Extreme Makeover: Green Edition

As "Eco" Moves Mainstream, Experts Are There to Help

Knowing what’s truly environmentally responsible and what’s just hype (or greenwashing) can be tough for the average person. There are whole constellations of products that boast of being natural, preservative-free, "fair traded" and healthy, but it can take quite a bit of self-education to know what is and what isn’t truly good for you and the planet.

Rosie Haas of Connecticut helps introduce people to greener products both on the Internet and through home-based parties.

As consumption-crazed Americans, we could all stand to buy less stuff, but the truth is that even the most monastic among us still needs to go shopping, whether for new sheets, baby shower gifts or next week’s menus. While it may be a virtuous New Year’s resolution to buy nothing this year, an easier (and more realistic) solution might be to buy less and buy responsibly. (While bartering, buying used or making your own are all great ways to cut down on planet-destroying consumerism, they’re not everybody’s cup of tea).

So, what products are truly eco-friendly, and which companies are just jumping on the green bandwagon? Now there are lifestyle experts for regular folks and movie stars alike to help you find fabulous green stuff when you need it.

Nouveau Tupperware Parties?

Natural Neighborhood’s Rosie Haas says that though she’s only had her business up and running since Earth Day 2005, the enthusiasm for her young company is growing faster than a new kitten. Based in her home in Norwalk, Connecticut, Natural Neighborhood sells soy and beeswax candles, raw food snacks, tea, coffee and chocolate, trail mixes, snack bars, pet supplies and food, pasta sauces and toddler treats as part of Haas" ever-expanding "eco-parties."

In the 1950s, in-home Tupperware parties were all the rage, but today’s Tupperware event is often online. Natural Neighborhood maintains a thriving online catalog, but Haas also goes the old-fashioned route by traveling to people’s homes and selling her wares personally to small groups. Besides retailing natural foods and gifts, she also educates the groups on the importance of buying organic, fair trade and locally made items. "Every time I go into someone’s home for a party, I know that I am recruiting and building a new customer base, and also teaching them," says Haas, who loves to work with people who have limited knowledge of natural products.

Haas handpicks all the products she sells, which are from a variety of companies. Though there are lots of products labeled "natural" these days, Haas notes, "Not that many companies have things that taste great, perform great and also adhere to organic and fair-trade standards. I don’t sell products that aren’t organic, have watered-down standards or are from large corporate suppliers."

Haas deals directly with the companies that make the 50-some different products she offers, so she can tell you all kinds of details about her wares, like where the vegetables are grown and how much farm workers are paid, or the interesting story behind a particular artisan. It’s the kind of information you"ll rarely find on the side of a box of Triscuits. And she’s got the gift of gab, her enthusiasm for good-for-the-Earth products punctuated by a memorable, infectious laugh. Haas isn’t just cashing in on the LOHAS trend, however, as she assures, "Everything I sell is an everyday essential, not clutter."

© Brian C. Howard

Eco Stars

Eco-celebrity Danny Seo is a young entrepreneur who shares Haas" infectious energy. He teaches Hollywood stars how to go green, showing them what’s really environmentally friendly in fashion, interior design and lifestyle choices. He also helps celebrities who are already environmentally conscious use their star power, connecting sympathetic stars with compassionate causes.

Seo hopes that by getting influential actors, singers, fashionistas and other trendsetters to go green, the rest of the public will follow. "The reality is that celebrities and the things they use have an impact on everything else in this country. I’m not here to reform Hollywood; I’m here to work within Hollywood," he says. While his fees are higher than what the average American could afford ($2,000 a day or more), Hollywood’s green corps (amply on display in the recent Earth to America special on TBS) has kept him busy.

Seo’s expertise is based on his own record of environmental activism. At age 12, he started what would become a 25,000-member group (the now-defunct Earth 2000). He’s also converted his parent’s home to a model of eco living, and written several books on green lifestyles. Seo has learned from both successes and mistakes about what green tactics work in the real world. "I call this way of living "super natural": a marriage of style, high-tech gadgets and a concern for the environment," says Seo.

While Seo himself may not be an affordable consultant for most of us, his distilled wisdom is on display in his book Conscious Style Home: Eco-Friendly Living for the 21st Century (St. Martin’s Press). The tome features information about how (and why) you can spruce up your home and make Mother Earth happy while you do it. As Seo says, "I want to give people an alternative that, if at all possible, is identical to what they’re already doing but better."

Chic Is As Chic Does

Chic Eco is the brainchild of Delia Montgomery, who recognized the need for a place for students, designers, journalists and others to find green resources and information. Montgomery publishes the Chic Eco Directory, which is chock full of such information.

Montgomery also offers green lifestyle consulting, which includes event styling for parties and conferences. Montgomery was unavailable for comment, but according to company materials, Chic Eco specializes in assisting organizations with everything from developing mailing lists and websites with green themes to creating marketing plans. She also serves as a spokesperson, coordinates special events, creates travel itineraries that are "complementary to your environmental image," acts as a personal shopping assistant and builds nontoxic and pleasant workspaces on large and small scales. The price for these services can vary, but is often around $50 an hour.

For those people who are busy but don’t feel that they have the time for an eco-education, people like Rosie Haas, Danny Seo and Delia Montgomery are here to help. When you know what’s behind the shiny packages on store shelves (pesticide and herbicide-laced snacks, shirts made by children earning pennies an hour, ecosystem-destroying farming techniques) shopping loses some of its fun. But with on-call green guides, it can get its charm back.

STARRE VARTAN is a freelance writer who is working to green her own lifestyle.

Editors" Note: For many more tips on how to decrease your environmental footprint in a wide range of ways, check out E’s 2005 book Green Living (www.emagazine.com/view/?2541).