A FRESH TAKE ON FLOWERS
Fresh flowers are a joy, but it’s always a downer when they eventually droop and die. Buying organic blooms ensures one’s heart (and wallet) are in the right place planet-wise, but it doesn’t cure the quick lifespan of most flowers. Enter the best new thing to come to thoughtful giving in the flower department, just in time for Mother’s Day—ThaiCraft‘s artificial flowers. They’re made from recycled paper and telephone books by a group of women living in slums in Bangkok. The fair trade company ensures that these women receive decent wages for their work—and the intricately designed, brightly hued flowers are a modern, artful take on convenience store carnations. —Brita Belli
CONTACT: Gifts With Humanity
SENSITIVE SHOE SHOPPING
What’s most exciting about the footwear selection at vegetarianshoesandbags.com is not the practical hemp sneakers with recycled tire outsoles that look ready for the skate park or the mall. Instead, we’re wowed by the impressive selection of evening shoes and pumps that do not say "hippie" in the least. Both the faux suede peep-toe platform heel and the peep-toe pleather "snakeskin" pump come in colors like flirty purple. There are plenty in the practical, everyday workwear category, too, like the Mary Janes that look cute but take a little breaking in. Pleather is not as flexible as leather (or hemp), but it leaves wearers with a clear conscience. All of the site’s shoes are vegan, and they’ve managed to lose the skin without the style. Check out the selection of cloth and faux leather handbags, too! —B.B.
CONTACT: Vegetarian Shoes and Bags
EAT YOUR COOKIES
Ingredients with long, complicated, chemical-sounding names make shopping particularly painful for mindful parents. If you’re avoiding gluten (proteins found in wheat) and casein (proteins found in dairy) to minimize autism effects, adhere to a special diet or stave off a food allergy, the health benefits are clear but tastiness is not a given. Arico has tried to return the pleasure to indulgent snacking with gluten-free, casein-free cookies, chips and cookie bars that actually taste good. The Cassava chips, made of a root plant similar to a potato, have a light, crisp crunch, much less fat than potato chips and lots of flavor in varieties like "Ginger on Fire." Peanut Butter and Lemon Ginger cookies both won instant favor in E‘s office. Though a little dry, they were also soft and flavorful, made of organic grains and loaded with fiber. Cookies, it turns out, can be good for you. —B.B.
CONTACT: Arico Foods (866)98-ARICO
After a recent green festival, E staff returned loaded with a selection of products from Natralia, an Australian company that’s making inroads in the states with all-natural, organic treatments for eczema and psoriasis and a slew of organic baby balms, salves, shampoos and oils. As skin sufferers and parents, we were delighted, particularly considering that A) Most psoriasis treatments contain coal tar, a known carcinogen and B) recent studies by the Environmental Working Group show that lotions and shampoos leave potentially harmful chemicals called phthalates in babies" systems. The Natralia baby line includes an aromatic "Bum Balm," a baby massage oil in a small spray bottle and a shampoo and wash. The company uses natural moisturizers like vitamin E, avocado oil, sunflower oil and chamomile (many of them certified organic) to soothe skin and worried minds. —B.B.
EAT CHOCOLATE: SAVE THE WORLD
New Zealand-based Bloomsberry & Co. has mostly promoted its delectable dark and milk chocolate bars through witty wrappers. These chocolatiers put irreverent bunnies humping on Easter-themed chocolate bars and have a superhero-designed "Wonder Bar" for Mother’s Day that promises "the lift you"ll love." Now the thinking man’s chocolate bar company has taken the next logical step—Climate Change Chocolate bars for $4.95. Bloomsberry has partnered with carbon-offsetting outfit TerraPass on the endeavor. Each bar comes with 15 tips for reducing your carbon footprint. And for each purchase of a bar, TerraPass will purchase 133 pounds of verified carbon offsets (through wind farms, methane digesters and other clean energy providers). That’s the amount emitted each day by an average American. —B.B.
The Preserve Kitchen line from Recycline is designed by people who love to cook, love the Earth and think it’s OK to have a little fun. The company with the recycled-content toothbrushes and razors has launched colanders, cutting boards and food storage containers in vivid shades of "berry blue," "apple green" and "ripe tomato" that are all made from 100 percent recycled plastic or post-consumer paper. Like Tupperware, the products can be recycled (but only if you have the relatively rare #5 recycling) and they’re all dishwasher safe. The stackable food storage containers have screw lids that are easy to fasten and stay on tight. —Kelly Hughes
CONTACT: Preserve Kitchen
Potting Shed Creations, Ltd. makes eco-friendly gardening easy. The company sells certified organic and heirloom products and seeds in 100 percent biodegradable Rice Hull Gardens—self-contained pots made from renewable grain husks. There are a variety of organic and heirloom herbs like lavender, lemon basil and garlic chives that can be grown inside and out. For people with limited space, product lines such as the Garden-in-a-Bag and Garden-in-a-Pail bring everything from zinnias and sunflowers to clovers and sage to a kitchen or outside stoop. Kits called Garden Makers come with a selection of seeds, stakes, marking pencils and detailed instructions. Coco chips, a natural by-product of the coconut industry, are added to every grow bag to provide a 100 percent organic and biodegradable drainage medium. And all seeds and bulbs are hand selected and tested by horticulturists. —Samantha Grasso
CONTACT: Potting Shed Creations (800)505-7496,
BUGS AND BITES BE GONE
Harsh, toxic chemicals are no longer the only way to eliminate insect pests or treat bug bites and stings. Using the natural defensive oils found in plants
and trees to fight insects and pathogens, EcoSMART has launched a new line of organic insecticides proven as effective as synthetic pesticides, yet safe for kids, pets, birds and fish. Suitable for inside and outside use, you can keep your home free from flying insects, wasps and hornets, as well as ants and roaches for about $7 per 14-ounce can. Beginning this year, EcoSMART will begin green outreach, making its products more widely available at Wal-Mart and other large retailers. If you cannot escape a bite or sting, Boiron’s Bitecare Gel ($5.90 per tube) provides homeopathic pain and itch relief on contact. Committed to re-search and education on homeopathy for more than 70 years, Boiron is headquartered in France, and is the largest manufacturer of homeopathic products in the world. —S.G.
LISTENING TO WHALES
Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound (Basic Books, $27.50) by David Rothenberg is not so much a book about whale song as it is an exploration of the many meanings that both whales and their songs have been given by different cultures and subcultures. Rothenberg is a musician who seems just as comfortable in the company of scientists as he is psychics and "new age" hippies. And the book never takes a position as to which group has the best understanding of the meaning and complexity of whale song.
As Rothenberg travels the world, trying to musically communicate with a variety of whale species, he learns from many of the pioneers who initiated the scientific study of whales and their songs. He is also able to go into the field with some of today’s cetacean researchers, who allow him to play his clarinet with the whales under study. What Rothenberg and his accomplices learn is that fully understanding whale songs appears to be beyond the scope of current scientific theories and practices. It makes the idea of understanding whale communication from a musical perspective seem less the whim of one individual and more like a valid attempt to understand these mysterious creatures. —Brian Colleran
ON THE BOTTLE
Aside from being a well-told tale, Elizabeth Royte‘s Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It (Bloomsbury, $24.99) provides a succinct history of bottled water and how it came to be a force in the beverage industry. She also fully explores the social, political, and ecological connotations of drinking water from a bottle. This quest is set against the backdrop of a battle between Poland Spring and Fryeburg, a Maine town whose water fills the company’s bottles. Royte shows us that complicated water issues are not only unfolding in parched western states, and that water-use laws will only grow in significance as clean sources dry up. After exploring the privatizing of a resource that has traditionally been publicly managed in the U.S., the author draws her own conclusions. Instead of succumbing to clever marketing, buying pretty labels or trying to be hip, she says her water decisions will reflect the understanding that bottled water is an unnecessary indulgence that’s contributing to the major social and environmental problems of our time. —B.C.
TO THE LAST DROP
Robert Bryce‘s Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of "Energy Independence" (PublicAffairs, $26.95) is a timely book. If you’ve ever wondered why we haven’t abandoned our addiction to oil and simply started running our cars on ethanol from corn or biodiesel from soybeans (or even used fast-food fryer oil), you need this sobering account. With a relatively ruthless pen, Bryce cuts through the notion that we can grow our way to oil freedom. As he points out, the 36 billion gallons of biofuels the U.S. is committed to producing by 2022 is only about a tenth of our annual fossil fuel usage. If we used every last corn stalk to produce ethanol, we’d offset less than 15 percent of our vast consumption. One estimate Bryce quotes says that it would take 546 million farmed acres to replace all of our gasoline with corn ethanol, but we have only 440 million acres of U.S. farmland. The outlook for biodiesel and nuclear power isn’t a whole lot better, says Bryce. When it comes to energy independence, he adds, "There’s far too much religion and far too little science." —Jim Motavalli
Environmentalists around the world tried to stop the Three Gorges Dam in China, which displaced 1.3 million people and, according to International Rivers, had "profound" ecological effects. The protests might have slowed dam construction, but it was built in the end and has been in place since 2003. Bruce Barcot‘s very readable The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw (Random House, $26) tells a familiar story, this time set in Belize. Government officials there wanted a dam, too, and the fact that it would threaten a unique population of jaguars, tapirs and critically endangered scarlet macaws didn’t faze them. Barcot’s first-person account makes a hero of dam-fighter Sharon Matola, the American-born proprietor of the ramshackle Belize Zoo. A true tilter at windmills, Matola fought the good fight against the dam, and to everyone’s surprise nearly won. Sally Field could play her if it becomes a movie, but unfortunately the ending would be a bit depressing. —J.M.
GET WITH THE PROGRAM
No matter how many green guides and books of green tips hit the market, the message bears repeating: we need to cut down on our consumption. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living by Trish Riley (Alpha, $16.95) helps readers do just that, with a topic-by-topic breakdown that details the big picture issues (like global warming) complete with helpful science definitions in the margins, to saving energy at home, using alternative transportation and taking an "eco vacation." Rather than just offer suggestions, Riley’s book acts as a primer on the major environmental issues of our time. She explains why even a part-time vegetarian diet is both a global warming issue and a personal one, and how planting more diverse crops in our backyard gardens can help ensure that plant species don’t die out. She mentions the cities that are leading conservation initiatives, such as Seattle, Washington and Huntsville, Alabama, and finds ways to include children in the environmental movement. It’s a way to start thinking about our daily habits so we can learn to not only curb our appetites for more, but to enjoy living with less. —Kelly N. Hughes
ECO BABIES ON BOARD
Board books are especially useful as active infants begin to practice "reading" on their own, delighting over their ability to turn pages and identify toes, umbrellas and balls. There are a whole series of hip little board books by author Michelle Sinclair Colman and illustrator Nathalie Dion, featuring urban babies, country babies, beach babies, winter babies, and now, eco babies. In Eco Babies Wear Green (Tricycle Press, $6.95), there’
s a toddler hugging a tree, and one stuffing her mouth full of strawberries next to the line: "Eco babies eat local." "Recycling" is riding in a cardboard box, "carpooling" is riding on mom’s bike and "composting" is chucking Cheerios on the ground. The book brings eco-words into baby’s budding vocabulary with a solidly intact sense of humor. —Brita Belli
STEM CELLS AND THE DARK SIDE
The Stem Cell Dilemma: Beacons of Hope or Harbingers of Doom?, by Leo Furcht and William Hoffman (Arcade Publishing, $25), is an expert analysis of both the promise and the threat of stem cell technologies. Bone marrow (i.e., stem cell) transplants are now routine, and poised to provide treatment for spinal cord injury as well as Parkinson"s, Lou Gehrig’s and multiple sclerosis.Stem cell research makes headlines as part of the abortion debate, but it has an environmental dimension as well. The same technology that could save lives might be used to manufacture bio-weapons, herbicides and pesticides. The sci-fi scenario of a "manufactured" virus wiping out all complex life on Earth is a real one.
Both the military and the Department of Homeland Security have funded bio-engineering research, with funding increasing dramatically after the 9/11 attacks. Money has gone into immune system enhancements, gene therapies and other bio-defense technologies. As Furcht and Hoffman point out, the same technologies developed for defense can be readily used to manufacture bio-weapons. The anthrax attacks of 2001 used strains developed in a U.S. Army laboratory, yet the perpetrator has not been officially identified. If the U.S. cannot find a bioterrorist in its own laboratories, how can it possibly protect its citizens from those outside the U.S.?
The most fundamental questions about this research are political: What limits should be placed on these technologies? What national regulations and international agreements are necessary to prevent their misuse? And will resulting "miracle cures" only be available to the wealthy (as with organ transplants in most of the world)? —S.E. Hoffman