Think Green: Simple things your family can do for the planet
Long before the little line on the pregnancy test turned blue, Michelle Davis decided to go green. She wanted to create the best possible world for her future baby and she decided to start with herself.
First, she took a hard look at her own diet and spent two years cleaning it up. "I went off dairy, off coffee, off gluten," says Davis. "It was a full-bore cleansing." She even replaced all the fillings in her teeth to rid them of any mercury contamination.
If Davis sounds uniquely dedicated, she's not alone. More and more local parents are finding new reasons to go green -- and those reasons are often no farther away than their babies' nurseries.
Mischelle Davis did have that baby, and when Jackson began eating solid food, it was fresh and organic and carefully prepared in her own Seattle kitchen. A year later, Davis, who spent 14 years in the high-tech industry, used her recipes to launch her own home delivery organic baby food business, Sprouts.
Davis' path from pregnancy to environmental awareness and green parenting is not unusual, according to Laurie Demeritt, president of the Hartman Group, a Bellevue-based market research firm that studies health and wellness issues nationwide.
"The effect of having children is a huge one, and we see it again and again," she says. "But it's more focused on the health benefits of food; it's more self-directed than 'good of the world' directed."
Demeritt says new parents often look first at organic baby food, fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat produced without pesticides or growth hormones.
"In many cases, it migrates into a more individual interest in personal health care products, clothing or household cleaning products," she says. "It can trigger a real life change in a number of individuals.
A meaningful change
The green life change was profound for Angela Kay Isaacson, a former chef who graduated at the top of her class from the Portland, Oregon, branch of the famous Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, and then joined the staff of the famed Woodinville restaurant, the Herbfarm.
She was working as a wine consultant and distributor when 8-month-old daughter Isa was born. The first diaper delivery included a flyer from Sprouts. Now Isaacson is working for Sprouts, making organic baby food and creating recipes for the new toddler line. She says Isa was a driving force behind the decision. "I just want to leave the world better for her than I found it," Isaacson says.
Green for good
The process of going green was a little more gradual for former public relations consultant David Kaufer and his wife, Renee.
"It really was the process of trying to get pregnant that opened my wife's eyes and my eyes. too," he says. "We got married in '97 and we were planning to start a family in two or three years. We were going to have a Y2K baby."
After two years of trying, tests showed that both of them had fertility problems. "I started exploring what would cause this," he said. "I started talking to friends and colleagues and I was amazed at how many other couples were experiencing the same problems. I thought, 'What's going on?'"
Kaufer and his wife didn't have that Y2K baby, but their twin boys were born nine months ago. He believes there must be an environmental component to infertility.
At home, Kaufer and Renee, who has just started a full-time job at the Gates Foundation, try to be environmentally sensitive, but it's not always easy. "We face the same challenges everyone else does. If it's more expensive, is it worth it?" he says. "I was launching a start-up and my wife wasn't working. We had to pay attention to costs."
Outside their home, they have replaced all the chemicals they once used, and inside, all their old cleaning products and laundry products are gone, replaced with eco-friendly products. They recycle, of course, and use canvas bags for grocery shopping. All these changes are relatively easy, Kaufer says, "the low-hanging fruit."
Some changes haven't gone so well. The couple tried to use cloth diapers for the twins but the babies were too small and the diapers were chronically leaking. They had to switch to disposable. And then there's the sticky matter of the SUV. "We have twins," Kaufer says. "When we take them anyplace, we have to haul a lot of stuff." They are planning, however, to buy a fuel-efficient commuter car.
An advocate for change
It was not her own pregnancy, but everybody else's that prompted Elise Miller to found the Institute for Children's Environmental Health (ICEH) eight years ago. Miller was working on environmental issues for a private foundation in Northern California when she decided to start her own nonprofit organization.
"The primary impetus was the emergence of science that showed that human breast milk, which used to be the purest of food, was now highly contaminated, contaminated because of toxics that didn't exist 40 or 50 years ago," she says. "It's really a human rights issue to me. It's not OK that mothers ever have to be concerned about breastfeeding their babies." In fact, the World Health Organization, among others, acknowledges the increase of toxins in breast milk, but maintains that breast milk is still by far the healthiest food for babies.
With a mission "to ensure a healthy, just and sustainable future for all children," the ICEH promotes initiatives to reduce and ultimately eliminate harmful environmental contaminants that can have an impact on children's health. Its work includes research, forums on prevention for parents and education for policy-makers in Washington and Olympia. It can be a long process, Miller admits, but it's doable.
"It took time for society to have the political will to eliminate lead from paint and gasoline," she says. Miller says as director of the institute, she's always tried to "walk her talk." But everything came into sharp focus when she and her husband adopted their 16-month-old son from Nepal. "My awareness became even more acute. My sensitivity to the issues became more meaningful," she says. "I thought a lot about everything this little boy might be exposed to."
The green challenge
Whether it's through environmental activism, starting an environmentally sensitive business or running a green household, going green in a disposable world remains a challenge.
Queen Anne mom Lois Soiffer says she has paid attention to green issues since she went to college, but the birth of her daughter, Rose, now 10, made a big difference for her and her husband. "The stakes are a lot higher once you have a kid," she says. "Not only are we handing the world down to someone we know and love, we know the decisions we make influence the decisions she makes. It's the ripple effect."
Because of tuition costs at their daughter's private school, Soiffer and her husband have found creative ways to go green on a budget. The family replaces things only when they need replacing. When their 18-year-old car finally died, they got a hybrid. When a light bulb burns out, they replace it with an energy-efficient one.
Soiffer recommends four easy, cost-effective ways to be green: Drive the speed limit or slightly below, store cloth shopping bags in the car, use vinegar as an all-purpose cleaning solution, and borrow things instead of buying them. "It gives people an opportunity to do something nice for you and permission to ask you to return the favor," Soiffer says.
"Train your child that hand-me-downs are an opportunity," Soiffer says. "It's cheaper and 'greener' if you can borrow it. There's no reason for everybody to own everything."
Recycle and reuse
Nancy Vandervort and her husband, David, an architect, hadn't planned it, but they ended up borrowing practically everything they needed when 2-year-old Catherine Rose was born. The crib, changing table and high chair that they had loaned out to friends all came back -- even dresses worn by older sister, Emily, 17, and books read by 14-year-old Colin.
"Another big eye opener with Catie has been that there are really very few things kids really need as far as toys are concerned," says Vandervort, who lives in Magnolia. "There's a lot of stuff that doesn't really need to be made; we live every day with stimulating things." Catie, for example, spent a lot of time just going through kitchen cabinets.
When they remodeled their home, the Vandervorts reused as much material as possible and installed recycled oak flooring. David, whose firm also designs "green" houses, hired a nephew to pull nails out of studs so they could be reused on another project. "That way, so many things don't go to the landfill; they get recycled," Vandervort says.
A question of values
Parents who work at living green agree that the key is to be aware of your values in everything you do. "Each purchase we make is a decision," Soiffer says. "How is it packaged? How can we dispose of it once we're done with it? How can we dispose of the packaging once we open it?"
When parents think about living with the environment in mind, they might hear their child say words that are music to a "green" parent's ears. "Now my daughter will open something and say, 'That has a lot of packaging,'" Soiffer says.
Freelance writer Elaine Bowers lives in Seattle with her husband and twin teenage daughters.
Resources for going green as a family . . .
From the Sierra Club, MamboSprouts, and other sources:
1. Turn off electronics when not in use.
2. Turn down the central heating slightly (1 or 2 degrees).
3. Only run your dishwasher and washing machine with a full load.
4. Recycle paper, glass and plastics and compost as a family.
5. Use every piece of paper twice.
6. Don't use "throw away" products such as paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils.
7. Use reusable plastic containers in lunchboxes, instead of plastic bags.
8. Take your own bags to shops and grocery stores.
9. Look for products that have less packaging.
10. Buy organic and local.
11. Buy a travel mug or a reusable water bottle for daily use.
12. Choose biodegradable cleaning products or home methods such as vinegar.
13. Buy energy-efficient household appliances.
15. Stop using chemical pesticides on your lawn and garden.
16. Drive an energy-efficient car, take the bus, walk or ride a bicycle when possible.
The Sierra Club's checklist for a green home
Sprouts Baby Food,Inc.
Institute for Children's Environmental Health
Puget Consumers Co-Op (PCC) natural food co-operative
The Ideal Bite ("short and sassy" eco-living tips)
Living with Ed (tips from actor Ed Begley, Jr.)
Oregon Environmental Council
Family Footprint Form