A Guide to Greener Cleaning

E reviews several green guides.

When it comes to environmental commitment, all we need is a guide. There are many, many of these guides to chose from, not neglecting E’s own contribution to the genre: which features greener ways to raise babies, heat houses and drive cars (available on Amazon!). But enough about us. Environmental and children’s health advocate Deirdre Imus (and wife to the line-crossing former radio host Don Imus) has made her own foray into the world of environmental guides with Green This! Volume One: Greening Your Cleaning (Simon & Schuster, $15.95), a readable, prac-tical how-to book on really ridding your home of toxins.

Not only is the book full of scary stories such as the fact that dishwashers open at the level of kids" mouths, sending "chlorine vapors…straight into their bodies," but it’s chock-full of the kind of useful solutions parents and concerned consumers can use. With five essential products—distilled white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide and table salt—one can pretty much tackle any task from clearing drains to scouring pans to softening laundry and washing windows. "A good nontoxic cleaner like white distilled vinegar replaces all your chlorine bleach products," Deirdre told us in a recent interview. The environmental advocate is the real deal—she founded The Deirdre Imus Environ-mental Center for Pediatric Oncology and launched a line of green products (Greening the Cleaning) and all proceeds from sales of those cleaners and the books are going to help research for kids with cancer.

While Deirdre recognizes that most people won’t want to get as heavily invested in chemical research as she has, she said the book’s message boils down to this essential: "With cleaning products, it’s important that you’re not using ingredients that have been listed as possible or known carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone disruptors, endocrine disruptors and teratogens: no ammonia, no chlorine bleach, no phosphate, no formaldehyde, no benzene, no toluene, no petroleum-based ingredients." The best way to determine the contents? "Look for a cleaning product that discloses all the ingredients right on the label," Deirdre says. "That"ll eliminate almost all of the products." Not including hers, of course.
—Brita Belli

GUIDE TO THE SIMPLE LIFE

Guides are much more readable when they come in large print with lots of color photographs. Even if the suggestion to "Keep a Few Geese" seems laughable in my small neighborhood inhabited seasonally by endless flocks of Canadian geese, the handy pictures in A Slice of Organic Life (DK Publishing, $25) make it more fun to consider which goose I would keep (the Pilgrim is rather cute, and "ideal for a hobby farm" says the book). Like all guides to the planet, the ideas in Slice range from the obvious ("reuse household items") to the exceedingly adventurous ("raise a couple of pigs"), but these suggestions are divided in terms of one’s yard space: from no yard to serious land owner. The book is just as focused on living a fuller life as saving the planet, telling us how to grow strawberries in hanging baskets and make preserves. Come to think of it, a lot of the suggestions in Slice are about living life the old-fashioned way, long before anyone considered their actions "environmental."
—Brita Belli.

GUIDE TO HYBRID HYPE

Considering the amazing public interest, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a consumer’s guide to hybrid vehicles. As more hybrid cars and trucks enter the market every year, the public is bound to be confused in its efforts to separate genuinely green vehicles from the pretenders. The potential addition of plug-in hybrids is also confounding to those who thought that existing hybrids use a plug (they don"t).

For my money, hybrids that employ the technology primarily to increase horsepower (the Honda Accord) are not eco-stars, nor are heavy and expensive hybrid SUVs (the Lexus RX-400h).

If I have any issue with The Essential Hybrid Car Handbook (A Buyer’s Guide) by Nick Yost (The Lyons Press, $14.95) it’s that he’s not critical enough. I think a buyer’s guide should offer clear choices, winners and losers, and this one doesn"t. Yost is relatively upbeat about almost everything.

That said, this handbook puts a lot of useful information about hybrids, from numbers sold to the prospects for plug-ins, between two covers. Given the rapid rate of new introductions, he may have to update it annually.
—Jim Motavalli

A GUIDE TO CONSCIOUS SHOPPING

Representing 15 years of distilled research, Ellis Jones" TheBetter World Shopping Guide (New Society Publishers, $9.95) grades products from A to F based on social and environmental records, providing a simple shopping list for concerned consumers.In this pocket-sized guidebook, Jones offers a quick referenceto choosing everyday productsand services such as clothing, food, body care, airlines and even toilet paper.Find yourself in the frozen dinner aisle? The book says to beware "corporate villain" Stouffer’s (Nestle) which practices "aggressive takeovers of family farms." Scoping out a new computer? "Corporate hero" Hewlett Packard offers "free return recycling of its computers." It’s a shame The Better World doesn’t explain the grading for all the almost-best and almost-worst corporations in between, but we suppose then the final product might not have been so pocket-sized.
—Jennifer Greco

THE CELEBRITY GUIDE

If there is one thing that green guides have taught us, it’s that we don’t have to try very hard. Sometimes the suggestions they offer are so simple, it’s embarrassing that we need to be told at all. Take The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time (Three Rivers Press, $12.95). It recommends that you bring your own reusable water bottle to the gym instead of buying one. Or when you play outdoor sports, it suggests, "Try not to litter." It’s written by Elizabeth Rogers (co-producer of the MTV show Trippin") and columnist Thomas M. Kostigen and features big celebrity content (advice from Jennifer Aniston, Tyra Banks, Justin Timberlake and Tim McGraw, among others) and a foreword from Cameron Diaz and Cradle-to-Cradle guru William McDonough. But The Green Book‘s biggest contribution to the world of green guides is its many clever comparisons. Like this: "If each family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon each year, 38,000 miles worth would be saved… enough to tie a bow around the entire planet." And this: "If every household served fresh-baked bread instead of packaged rolls for Thanksgiving dinner, the energy conserved could fly more than 23,000 early colonists from England to Plymouth Rock." Dinner rolls, colonists, it boggles the mind.
—Brita Belli

THE BRITISH GUIDE

Ever get the sense that the Brits are more serious about reducing their climate footprint than we are? How to Live a Low Carbon Life: The Individual’s Guide to Stopping Climate Change by Chris Goodall (Earthscan, $24.95) confirms it. Not o

nly is England likely to meet its Kyoto targets while the U.S. refuses to even sign the treaty, but books like this—demanding a serious carbon commitment as part of the average person’s lifestyle—have a chance in the market. Similar U.S. books emphasize soft choices: a few compact fluorescent bulbs, maybe a programmable thermostat. But Good-all, a former Green Party candidate for Parliament, expects far more. When looking at a hybrid car, for instance, he wants to see the total lifecycle carbon production vs. the added cost. He even takes aim at the TV viewing that is sacred on both sides of the Atlantic: Did you know that the average home’s multiple TVs use more electricity than clothes dryers? This book may be daunting to eco-dabblers, and it’s made somewhat less accessible by a failure to translate from the British: prices are in pounds, weights in metric. What’s a "kettle," exactly?
—Jim Motavalli