Leslie Garrett is the mother of three, an award winning journalist and acclaimed author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World.
I was introduced to the "Queen of Green" at a publishing event, found myself inspired to attend her talk "Green Your Holidays: Enjoy Peace of Mind and Peace on Earth", and wanted to share a few of her insights.
Q & A with Leslie Garrett
1. For those of use interested in preparing a greener holiday where would you suggest we start? Support local?
I think the holidays can simply bring into clearer focus things that we can do on a daily basis. Supporting local businesses is a great way to shop year-round. By buying local, 73¢ of every dollar stays in your community, in the form of payroll, taxes, marketing... By buying your food locally, you also eliminate the roughly 1,500 miles most of our food travels to our plates, which of course eliminates the greenhouse gases from such a long trip. It also contributes to diversity in products and services -- by filling the pond with lots of little fish, rather than a few big ones (to mix my metaphors).
2. What is your take on the Christmas tree debate?
It's on of those "shades of green" debates that seem so common in the eco-living sphere. On the one hand, a fake tree is reusable...over and over and over, which is a good thing. On the other, it's frequently made of vinyl, the most toxic of plastics, and shipped from China, so that's a bad thing. I generally offer up the advice that if you've already got a fake tree, go ahead and keep using it until it looks like something out of Charlie Brown's Christmas. If not, stick to real trees -- ideally from an organic, local grower. To those who argue that we shouldn't cut down trees, my response is that Christmas tree farms PLANT trees to be cut down. And while they're growing, they're doing the great thing that trees do, which is absorb our carbon dioxide. But if people weren't buying them for Christmas trees, they wouldn't be planted in the first place.
3. Do you have any advice on how to save money and avoid waste on all the holiday trappings like wrapping paper and boxed items?
I often remind people that the 3 R's -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -- is really all any of us need. It really is that simple. Reduce your consumption. Don't go for quantity, go for quality. Scale back on the gift-giving and perhaps give services or "help" instead of things. For example, offer to shovel someone's driveway, or teach them to sew, or give them a certificate for a weekly supply of tomatoes when your garden is planted. Reuse -- save wrapping paper and gift bags and bows. Reuse boxes. And Recycle -- well, we all love THAT one because it's generally the easiest. But if we pay more attention to the first two, there won't be much left to recycle. And that's a good thing.
4. How can we stick to a planet friendly plan using the 3 R's when there's so much gift-giving pressure and consumerism?
Accept that it won't be easy. Any time you "change the rules", you're going to get some backlash. I got it from my family -- both sides implying I was being a Scrooge. I stuck to my guns (for example, I kept suggesting we buy only for the kids, rather than buy for an increasingly large family) and, it took a year or two, but everyone came around. Gifts have become less extravagant, too, which puts the focus back on being together and enjoying a great meal rather than the "stuff" under the tree. We're all happier because of it...not to mention less stressed financially and emotionally.
5. Nobody wants to come off as a Grinch when trying to scale down the holidays. How can we bring family and friends on board without being called a Scrooge behind our back?
I think the key is not being dictatorial or acting like a martyr. No-one wants to be made to feel guilty. The key is to suggest changes that will make everyone feel better...such as me suggesting we no longer buy gifts for all the adults. I also offered up earth-friendly suggestions when asked what my kids wanted: I would mention LEGO, which is PVC-free, meaning it's a "safe" plastic. Or I'd suggest they donate to a favorite charity. Rather than insist on change, I suggested it...strongly, perhaps, but still a suggestion. And I made it clear with my own choices: I offered up gifts that I felt good about giving. Food that I felt good about bringing...
6. What opinion do you hold about on-line shopping?
I think it's great to support our local retailers, but from an environmental perspective, ordering online is generally better for the planet in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, than each of us getting into our cars and driving to our big-box mall. For every delivery vehicle you see on the road, it generally means there are nine less individual vehicles on the road. So click away!
7. We like our holiday edibles to be sweet and savoury but how can we make them more environmentally savvy? I'm thinking homemade treats, free-range turkey, and real cranberries instead of canned.
It's always wise to buy organic when you can find it..and when you can afford it. The environmental toll of pesticides and chemical fertilizers is huge so any time we can reduce that in our own bodies and our own communities, we should. What's more, the more of us who buy organic, the louder the message we send to farmers and food companies - that we want food that's not contaminated. And yes, homemade is generally better for us (ever read the ingredients in most packaged products? What is most of that stuff?).
8. What can you suggest as alternatives to purchased gift items?
Gifts of experience or talent are wonderful. One thing ALL of us agree we need is more time. By offering to help someone, you're giving them that gift - either taking a chore off their list...or giving them the gift of your time. Charities need our help more than ever...the financial crisis has elevated need and decreased donations. So that's another great option. I gave my children's teachers the gift of a charitable donation in their name to provide educational supplies to children in need. I don't know of many teachers who really want more bath supplies or "#1 Teacher" mugs
9. Toy safety is a major concern. What do you look for when buying toys for your children? Can you recommend sites to check for recalls?
The past few years has seen more toy recalls than ever before. The good news is that it prompted US legislation to eliminate the most common offenders. The bad news is that new offenders simply pop up to take the place of cheap materials deemed unsafe. I've written about it here, including where you can find up-to-date info: http://www.virtuousconsumer.com/meet-the-new-toxin-in-toyland/
10. After the holiday hullabaloo subsides, how can we adopt a greener lifestyle and make more earth friendly choices as consumers in the new year?
It can seem overwhelming to try and do it all. It's like trying to run a marathon by going out and tackling 26 miles. Instead, take it a mile at a time. You might start by finding a local farmer to source your family's produce and meat. Get used to that -- when the food will arrive, what you'll have to do (for example, peel and store carrots rather than buying them already peeled and bagged) and enjoy how GOOD it tastes. Once that's routine, start switching out your cleaning supplies-- either by buying safer ones, or making your own (it's surprisingly easy. And cheap!). Next on your list, might be to start driving less -- perhaps you make it a goal to walk or bike for any trip less than 4 kilometres. Perhaps you decide to stop driving your kids to school (which, incidentally, is a GREAT thing to do. Studies show that kids who walk to school score higher on tests, not to mention they're generally healthier and more fit.). You might consider what I think is the easiest, most impactful change of all -- switching to a "green" energy provider (in Ontario, and other parts of Canada, that's Bullfrog Power). It's more expensive...but how you heat and cool your home has a HUGE impact on your carbon footprint. And it's as simple as a phone call.
After awhile, you'll notice that all these "green" changes become just the way you do things. For example, I no longer think about line-drying my clothes, it's just what I do when the weather turns warmer. I love the smell of line-dried clothes, my clothes last longer, look better... I compost without thinking. Cook from scratch without thinking. The thinking part for me comes when I have to replace something, such as a water heater, which we just did. We went with a tankless water heater because it's far more energy efficient. But I had to think about the options... the rest of the stuff has just become part of my routine. As a result, I save money, get exercise from walking/biking, and feel better about my impact on the planet and the message I'm giving my kids.
The Virtuous Consumer is available to purchase from Chapters Indigo, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com. Visit Leslie Garrett's website www.virtuousconsumer.com for more information and follow her on Twitter: @VirtuousConsumR.
BOOKALICIOUS BOOK GRAB GIVEAWAY
I have a signed copy of Leslie Garrett's "The Virtuous Consumer" to give to a lucky Bookalicious reader who answers one of the questions, "How did you use the 3 R's in your holiday celebrations?" or "How do you plan to reduce, reuse and recycle in new year?"
Yummy Rules and Regulations
You must be a Yummy Mummy Club member to win. Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per member. Entries accepted until Friday, December 31st, 2010. Contest open to Canadian residents only. Winners will be picked using www.random.org.
Wanda Lynne Young