Posts tagged green products

My Green Gurus

Well its been about a week since my last post, but I have a good excuse.  My aunt and uncle were in from out of town and I had the pleasure of hosting them and showing them my version of Boston.  In addition to the Arnold Arboretum and the Mt. Auburn cemetery, we went to Harvard’s Museum of Natural History to see the glass flower exhibit and took a day trip to the Cape.  It was a great visit!

It was also a good test of my “greenness” since my aunt and uncle have been doing the green/sustainability thing since before it had a name.   In fact they are my green gurus, and much of what I know about sustainability I learned from them as a child, when my sisters and I spent summers with them.

They live on the West Coast in an area that was very rural until very recently, and was filled mostly with hippie transplants from other places when they got there in the early 1970’s.  They built their first home themselves, and lived there for years without running water or electricity.  Only after the birth of their second child did they move to a modest home on a small farm with a well and a septic system.  They reuse, recycle or compost almost everything.  They grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise their own chickens and sheep, and drive a hybrid.  Their washing machine is a front loader and their hot water heater is tankless.

Because they live on a farm with only well water, they are extremely conscious of their water consumption.  They were the first to introduce me to the concept of “If its yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.”  As a city kid I was horrified that there were people who didn’t flush the toilet every time they used it, and quite frankly even today I would rather save water in other ways.  I also couldn’t understand their obsession with shutting off the lawn sprinklers, until they were accidentally left on one night and we didn’t have water for a couple of days.

So when they asked if they could stay with me I was very excited to show them how much of what they had taught me I actually adopted.  The first thing I did when they arrived was give them the eco tour of my apartment, pointing out the counter top compost container, the compost bin the yard, the organic milk, eggs and vegetables in the fridge, the bowl filled with organic fruit on the dining room table, the CF light bulbs.  I was a little nervous.  Would they approve?  Had I done enough?

Overall, I think they were happy with what I had done, but my uncle pointed out my areas of improvement.  He followed me around the house shutting off lights that I had left on, and suggested that I put all of my electrical appliances on power strips and turn off the power strips when the appliances aren’t in use.   I thought those were great suggestions for next steps.  I have a long way to go before I get to their level of greeness, and I don’t ever picture myself living without plumbing and electricity. (To be fair though, at this point neither do they.   I think we would all agree that  home powered fully by wind and solar would be nice. )

I feel very lucky to have had them as such a strong influence in my life.  Everyone should have such great mentors to help walk them down the path to a green life!


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Should Pets Go Green?

Last summer when I kicked my greening initiative into high gear, I decided that my two cats needed to jump on the bandwagon as well.  This became even more urgent when I learned a little more about where cat litter comes from and the impact on the environment (a good discussion of this can be found at While I didn’t really know what my cats would think about this, I just assumed that they were totally on board.  In hindsight, I should have tried to get a little more buy- in before initiating the change (more about this later).

I went to a local branch of a national pet store chain and was pleasantly surprised by the selection of green litters they had.  After reviewing my options, I settled on one that was made from recycled pine shavings. The cat litter looked a bit like rabbit food or chopped up pretzel sticks, but it smelled good, and had very little dust.  In addition, it was very light, making it a lot easier to handle than the 20 pounds tubs I was used to buying.

I got home and replaced the clumping clay litter I had been using for years with the new pine litter.  It seemed like the cats liked it pretty well.  I scooped debris from the box every day, and there were no accidents outside the box.  Pretty good, right?

My first sign of something strange happened about a week into the experiment.  I was scooping debris from the cat box and found what can only be described as a human sized poo.   Yes, a human sized poo.  For those of you with cats, you know that this is highly unusual.  Even on their most productive day, my cats’ poo is really not that big.  One of my cats was recovering from some minor surgery, and I attributed the change in poo size to the antibiotics he was taking to prevent infection.

The cat poor cat who didn't like the pine litter :(

The poor cat who didn't like the pine litter

I kept an eye on the cat box over the next few days, with nothing unusual to report.  At the same time, however, my calico cat, was becoming more and more lethargic.  While it was not unusual for her to sit on top of the kitchen cabinets, she had gotten to the point where she was spending all of her time there.  She was sleeping more and more, and wouldn’t even come down when I ran water in the kitchen sink.  This was highly unusual.  In fact, she even stopped responding when I called her name (also highly unusual).

I was about ready to call the vet to bring her in when I found yet another human sized poo in the box.  Hmm.  Didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something was up.  A friend suggested that I switch back to the old litter and see what happened.  I made the switch immediately and within 24 hours the cat was back to her active, affectionate self.  Mystery solved.  My poor cat hated the pine litter so much that she let herself get totally impacted : (

I realize that I could have handled the transition to the new litter a lot better.  In hindsight:

  • I should have gotten “buy-in” from the cats.  Okay, I know its a bit strange to say that I should have gotten “buy-in” from them, but most people would agree that the reason many projects fail is that the people in charge don’t get the agreement of the people being affected.  I guess this is true for cats as well.  While there was no way to talk to the cats to get them to agree that green litter was better,  I could potentially have achieved something similar by by adding the new pine litter to the old litter a little bit at a time so they could get used to it.  This is the method suggested on Green Little Cat, which has a great post on how to handle the transition (  I wish this post had been available last summer.  I’m not sure it would have changed the outcome, but it would have increased the odds that the cats would adapt to the new litter.  Even with this knowledge, I’m hesitant to try changing the cats’ litter again.  Instead I freecycled what was left of the big bag of pine litter.
  • I should have tried a litter that was more similar to the clay litter the cats were used to. There are plenty of natural litters on he market, each with a unique look, feel, and smell.  I may try to find one the cats like sometime in the future.  For now though, I think I’ll leave my cats alone.  They didn’t ask to go green.

There are also a lot of different ways to help your pets live a greener life, changing cat litter is only one option. Green Little Cat had a wonderful series “The 30 Day Green Cat Challenge.”  Check it out to see what else you can do to help your cat be more environmentally friendly.

To answer the question: “Should pets go green?” the answer is yes if your pet will tolerate it, no if they won’t.   Any effort to green your pet should be done with great care.  Even changes that seem pretty minor can have a huge impact on it’s health and well being.  Your pets’ health and wellbeing is just as important as the environment, and as their stewards we need to balance their needs with our wants.

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Down to Earth in Boston

The other day some friends and I headed over to D2E, the sustainability expo now in its second year in Boston.  They had a great range of exhibitors from vendors of solar panels, to green clothing and lots of baby goods.  There were definitely some favorites:

  • Green Depot ( They have a wide range of household goods from LED lights for your chandelier to monitors that let you know how much energy your appliances are using when they are turned off.  I bought a counter-top compost container, which was identical to the ones at Williams-Sonoma, but at a much better price.  They have great customer service (which I will probably talk about in another post) and I definitely plan to shop with them again.
  • Jute & Jackfruit ( Great selection of designer clothes made from sustainable materials.  They do a great job of finding clothes and accessories that are cute and green.  My favorite were these clutch handbags made from soda can pulls crocheted together by women in Brazil.

In addition to the booths, they had some great workshops and demonstrations, including a green fashion show and a talk from MIT researchers about the future of transportation.  The organizing team did a great job and I’ll definitely go again next year!

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