Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010 - Standards Discussion

Happy Earth Day, Everyone!

I happened upon an article from Newsweek today subtitled Buying green and changing our personal behavior won't save the planet whose link I clicked only because I was offended and wanted to see what the author had in mind.  I've always felt that buying organic foods and trying to choose the most eco-friendly way to do something were like voting with my dollars.  Money talks and eventually companies will listen.

They have, but unfortunately, some companies are all too crafty about the way they listen.  Apart from the EPA's EnergyStar program, our society lacks a standard for "green".  Almost any company can interpret 'eco-friendliness' in any way they want and exploit the lack of definition to declare its products to be environmentally superior.  I think this is what the author of the article above is trying to get at.  Without standards and regulations, we can be like a large herd of sheep - changing direction whenever the Border Collie of Marketing tells us something else is "more green".

I've been inspired to look into what some organizations are doing to fix this problem, but it's a tough pool to wade through, so instead of swimming through miles of legal documents, I'm interested in hearing what you know about the topic.  Email me at or post a comment if you know of a good organization or standard that seems to be catching on.

The EPA has some standards for setting standards that some groups/products are using.  There are several organizations like The Green Seal that have taken it upon themselves to create independent standards and labels.  ISO 14000 is a global standard for processes that businesses can follow.  Also, of course, the European Union seems to be light-years ahead of us in terms of setting standards.

Most companies also have their own standards for environmental activities.  Here are IBM's (who I work for!) environmental policies and initiatives:  I think they do a pretty good job for a massive, worldwide organization, but they have a long way to go.  Imagine if we had tough standards that all companies/products had to follow?  Assuming most companies could be innovative enough to meet those standards without massive layoffs, I can only imagine how quickly we could clean up our act.

So the moral for me is don't stop your individual green activities, but in parallel see if you can influence and spread standards/laws that will enforce that more people follow sound environmental practices!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

One Baby No-Brainer: Cloth Diapers

There is one obvious choice you can make as a mom that will cut your family's garbage output in half and keep you from, literally, throwing your money away: use cloth diapers. With their waterproof outer shells and variety of systems, they are no longer your mother's cloth diapers.  Read on for why it makes a lot of sense (and cents!) to avoid disposables and how to get started!

 Photo Credits:

Environmental, Health, and Cost Benefits

The absolute best source I've found for facts on cloth diapering is the Real Diaper Association's Diaper Facts.  Copyrighted, so I can't reproduce them here, but read this quickly and you'll understand why cloth diapers look so good to an eco-minded mom.

It is estimated that one kid uses around 8,000 disposable diapers in its lifetime.  No disposable diapers have ever fully biodegraded since they were invented, as scientists think it will take between 250-500 years for one diaper to decompose.  If a new generation comes along every 30 years, that means your kids' first diaper will not decompose until their great, great, great, great, great grandchild is 10 years old, at the earliest.  As you're waiting for that one diaper to decompose, the rest of the world is adding between 18 & 27 billion (estimates vary) diapers to your landfill each year.

On top of the issue of plastic waste, there are other ingredients that go into a disposable diaper such a wood pulp (an estimated 250,000 trees per year) and some ingredients that are known carcinogens, such as Dioxin and Tributyl-Tin.  Granted, companies do a pretty good job of removing these carcinogens once they're found, but that doesn't help the moms that have used these diapers up to that point.  On the flipside, natural clothing (i.e. cloth not saturated in added chemicals) has never been found to cause issues.  Cloth is cloth and we've been using it safely for thousands of years!

If the environment and health aren't enough, consider the costs.  You have an initial investment of between $400 & $800 for cloth diapers.  You also have the ongoing costs of water and electricity to clean these diapers.  Given that you'll use more disposables than cloth diapers over the lifetime of each child (8,000 vs. 5-6,000 - due to the fact that children using cloth can feel they are wet and potty-train more quickly), I've seen savings quotes of between $1500-$2000 per child.  That's significant.

There are plenty of naysayers out there and plenty of reasons to be scared of cloth diapers.  However, make sure you have the facts.

Information & Facts on Cloth Diapering

Why should you believe a bunch of stupid websites with facts (many of which don't have sources to back them up) declaring that cloth diapering is amazing?  I'm not sure I do, but the people I do believe are the moms out there doing it!

If you have any questions about anything cloth diaper-related, I highly recommend visiting the BabyCenter's Cloth Diapering Forum, which has almost 7,000 members.  It is by far one of the more active forums I participate in!  What's more, it's encouraging to hear what works, what doesn't, and what's true from real moms in the trenches.

For an overview of the myths and facts on cloth diapering, visit The Diaper Jungle's Cloth Diaper Myths page.

One of the top complaints about cloth diapering is its laundry aspect.  If you have 36 cloth diapers on hand, you'll end up doing laundry every three days with a full load.  In the mean time you shake off the solids and throw the diapers into a pail to wait for laundry day, when you can just throw them into the washing machine.  It doesn't sound too bad, but an alternative would be using a diaper service - someone that comes to pick up your dirty diapers, cleans them, and drops off clean ones.  To locate a diaper service near you, check out the National Association of Diaper Services website.

Types & Brands

This discussion will be a future post in and of itself, but here are the basics.

There are a lot of websites out there that will give you an overview of the types of cloth diapers available, such as this one from  However, I found the choices and explanations really, really confusing while first investigating cloth diapering.  What I really wanted was a demonstration!

My top suggestion for beginners: Canada's Diaper Ladies offers a free DVD on cloth diapering that includes diapering and laundering demonstrations (on dolls) and information about different brands.  While they are selling their own set of cloth diapers, I found the sales pitch easy enough to peel away and I walked away finally feeling like I understood cloth diapering!

Future Posts

In the next post, I'll go into details on the different types and brands of cloth diapers available, plus what I've decided to try.  When the baby comes, I will be keeping detailed notes about my costs, how many times I wash, which brands I like best, etc, so stay tuned!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Maternity Gear

I hit the 20-week (half-way!) mile marker and my pants are getting tighter.  I not only need some new clothes fast, but I want them to be COMFORTABLE and make me feel somewhat normal!

There are lots of ways to create a whole new maternity wardrobe that's also earth-friendly: shopping second-hand stores, buying earth-friendly fabrics and production methods, borrowing from friends or making your own!

Second-Hand - Easy on the Earth, Easy on the Wallet

If you've been considering shopping a second-hand clothing store for its recycling-oriented eco-benefits, but haven't taken the plunge, maternity may be the perfect time to get started.  I didn't want to spend a ton on my maternity clothes and so many people use their old mom clothes so little, you have the chance to find some real bargains!

Most cities have consignment shops, thrift stores, and second-hand stores.  Search the internet, ask around, or check your phone book for places near you.  Here are a few nation-wide chains and websites for finding local thrift stores:

The Thrift Shopper - National list of charity-driven thrift stores with ratings
National Association of Retail & Thrift Shops - List of member local resale shops around the country
Good Will Industries

I live in rural America and none of the sites above mention locations in my area.  If this is your problem, open and search for "Thrift Stores".  If there is one near you, it will usually pop up in the search results:

I had great luck shopping at second-hand stores (read the My Picks section below), but it's not for everyone.  Make sure you check each piece for hidden defects and wash the clothes you bring home before wearing (even though most places do this before adding them to the shelves).  Find a store you like and ask them if there are any upcoming sales on their maternity clothes.  It also doesn't hurt to ask for discounts.  If there is a flaw with the garment, but you still like it, ask for a few dollars off.  Read on for more earth-friendly shopping tips!

Earth-Friendly Fabrics & Production Methods

If you have a bit more money or don't think second-hand shopping if for you, try these links for fabulous earth-friendly maternity clothing ideas:

Euphoria Maternity - Their "Shop Green" link gets you to a variety of organic tops
Jessica Scott - Excellent designs from a husband & wife design team with a conscience; they donate 2.5% of their profits to the Children's Health Environmental Coalition 
The Cradle Community's Eco-Friendly Maternity Tips - Links to many a great, but expensive eco-friendly shop

I've tried hard to find bargain eco-maternity sites for new clothing, but I honestly don't think they exist.  Organic fabrics are still special items demanding premium pricing.  So, if you're looking to save a few bucks on clothes you may not wear very long, the other options in this article will be much more your style.

Your Husband's/Friends' Closets

Have a friend that's not using her maternity clothes anymore?  Don't be afraid to ask her to borrow them.  She may be relieved to get them out of her closet and it's nice to know the clothes are going to a good cause.

Is your husband a bit larger than you?  See if he's willing to share some of his shirts for a while.  Check your closet too, you may have saved a few of those free, but huge T-Shirts from various events - now's the time to pull those out.  

Make Your Own

The formula for this one is Time + Patience + Skill = Great Eco-Outfits!  I have a couple friends who I know are good at and love to make their own clothes, so I know there are lots of others out there too.  The best part about this option is you're in charge of the fabric and production, so the final product can be as eco-friendly as you'd like!

Patterns:'s List of Maternity & Nursing Patterns's Maternity Patterns - A couple free maternity patterns & ideas for altering your clothes
Jan Andrea's Baby Crafts - Pattern adaptations for maternity
Inhabitots - Great tips on transforming your current wardrobe

Treehugger - Mini Directory of Green Fabrics
Atlantis Fabrics - Choose from a variety of different organic fabric types via the left menu
PickNatural - Wholesale fabrics for those willing to order 10 yards or more of each type

My Picks

I shopped a couple second-hand stores in Rochester, MN for my maternity gear.  Your luck really depends on your tastes and what's available in the area you live.  The first one, Good Will, was not a gold mine for me, but I did find two tops for under $10.  There are Good Wills all over the country, so check out this site to find one near you:

My second stop really was a gold mine.  I hit Savers, another nation-wide chain at just the right time.  Not only did they have more items that were my style, but all shirts were on sale!  I bought three pairs of pants and four shirts for $25.  I felt like the savviest shopper on the planet, but in reality, my patience paid off and I ended up in the right place at the right time.

Grand Total: $35

I'll also supplement this with a few of my husband's old shirts and hope my stretchy workout/pajama pants are already good to go.  I work from home, so I don't need a lot of dressy outfits.  If you do, you're in luck as most of the clothing at these second-hand stores were work-oriented and pretty cute, considering you've got a giant gut to hide.  Just be flexible and shop early and often to find the best deals.

Good luck finding your perfect eco-maternity wardrobe!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Exercising While Pregnant

Doctors almost unanimously agree that you should continue your normal exercise routine, modified if necessary, throughout your pregnancy.  Of course, you should always talk to your doctor about your specific needs, but several studies have shown that exercising while pregnant helps you "increase circulation, avoid excessive weight gain, decrease fatigue, nausea, risk of blood clots, and lower back pain, improve your posture, reduce your risk for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, increase your third trimester comfort, diminish depression" and my personal favorite: "shorten labor". - Fit & Pregnant by Joan Marie Butler, RNC, CNM
 However, I'm finding it incredibly difficult to keep up my normal exercise routine, let alone find one that is eco-friendly.  Before pregnancy, I normally ran a 5K most mornings, then did sit-ups or lifted hand weights, and mixed it all up with some elliptical work when I got tired of running.  I was pretty active and determined to stay that way throughout my pregnancy.   It didn't take more than a few weeks for my running routine to cause "stomach problems" and at around my fourth month, I started having dull lower back pains for 24 hours after I ran.  Obviously something had to change.

There are a lot of guides to healthy exercising while pregnant.  My favorite is this book: Fit & Pregnant: The Pregnant Woman's Guide to Exercise by Joan Marie Butler, RNC, CNM.  It goes beyond the basic, easy pregnancy routines for women who weren't really active before pregnancy, explains some of the studies behind pregnant exercising (while leaving out the bulk of the super-scientific debates), talks about nutrition, describes what you shouldn't do, and goes through a variety of activities, one-by-one, explaining what you can do and how to modify the activity as you get larger.  The various topics include stretching, pilates/yoga, aerobics, weight training, running/walking/hiking, swimming/water aerobics, cycling, and winter activities.

A few online guides are available also, which can help get you started, but tend to focus on what you can't do:

WebMD: Exercise During Pregnancy
BabyCenter: Healthy Exercises for Pregnancy & Answers to Exercise FAQs

What you can do, it turns out, is continue doing almost everything to a degree.  I've found that the absolute best exercises for me have been swimming (anything that helps support your extra weight is a great thing) and yoga.  I've been using Shiva Rea's Prenatal Yoga DVD, which, for each pose shows a modified pose for each trimester.  I am a yoga beginner and can't say enough wonderful things about it - it makes me feel like a million bucks every time.  The breathing and control exercises supposedly help you get through labor as well.

I've also found biking, hiking/walking and the elliptical machine (lower impact exercises than running) to be excellent.  One other adjustment I've made is to move my routine to after work, instead of morning.  This gives me more sleep at night and helps with the fatigue of pregnancy!

Continue to be Planet-Conscious

Now that we know what we can do - how do we turn these activities into eco-friendly ones?  Easy!  Almost all of the exercises mentioned above can be done outside if the weather allows it.  Go for a fabulous hike or walk through your neighborhood or a nearby park.  Use a real bike instead of a stationary one, or check out this device, which turns your outdoor bike stationary and stores the green energy you produce to power small appliances!  Once you learn a fun yoga routine, lose the DVD and take it outside (my personal favorite is yoga on the beach if you live near one) or walk to a class.  Swim in a clean lake or salt-water pool (sometimes this can be hard, so cut yourself some slack and use a normal, chlorinated pool if you must - I tend to think the benefits of staying healthy translate to your child and trump long drives to a lake or the ocean).  Is it winter?  Grab some cross-country skis or snowshoes or find a gym with an indoor track.  Do your kegels and stretching anywhere, any time.  Like yoga, this also can be a great stress-relief and helps get you through labor.

Whatever you end up doing, staying active will make you feel loads better during your pregnancy.  Be flexible with your routine and schedule, knowing you can get back into your normal routine in just a few months!