Helping Your Family to Go Green

What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? – Henry David Thoreau

Earth Day has come and gone but the impact doesn’t have to. Let the day and its experiences serve as a jumping off point for your family to go “green.”

There are two facets to being “green.” The first facet is about how you and your family affect the environment. This is reflected by doing things we hear a lot about, like: recycling, composting, using both sides of the paper, turning off the water while you are brushing your teeth and turning off the lights when you leave the room. The second facet is about how you let the environment (and all the current chemicals) affect your family. In the last few decades approximately 82,000 new and synthetic chemical compounds have been introduced to our environment, less than 10 percent of which have been tested for safety. In this context, therefore, being “green” means protecting your family as well as the environment.

Having “green” values is a wonderful way to unite a family through common goals and a shared family philosophy. The thoughtful practices involved in having an environmentally conscious family extend outwards; the child who thinks about recycling is less likely to throw away a half-eaten lunch and is more likely to look around for a child who might still be hungry after eating his own lunch at school. Compassion for the Earth inspires compassion for other people and animals. Also, eco-friendly practices can extend the lives of your family members. Take plastic bottles for example. The use and reuse of plastic bottles, which often contains the hormone disrupter bisphenol-A (BPA), has been linked to diabetes, declining sperm count, obesity, and breast and prostate cancer. Making a choice to eliminate plastic bottles could help the environment as well as making your family healthier.

When I began doing the research for my latest book SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years I was overwhelmed by all the things I needed to do to help our family go “greener.” I wanted to do them all but it seemed nearly impossible to make them all happen at once. What I learned writing the book was that small steps can make a big difference and that you don’t have to make every change overnight.

Changing the products you buy is a great first step and can make a big difference. For example triclosan, one of the key chemicals in antibacterial products, is a hormone disrupter that has also been linked to weakened immune systems, decreased fertility, altered sex hormones, birth defects, and cancer. So pervasive is this chemical in our everyday lives that a 2004 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly three-quarters of adults and children older than six had detectable levels of triclosan in their systems. When you wash your hands with an antibacterial soap, it breaks down rapidly, due to the warm, chlorinated water that you have probably been instructed to use for optimal hand-washing protocol. According to a 2005 study printed in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, however, using warm, chlorinated water forms toxic chemicals, including chloroform, in as little as a minute. These chemicals then travel down the drain, ending up in rivers and streams harming wildlife. “Walk up to any two streams in the U.S., and one will contain triclosan and triclocarban,” says Dr. Rolf Halden, associate professor at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute. Once you know to avoid triclosan, it is easy enough to find great hand sanitizing products and soaps that don’t have it like: Burt’s Bees, Cleanwell, EO, Nature’s Paradise, and many others.

Wondering what you can do to get your family off to a “green” start? Try these tips:

  • Have a weekly family meeting  to discuss family business and make one new “green” goal each week.
  • Make a family pact to not use plastic for one week or have a contest to see who can go the longest.
  • Plant a vegetable garden together. It is great way to do something kind for the environment, save money, work together, and kids are more enthusiastic about eating the food they grow.
  • It you are not ready to go vegan or vegetarian, try “Meatless Mondays”. Research has shown that animal agriculture is the single largest source of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is twenty-one times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
  • Change cleaning products to less toxic chemicals. Not only is it better for the environment but it means you can get your kids more involved cleaning the house without worrying about inhaling toxic fumes.
  • Read “green” books together. Books are one of the best ways to reinforce the environmental message. You can start at birth with “green” board books. Don’t forget to continue to read to your child, even after he can read to himself. It is a great way to connect and talk about your beliefs.

Some terrific “green” books to get your family started are: Eco Babies Wear Green , I’m Not Too Little to Help the Earth, The Earth and I , Growing Green: A Young Person’s Guide to Taking Care of the Planet , 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World, The Lorax , Michael Recycle Meets Litterbug Doug Winston of Churchill: One Bear’s Battle Against Global Warming and The Down-to earth Guide to Global Warming.