Moms feel most guilty about asking for it.

Fortunately, in my case, my church intervened, scheduling a “Mother’s Retreat” on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. This retreat is so cool that one of my Jewish friends is coming to take notes in order to convince her temple to offer a similar program!

With a simple meal, an interesting speaker, a meaningful service in the Chapel just for the Moms, and scheduled “me time” when you can take advantage of yoga, massage, or simply close your eyes on a sofa or go outside for a walk, the event is immensely popular.

And as for the requisite Mother’s Day gift? My DH asked me at least ten times if I was SURE that all I wanted for Mother’s Day was a clean station wagon. He really didn’t believe me at first.

While I was at the Saturday Mother’s Retreat with the six-month-old, DH and Big Boy emptied the car of assorted petrified Cheerios (okay, Toasted Organic Oatio-Os to be precise), bottle caps, torn papers, lost toys, ancient newspapers and magazines, worn out pacifiers, and about 984 other interesting items. Then they washed and vacuumed.

I was so excited, I was beside myself when I got into my clean looking and clean smelling Mom Mobile.

My DH was a little annoyed by the huge amount of rubble in the car. He made me promise that I would not let it get into such a state again. Did you see the photo up top? That was taken TODAY. Yes, the car is once again in pretty bad shape!

Anyway, I’m still angling for a clean car this year for Mother’s Day. It makes me feel good, saves me time, costs no money, is a great project for the kids, and is “green.”

What do you want for Mother’s Day? Leave a comment and share! OrganicMania will publicize what Moms really want so maybe all our dreams will come true!

And another good “green” option is a donation to a children’s charity…check out these amazing programs at J&J’s BabyCause site. The Parent Blogger’s Network is publicizing this charity, and I thought I’d give them a mention.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Organic vs. Conventional Foods? Count Your Blessings

April 24th, 2008

I consider myself a lucky blogger. There’s so much to say about organics, going green, raising kids, and trying to make sense of healthy green living. And here at OrganicMania, we’ve had some great discussions about organics versus conventional foods, like this one and this one.

As I look through some of the nearly 300 comments (!) you’ve left on OrganicMania, I’m struck by how many of us, particularly the Mothers, are struggling to make sense of our options in order to provide what’s best for our children. This morning I was struggling a bit, too, trying to choose from a myriad of possibilities for today’s post.

But my mind kept wandering back to this story in yesterday’s Washington Post about the terrible impact of rising food prices on the world’s poor. Did you know that the UN’s World Food Program being forced to cut back on feeding programs that serve 20 million children?

Diane MacEachern, Mary Hunt, and other prominent writers and bloggers are proponents of shifting some of women’s purchasing power to green purchases. I’ve been really focused on that movement and believe it can make a huge difference.

Maybe the current crisis is an opportunity to expand our focus beyond raising green kids. It’s time to look at all the world’s children as part of the human family. When we’re so focused on organics versus conventional foods, are we at risk of thinking only of our own nuclear families? Are we losing sight of the fact that more children than ever before are starving? Did you know that one child dies every five seconds from hunger-related causes? In 2008. It’s incredible, isn’t it?

So are you struggling to make sense of organics vs. conventional foods? Count your blessings. Maybe it’s time to think about what share of money to keep for the family food budget versus donating to the starving millions.

Here’s a link to donate to the UN Food Program.

Don’t like the UN? What’s your favorite hunger charity? Leave a comment and share!

– Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania