Friday, January 27, 2012

Do One Green Thing

Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices
© 2010 Mandy Pennybacker
270 pages

Environmentalism, once the province of hippies and college students on the fringe in the 1970s, is finally percolating into the national consciousness. It's never been more important, but awareness doesn't always translate into activism. Those who are interested in living intelligently and doing right by one another by protecting the environment may not know how to make steps in that direction, or feel relatively powerless in the grand scale of things.  Mandy Pennybacker has produced a functional but light green reference guide for consumers, devoting distinct sections to Food and Drink, A Green and Healthy Home, Personal Care and Apparel, and Transportation.  Pennybacker first explains why consumer choices in these areas matter; in the section on drinking water, for instance, she points out the hidden environmental cost of water. The amount of processing that disposable bottles require increases the actual cost of that water threefold: even though those costs haven't been passed on to buyers yet,  drinking tap water (using the filter, if you're squeamish) and using refillable bottles is a better choice by far. She then lets readers know how and where they can find the superior products, offering general advice on what to look for as well as the names of specific sellers -- like Ecolution, in the case of hemp clothing.

These days green awareness is so mainstream that companies have co-opted it, greenwashing their goos by advertising them as environmentally friendly when in fact they've made no actual effort to fundamentally improve their product. Pennybacker is especially useful in addressing this, providing readers with lists of advertising labels that are legitimate (official seals of approval from third parties), questionable, or outright meaningless. The last includes vague claims like 'free range' and unspecific references to 'green' and 'organic'.  Michael Pollan showed how insubstantial these claims can be in his The Omnivore's Dilemma.

While the book is a useful reference guide to buying responsible, safe products (or making one's own; Pennybacker includes recipes for environmentally safe floor cleaner and the like), the singular emphasis on consumer choices (with little mention given toward lifestyle changes) disappointed me. The section on lighting tells you which bulb to buy, but doesn't suggest ways to minimize the use of lighting in general. The section on transportation mentions bicycling exactly once; in the title. There's no actual information on the viability of bicycle commuting.  Even so, Do One Green Thing should be a good start for those new to environmentally responsible living.

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