Resources for eco-awareness and action

THE GIFT OF A LIFESTYLE

Looking for a fun way to get someone started on the path to greater environmental responsibility? Get them Go GreenGift, an eco-starter kit that makes change easy for people by supplying them with household items to conserve energy, organic foods and natural body-care products. According to Florida-based creator Trish Riley, “I designed [the kit] for environmentally savvy people to give to loved ones to introduce them to the importance and value of protecting our environment and to help them establish environmentally friendly lifestyle practices.”

Each GoGreenGift ($35) comes in a reusable, natural cotton grocery bag that is filled with two compact fluorescent light bulbs, a low-flow showerhead, an eight-ounce bag of organic Fair Trade coffee, organic tea, organic fruit leather, Jason’s shampoo and conditioner, organic lip balm, and myrrh salve. The kit also includes a copy of E and other resources to help people discover why and how they should conserve energy, eat healthier, and take other simple steps to benefit Mother Earth. CONTACT: GoGreenGift, (888)384-7961, www.gogreengift.com. —Erin Coughlin

PRETTY PAPER

Do you enjoy journal writing or mailing notes to family and friends but worry about your paper use? Need a good place to organize your daily notes and thoughts? Consider Trumansburg, New York-based Acorn Designs, which makes beautiful stationery imprinted with striking images from nature and produced using a blend of kenaf fiber and post- and pre-consumer recycled paper. Kenaf is a 4,000-year-old crop from the hibiscus family that has roots in ancient Africa. Kenaf produces substantially higher fiber yields than trees yet requires fewer fertilizers and pesticides. And because the fibers are lightly colored, they do not need to be bleached during processing, making it a popular choice among eco-advocates.

Acorn Designs” distinctive products include bookmarks (70 cents), notepads ($4.50), journals and notecards, which come in packs of six wrapped in biodegradable cellophane ($7.50). Journals are spiral bound, contain 70 unlined sheets and come in seven different colors and two sizes ($10.95 for pocket sizes and $13.50 for larger sizes). Both the notecards and journals come with detailed explanations of the plant or animal pictured, making them educational as well as beautiful and functional. CONTACT: Acorn Designs, (800)299-3997, www.acorndesigns.org. —E.C.

PERSONAL SHOPPING FOR THE REST OF US

Do you want to buy more ecological and sustainable products but have trouble finding exactly what you want? Now you can have EcoShopper do the hard work for you. All you have to do is e-mail rlandis@theecoshopper.com with a description of the item you are looking for, and usually within a week you will receive a list of websites that offer the product you want. As founder Robyn Landis explains, “There are so many better alternatives available to the conventional things people buy
. I love supporting green businesses and I want to support more people in doing it too.”

At this time there are three types of services available: the Ascetic ($10) is a one-time item request; the Basic ($25) gives the customer 30 days to request three items; the Eco-Maniac ($250) allows a customer to request and source any items for up to one year. The EcoShopper website also has a resources page that gives consumers advice on websites to shop at, and books and magazines that support the environment. CONTACT: The Eco-Shopper, www.theecoshopper.com. —E.C.

WEARABLE ACTIVISM

Show the world your commitment to an organic lifestyle while encouraging others to be more aware about the foods they eat by wearing a provocative t-shirt from Ingreedients. Choose from nine different logos, each of which highlights some of the potential dark sides of food, such as genetically engineered ingredients, pesticides and unhealthy snack foods in vending machines. Creator Vanese Smith explains her designs: “I took my love of food and design to create walking billboards, just to get people to think about reading the ingredients
.food is one of the things we can control going into our bodies, so why not put some thought into it?” The t-shirts themselves come from American Apparel’s 100-percent organic cotton line and are available in a natural/créme color ($30 each). The logos are printed in non-toxic, water-based inks. Each shirt is hand screened by Smith herself and can be purchased online.

Also make a statement with t-shirts from JustifyThat.com. Kevin and Renice Ward created JustifyThat in March of this year in response to the plight of cotton farmers and workers in sweatshops. Their featured shirt ($22.50) casts a spotlight on the negative environmental and ethical problems that arise in the creation of these staples of American wardrobes. The shirt logo creatively lists the ingredients used to create the average t-shirt: pesticides, reactive dyes, chlorine bleach and sweatshop labor. Two other original designs are also available, highlighting Earth Day 2006 and the ecological footprint of the average American citizen. JustifyThat clothing is made from organic unbleached cotton, is produced in the United States in a sweatshop-free environment, and is printed using low impact, non-toxic inks. CONTACT: Ingreedients, www.pursuitgrooves.com; www.JustifyThat.com, (866) 229-3976. —E.C.

CLEAR THE AIR

Although it may seem counterintuitive because of belching smokestacks and car tailpipes, indoor air quality is actually worse overall than what you”ll find outside. Opening the windows is often the best way to clean your indoor air, but there are plenty of times when windows need to stay shut. That’s when the Airwise Purifier from Waterwise comes in. I was skeptical of air purifiers after Consumer Reports roundly declared them useless, but after trying the Airwise in my bedroom for a month, I can say that it definitely did get rid of odors and made my cat- and dog-inhabited room smell fresher. According to the company, the noiseless “photocatalytic lamp” cleaned my air of chemicals, viruses and bacteria, as well as odors. Volatile organic compounds, mold, dust mites, smoke, and pet dander are also said to be neutralized. There are no filters, just the lamp bulb to change once a year, which makes this system very low-maintenance. It’s a bit pricey at $449 to $559 (depending on the size), but alleges relief from allergens as well as odors. CONTACT: Waterwise, (800) 874-9028, www.waterwise.com. —Starre Vartan

SOAP UP

“When you live on a farm outside of a small town, the one thing you know is that we are stewards of the land and each other. We are the land.” So say the good folks at Fresh From the Farm, a family-run business from Indianapolis, Indiana that specializes in making natural soaps. These handcrafted soaps are mostly or totally organic, depending on the type. Spearmint and rosemary oils are infused in the Oily Skin Bar, and lavender and rose petals make the Good Night Baby Bar especially pleasant. Want to skip the smell and go straight fo

r the clean? Try the Just Clean Bar, made with the essential vegan body bar ingredients and nothing more. Prices range from $6 to $10 per bar. Discounts are available for bulk orders. CONTACT: Fresh From the Farm, (317) 418-3286, www.freshfromthefarm.us. —Rachel Anderson

REEL CLUBS

Perhaps capitalizing on the recent popularity of Netflix and copycat services—which mail DVDs to subscribers for rental—youthful visionary Adam Werbach has launched a new, progressive film club called Ironweed. Werbach became famous in the environmental community, and earned a spot on E‘s September/ October 1997 cover, by being elected to the national presidency of the Sierra Club at the tender age of 23. Since his days with the Club, Werbach has run San Francisco-based Act Now Productions, which produces and distributes progressive films. Now, Ironweed makes it easier than ever to bring such films into your home. By subscribing for $14.95 per month (shipping is included), you”ll get a DVD each month that is packed with a feature film, shorts, and various extras you’re unlikely to see anywhere else. March’s selection is a pair of McCarthy-era films from blacklisted directors. Unlike Netflix, however, you get to keep the films, and you can have the satisfaction of knowing that your fee supports independent filmmakers and various nonprofit partners. Local viewing clubs are also being started. CONTACT: Ironweed, (866)456-WEED, www.ironweedfilms.com. —Brian C. Howard

NOT JUST FOR HIPPIES

Since its humble start more than 40 years ago in the back of a health food store in Pasadena, California, Back to Nature Foods has been creating nutritious fare that tastes great without artificial preservatives, flavors or colors. The company’s natural cereals are made of 100-percent whole grains and come in a variety of tasty flavors, including banana nut, multi-grain, oat and soy, hi-fiber, hi-protein and strawberry and seven grain. They are available nationally in the natural food aisle at your local grocery or health food store. Back to Nature also now offers a line of natural cheeses, cookies, crackers, granola and macaroni and cheese—some of which are organic. CONTACT: Back to Nature, (866)536-6946, www.backtonaturefoods.com. —Stephanie White

BETTER BUTTER

Vegetarian Justin Gold was unsatisfied with the traditional brands of peanut butter he found on the shelves at his local grocery store, so he created Justin’s Nut Butter from organic Valencia peanuts. Justin’s mission was to create “amazing nut butters made with the highest quality organic and natural ingredients.” Justin’s Nut Butter is USDA-certified organic, sweetened naturally with honey and is cholesterol and trans-fat free. The nutritious and delicious peanut butter is available at health food stores and online in 16-ounce jars ($6) in four unique flavors: heavenly honey, sinfully cinnamon, pumpkin pie and honey almond. The spreads are great on bread, crackers, bananas, apples, celery, muffins and other foods. CONTACT: Justin’s Nut Butter, (303)449-9559, www.justinsnutbutter.com. —S.W.

BOOKS

PERILS AT THE POLES

So was it Dr. Frederick A. Cook or Commander Robert E. Peary and Matthew Henson who first visited the North Pole in 1909? Actually, maybe neither party reached the Pole, writes Andrew C. Revkin in his fascinating and lavishly illustrated book The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World (Kingfisher/ New York Times, $15.95). Given the conditions these men encountered and the lack of sophisticated instrumentation, it may well be that no one actually visited the Pole until Joseph Fletcher, who arrived via plane in 1952. Revkin’s book, aimed at younger readers but suitable for adults, too, contains a brisk account of polar exploration. Its central purpose, however, is to alert the world to the vast changes wrought by global warming. As the weather warms, vast amounts of melting ice raise sea level, imperil polar bears and threaten the Gulf Stream. Each year, Revkin writes, “brings more signs that recent environmental shifts around the Arctic are extraordinary. Dragonflies are showing up for the first time in memory
Robins are pecking at the tundra.”

Revkin shivers his way through a visit to the Pole, supplementing his story with original research and excerpts from his New York Times reporting. His book makes clear that the Arctic was a mystery for most of recorded history. Today, as its secrets are being revealed, the whole region faces massive and uncertain change. —Jim Motavalli

TO DAM OR NOT TO DAM?

The World Bank, once an enthusiastic supporter of dam building, has decreased its involvement in new dam projects significantly over the last 35 years as current structures become increasingly problematic. Author Jacques Leslie visited heavily dammed areas in India, southern Africa and southeast Australia to investigate. Leslie chronicles his experiences in Deep Water (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $25), a firsthand account of how major dam projects have affected people and the environment. Leslie is careful to present both sides, and leaves room to laud some of the achievements these projects have earned. However, when everything is laid on the table, people were displaced, species were driven to overpopulation or extinction, and diseases and famines ensued.”Humans believed they could vanquish nature,” Leslie declares, “and found themselves vanquished instead.” Leslie’s narrative introduces some engaging characters in the world of dams, lending his book a page-turning quality. —R.A.

THE LONE RANGER

“Only this simple everyday living and wilderness wandering seems natural and real, the other world, more like something read, not at all related to reality as I know it,” writes Eric Blehm in The Last Season (Harper Collins, $24.95). In the beautifully written book, Blehm examines the life of backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson, who spent 28 summers working as a National Park Service ranger in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. In his last year as a ranger, Morgenson disappeared into the wilderness. Blehm blends descriptions of the spectacular setting of the Sierra Nevadas with stories of Morgenson’s coworkers, friends and wife to tell the story of a man’s life, his work as a ranger, and his deep love for the outdoors. This book is perfect for people interested in adventure, hiking or rock climbing, or for anyone who feels at home with nature. —E.C.

GREENER GARDENING

Gardening season is upon us, and more and more people are open to creating something truly sustainable, as well as beautiful, in their yards. Nature-Friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Plants, Wildlife, and People (Stackpole Books, $19.95) provides a wealth of information on how to create environmentally friendly gardens that can be a great home to wildlife as well as pretty plants and flowers. “All life exists in a tenuous balance that demands that no one organism increase in number so that it becomes out of proportion or unduly emphasized at the expense of other organisms,” the book a

dvises.

Use the many suggestions from author Marlene A. Condon to create a garden that will flourish and be easy to maintain without the use of pesticides or fertilizers. Learn how to use feeders and boxes to create shelters for wildlife and establish ponds to provide water and nutrients to organisms. Create an oasis that is teeming with life in your own backyard. —E.C.

CONFRONTING SPRAWL

The American landscape has certainly changed in the last few decades, and the fastest growing scenery seems to include the neon lights of burger joints, cookie-cutter housing developments and the asphalt parking lots of big-box retailers. This change has contributed to the already frenetic American lifestyle, to the point that people may not have had time to stop and think about what it means when the trees and the Main Streets disappear from their neighborhoods.

Two new books attempt to illustrate just how sprawl has changed the idea of community in America. In It’s a Sprawl World After All (New Society Publishers, $17.95), author Douglas E. Morris contrasts his experiences with community in the United States and Europe. The desire for more personal space coupled with a heavy dependence on cars has not only reaped environmental havoc on American soil, Morris writes, but has also contributed to health and social problems that are far less common in Europe, where cities and towns are more condensed. Morris uses the second half of the book to suggest small and large-scale changes individuals, communities or governing powers can make to gain back control of sprawl and its effects.

Losing It All to Sprawl (University Press of Florida, $24.95) approaches the topic from a whole new avenue. Author Bill Belleville colorfully details his history in Florida, centering on the purchase and maintenance of a 1940s-era “Cracker” house. Belleville weaves tales of vivid scenery and feral neighbors with the environmental devastation that overcame his rural neighborhood as the realtors and bulldozers rolled in. “All of Florida is for sale,” an interested real estate agent had explained to Belleville. Both these books seem to dare the reader: Now that you know, what are you going to do? —R.A.