Resources for eco-awareness and action


Bring Kathy’s Family products into your home, and you can read about the colorful Swanson family on the fantastic product packaging as you wash your hair or soothe those chapped lips. The Swansons are a large Minnesota farming family, and their stories are told on the products that were inspired by them. As Kathy herself explains, "The products are a lot like us: honest, trustworthy and down to Earth. They’re made with ingredients that anyone can pronounce and they don’t have anything extra because they only use what they need." Kathy’s Family products are made of certified organic ingredients, and they do not contain artificial colors, flavors, synthetic fragrances, alcohol, parabens or petroleum fillers (propylene glycol or mineral oil) and aren’t tested on animals. Some of the products list all the ingredients on the labels. Offerings include balms, shampoos and conditioners (all $9.95), non-greasy lip treatments ($3.50), foot creams, scrubs, soaps, soaks and gels. Fun gift sets are also available, such as the Whole Family Saturday Night Bathtub ($69.95), which is loaded with full-sized best sellers irresistibly packaged in a little galvanized, old-fashioned bathtub. CONTACT: Kathy’s Family, (866) 634-0008, —Jayasudha Joseph


Concerned about what your kids are eating for breakfast? Worried that they aren’t getting a wholesome start to their days? When you’re in a hurry, try giving them Country Choice Organic‘s Fit Kids Instant Oatmeal (eight packets for $3.69). It is made from whole-grain oats, and each packet contains three grams of fiber and a dose of vitamins and minerals. To cater to the pickiest of food critics—your children—Fit Kids comes in two enticing flavors: Cinnamon Toast and Chocolate Chip. Although I’m not usually a fan of instant oatmeal, I found Fit Kids easy on the palate and satisfying. This instant oatmeal is a quick and convenient way to add or introduce USDA-certified organic food to your kids" diets. CONTACT: Country Choice Organic, (800)362-1273, —J.J.


Environmentalists have been debating the relative merits of cloth vs. disposable diapers, not to mention diaper services vs. efficient appliances, for decades. Over the years, E has also added fuel to the fire (see "Bringing Up Baby—Naturally," Consumer News, September/October 1999 and Ask E, January/February 2003, among others). Now, an Australian couple who recently moved to the U.S., Jason and Kimberly Graham-Nye, are launching a third option that they call gDiapers. The product is a flushable diaper designed to significantly cut down on resource use and the glut of Huggies and Pampers entering the waste stream, as well as the resulting threat to water supplies from potentially contaminated human feces. Each diaper consists of breathable, washable outer pants (available in different colors and patterns) and an absorbent pad. When it’s time to change junior, tear the used pad out, drop it in the toilet, and break it up with the provided Swishstick. Flush. The pads are made of tree-based viscose rayon, fluffed wood pulp (bleached with the elemental chlorine-free process) and sodium polyacrylate super absorber. Starter kits cost $24.95 (all sizes) and refills are $14.49. CONTACT: gDiapers, (503)546-4666, —Brian C. Howard


The natural skin-care products company GratefulBody believes the "best way to have beautiful skin is simply to feed it well." With this mantra in mind, the Berkeley-based company has been creating an impressive line of delightful products since 1998 based on ingredients that are certified organic, biodynamically grown and ethically wildcrafted. No artificial chemicals, animal products (except for honey and beeswax in a few items) are used, and the company does not test on animals. The products are preserved with grapefruit seed extract, vitamin E and other organic plant preservatives that have anti-microbial and antioxidant qualities. Offerings include holistic facial cleansers, toners and moisturizers; an Environmental Impact Line designed for the ultra-sensitive (including those with multiple chemical sensitivity); a line to help replenish older skin; and the Rx Series to help repair skin with blends of plant medicines. Prices range from $11.60 to $120 (for gallon-sized massage oils). Gift sets and samplers are available. CONTACT: GratefulBody, (800)600-6806, —J.J.


You’re not likely to be bored watching Robert Greenwald‘s documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (Brave New Films, 2005). You’re more likely to be outraged, saddened or frustrated at Wal-Mart’s brutal onslaught, which can make Sherman’s march to the sea look kind and gentle. You might even be angered by the one-sided tone of the film, which doesn’t give the company much screen time (except to look dumb in corporate videos and commercials). But there’s no question that Greenwald (also the auteur behind Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (2004), has the goods on Wal-Mart, since the comprehensive documentary covers everything from the expansionist chain’s indifference to environmental issues to its dangerous parking lots and poor treatment of workers (both in the U.S. and China). He misses the company’s point of light: a flashy attention-getting sustainable store in Texas. This one-of-a-kind Wal-Mart features its own wind turbine, flushless urinals, heating with recycled cooking oil and energy-efficient refrigeration units.

Also from Brave New Films and Robert Greenwald (in the role of executive producer), is a new half-hour television series called Sierra Club Chronicles. Made in association with Sierra Club Productions, the monthly series is hosted by actor and eco-advocate Daryl Hannah. It appears on Link TV, which is an independent, nonprofit network broadcast on DirecTV channel 375 and DISH Network channel 9410. The first episode explores the struggles of 9-11 heroes who believe they were poisoned by the toxic conditions at Ground Zero. In the second episode, the filmmakers visit the troubled Alaskan fishing town of Cordova, which is still reeling from the Exxon Valdez disaster (see "Caught in a Net, Fifteen Years After Exxon Valdez," Features, July/August 2004). —J.M. and B.H.



The concept of the glass-encased aquarium filled with exotic fish had a long and strange gestation, according to Bernd Brunner in his fascinating and beautifully illustrated The Ocean at Home (Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95). Brunner, a German writer and journalist, tells us about the British aquarium mania that swept the country in the 1850s, abetted by the growth of dealers who handled the difficult task of capturing and transporting the denizens of the deep. But since there was little knowledge about how to actually keep sea creatures alive, the craze was short-lived. By the 1880s, the freshwater aquarium (with attached aerators so large they had to be in another room) was gaining ground, and fantas

tic designs for tanks—mounted in windows, on walls—appeared. It wasn’t long before large aquariums began to appear at world’s fairs and exhibitions. Not surprisingly, P.T. Barnum caught on to the trend and offered fish tanks at his American Museum in New York. The still-extant New York Aquarium opened in 1876 and included whales among its attractions! The Ocean at Home is a fun and educational read. —J.M.


They say that all politics are local, and if your cause is protecting the seven seas (or at least your neighborhood beach) you"ll want to be armed with The Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide, a/k/a The Blue Movement Directory (Island Press, $26.95). Compiled by journalist-turned-activist David Helvarg (whose report from the frontlines in New Orleans can also be seen in this issue), the Guide is the first comprehensive listing of more than 2,000 marine groups. If you live in Chestertown, Maryland, for instance, you"ll want to know about the Chester River Association, which fights to protect a vital estuary. If Puget Sound is your playground, then it’s nice to have the phone, e-mail and web address of the North Sound Baykeeper. This is an invaluable reference work that will probably have to be updated annually as the ocean activist community expands and changes. —J.M.


In her advocacy-minded children’s book Have Fries—Will Travel (New Society Publishers, $12.95), Linda K. Hempel takes young readers on a journey through the eyes of a delightful illustrated car. Children should enjoy the colorful pages, touching story and fun "eco-rap" song printed in the story (which includes lyrics such as "We need to stop burning toxic fuel to make power/I’d rather get my fuel from a sunflower!"). The book’s star is Tiny, a diesel car, who is sold to eco-rapper Rock. Rock fuels Tiny with biodiesel and enters him in a Washington, D.C. parade in support of a bill to make biodiesel tax exempt. Tiny and Rock also take a road trip to visit farmers who grow soybeans for biodiesel. This book is a sure-shot way of engaging children about the important issues surrounding fuel and transportation as well as politics and media. (Tiny and friends encounter numerous road blocks in their efforts to promote the greener fuel.) —J.J.


After months of short days and cold, snowy weather, many people look forward to spring. The season of rebirth and renewal is so important to one man that he decided to travel across the United States to witness spring in different states and towns in order to experience its diversity and vitality. Bruce Stutz‘s book Chasing Spring: An American Journey Through a Changing Season (Scribner, $24) describes this journey, which begins in New York and ends in Alaska. Stutz uses a delightful mix of firsthand experience, science and history to tell the story of spring. He also looks at the ways in which the season has changed over time due to changes in the environment. With the onset of global warming and widespread land development, this means spring is beginning earlier each year in many places and looking different in others. —Erin Coughlin


For the past 23 years, the Worldwatch Institute has issued an annual State of the World report on environmental and social challenges facing society, as well as solutions. The State of the World 2006: China and India Hold the World in Balance (W.W. Norton & Company, $18.95) begins by giving the reader a timeline of important events that occurred in 2005, then takes an in-depth look at specific topics, such as the meat industry, mercury exposure, biofuels and natural disasters. There is a special focus on China and India because of their increasing status in the world, and their booming economies, enormous populations and burgeoning consumption of resources. The two Asian countries are often criticized for their aggressive development policies and presumed lack of environmental awareness, but Worldwatch helps point the way to a more sustainable future, ensuring protection for all life on Earth. —E.C.


Unless they’re run by millionaires, most grassroots groups depend on raising operating money from foundations and individuals. It’s a dirty job, and nobody likes to do it, but it’s even harder to try and get by on membership dues, newsletter subscriptions and benefit proceeds. Veteran fundraiser Andy Robinson’s books, Grassroots Grants (Jossey Bass, $56.95) and Big Gifts for Small Groups (Emerson & Church, $24.95), are clearly written guides that help demystify the grantmaking process and make it easier for smaller groups to participate. There are 70,000 foundations in the U.S. whose job is giving out money, Robinson writes, and 1.35 million nonprofit groups for them to connect with. His books, particularly the more comprehensive Grassroots Grants, go through the process of applying and writing grant applications with an easy-to-absorb approach that includes many examples from the field and quotes from veteran players. And don’t worry too much about the weak economy, says Robinson; the foundation world takes hits but is almost recession-proof. —J.M.