By ANNE M. HAMILTON
Special To The Courant
Our choices may depend on our own personal styles. Some people are more comfortable with adopting a myriad of eco-tips. No one change in their behavior is significant, but taken together, many small changes can have an important impact.
Others prefer a more measured, long-term approach, a profound change in the way they do things. Both approaches have merit.
Over a decade ago, John Javna wrote a small book entitled "50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save the Earth." He published it himself, and to his surprise, it sold 5 million copies. It gave readers hundreds of ideas, from taking a cloth bag to the store to installing low-flow shower heads. In the new version (Hyperion, $12.95), Javna takes a different approach.
"Pick something you really care about that's going to make a lot of sense," he said. "Look for things that don't totally disrupt your life, that are going to have long-term consequences."
The organic food movement is an example. There's a growing conviction that eating organic is better for our bodies and better for the planet: fewer pesticides and less synthetic fertilizer to pollute rivers and streams. But buying only organic food is expensive and a huge commitment.
Javna suggests starting small. Decide you will spend $25 a week on organic food. If you have small children, you may want to begin with organic milk, and include soft fruit such as strawberries, tomatoes, apples, grapes and peaches, which retain higher levels of pesticide residues.
Bird lovers may choose to buy organic bananas, because pesticides used on banana plantations kill the migratory birds that live there. "When plants aren't treated with chemicals, birds eat the bugs," Javna said.
Preserving the rain forest is a tall order, but Javna said that buying shade-grown coffee will help significantly. It is cheaper and easier to grow coffee on hilltops in the sun, but that promotes the destruction of trees in the rain forest. Instead, he suggests buying coffee that has a "Fair Trade" certification. It means that environmentally sound practices have been used and that only a minimum of chemicals have been used, and there is no forced child labor.
Another approach is to concentrate on one category of expenditures: food, cleaning materials or energy use, and make sure that some choices in that category are green. Javna gives some suggestions on his Web site, www.50simplethings.com/market.
If you are concerned about reducing energy consumption, think about buying a new refrigerator, said Jessie Stratton, former co-chairwoman of the Environment Committee in the state legislature. Next to the water heater, the refrigerator is the largest consumer of energy in the house. "If it's over 10 years old, consider getting a new one," she said. Look for the Energy Star rating, and get one no larger than your family needs. As for the old one in the garage? Out with it. Now.
There are many ways to go green with food purchases. Buying locally grown foods supports local farmers and is relatively easy to do in Connecticut. Buying locally also means that less money and fuel are spent to bring food to market. That translates to less pollution and lower carbon emissions.
"Food will be fresher and healthier," said Javna.
The number of local farmers' markets is increasing every year; a list of these markets is available at www.ctfarmersmarkets.com. If you shop in the supermarket, seek out labels marking produce that is grown nearby.
"The more we talk about locally produced food, the more we understand the link between food and energy costs. Should we insist on having strawberries year-round?" said Mark Winne, former head of the Hartford Food System and author of "Closing the Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty" (Beacon Press, $23.95). "What we can do is be responsible about food choices."
Another food choice that does not require a drastic change in behavior is to buy less meat. Start with having one or two meatless meals a week, and explore combinations of beans and rice or cheese dishes that supply protein. Try a veggie burger, or grill some tofu with soy sauce.
Substitute fish, although that choice is now tempered by the knowledge that some species such as swordfish and Chilean sea bass are in danger of being overfished and should be avoided. Other types, like canned white tuna, may contain mercury. For guidance, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guides or download the Oceana seafood pocket guide.
Go green with your cleaning materials. Try using vinegar and baking soda, and add Bon Ami if a more abrasive cleaner is needed. The Clorox Co. recently launched a "natural" line of cleansers that are endorsed by the Sierra Club, and are claimed to clean as well as traditional products. The Green Works products include a natural glass and surface cleaner and an all-purpose cleaner.
Concerned that going natural will cost more? Altering spending patterns can free up money for organic products, which are generally more expensive.
"I encourage people to shift their spending to products and services that offer the biggest environmental benefit," said Diane MacEachern, author of "Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World" (Avery/Penguin Group, $17.95).
Instead of buying bottled water, use tap water, which may actually have to meet higher purity standards than bottled water. Packaging is expensive and wasteful, so buy larger quantities of pretzels or crackers rather than small, individual packages that can double the cost. Use a kitchen sponge and cloth rags instead of paper towels. Buy concentrated cleaning products, otherwise, you are paying the shipping costs of water in the larger-sized containers.
"If you have created room in your budget, it gives you that extra money to pay for the organic milk or organic produce," MacEachern said. "It's the equivalent of one rented movie. If people looked at it [that way] they would say, 'I can afford that.'"
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