Eleven effective habits for a greener 2011

In 2011 green will be the thing. It's the fastest growing trend in food, buildings, and businesses. Don't miss out--green is the new bottom line. Here are 11 habits that will get you out of the dark and into the green. Get good at them and you will save resources, money, and your health AND you will have fun in the process.

1. Make ORGANIC a habit

Organic food, products, and materials can improve your chances of living a healthy life (especially for children), decrease your propensity toward certain diseases (like obesity, certain cancers, and even ADHD), and keep dangerous pesticides out of the environment. The majority of green house gas emissions from food occur before leaving the farm gate—so eating organic food can reduce your carbon footprint even more than eating local, but doing both is the best.  Make a habit of visiting your local farmer’s market and you will be helping your local economy, getting the healthiest food possible, and spending less per nutrient than in the aisle of the grocery store. Memorize the dirty dozen and you will never be stranded wondering whether it is worth more to buy the organic apple versus the conventional one.

2. Learn to count carbon

Ten years ago, you might have wanted to drop 10 pounds—this year it is time to drop a ton; of carbon, that is. If you haven’t done it yet, it is time to calculate your carbon footprint (the overall measure of how much green house gas you are responsible for in your everyday living). Then, see if you can drop at least a ton (average carbon footprint for a North American is 20 tons, versus 4 tons is the global average).

Find a carbon calculator that works for you.  In the U.S. try this good one from Berkeley  or elsewhere try the carbon footprint calculator for your home or business.

3. Develop your personal “triple bottom line”

In business, the green economy has gotten many small and large corporations thinking about the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. If all three aren’t being considered, then your business isn’t sustainable.  This same habit of successful green businesses, can help you successfully green your life. For instance, when deciding what toy to buy your child you might consider: Which is healthier? The Rock n Roll Elmo or  the wooden dollhouse (Think: Is it likely to be recalled, is it safe if my child chews on it, does it make me happy?) Which is more ecologically sound? (Think: where was it made, does it contain plastic and other things that can’t biodegrade, is it likely to be recycled?) Is it good value? (Think: Will it last for a long time, can I really afford it now, could I save the money and do without?)

Eventually, you will find that a fourth “p” emerges too: Phun!

4. Read labels, especially on personal care products.

Start by looking for the USDA Organic or Canadian Biologue labels, both of which ensure that the products inside are really grown according to organic standards AND the label ensures that there isn’t a bunch of other junk (like listed below) added. NEVER wash your hands or shower with anything that says it is anti-bacterial. And DO remember to avoid these ingredients: Fragrance and dyes, Parabens or –paraben, PEG and “-eth”, Triclosan, DMDM hydantoin, and Methylisothiazolinone, Sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate, TEA. 

5. Curb your purchasing of packaged goods

It’s easy to forget when living in North America just how much less packaging is really required. In India, I remember buying eggs one by one and never once did I use a package. Now, that is obviously an extreme example, but no doubt there are a dozen daily examples where you would be willing to forego the packaged item. For instance, organic spinach in a bunch instead of a huge plastic box of it pre-washed will cut your waste in half AND cut the carbon footprint of your purchase.  If you really get into this one, you will also curb your eating of processed foods.

A few tricks: buy frozen instead of canned (canned food is more processed, have fewer nutrients, and are lined with BPA-laden plastic), consider bulk foods, and take your own left-over containers to restaurants or just leave it on your plate in lieu of energy intensive (and icky for your health) Styrofoam. Outside of the food realm, the same rules apply: try for glass or metal containers instead of plastic, avoid products over-packaged, and just say "no" to the bag at check-out.

6. Get plastic savvy

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