Our interview with Manda Aufochs Gillespie, a.k.a. The Green Mama, went a little long. So we decided to publish the whole thing here as she’s just a wealth of green info!
What inspired The Green Mama?
My work found me. I worked for ten years in sustainability. I had a healthy lifestyle. I was passionate about ecology. I just assumed I would be a green parent. Yet, when I actually got pregnant, I was overwhelmed. What is baby potty training? Which diapers to choose? A glass bottle or one shaped like a boob? Frozen baby food or organic from cans? And whom to ask? Our parents and grandparents didn’t have a world with so many options or with so many chemicals.
Trained as an environmentalist and writer, I found that I enjoyed spending hours researching these things and I enjoyed writing and talking about what I discovered. Then there was this article about my husband and me and our “green lifestyle” in the paper. After that, people started asking me to teach classes and write articles and then consult on their businesses. I loved it and I have just kept going!
What is your business philosophy?
Being a parent is hard work, being green doesn’t need to be.
What services do you provide?
The Green Mama provides consulting, classes, and inspiration. We provide a lot of what people probably expect: classes on Green Parenting and how to live green while saving money. We also do in-home consultations to help un-toxify a nursery or organic-ize your kitchen. I also do the unexpected. For instance, I work with daycares to help them green their operations and stores to help them market their best green products. A lot of my work is a similar knowledge base: where do toxins lurk in our daily routines (cleaning supplies, building materials, food), what are safer alternatives (and how to get them), and how to enact better lifestyle options without spending more money to do it. Whether it is a parent or a business executive I am working with, I find we all want the same things: to save time, resources, and keep our loved ones safe. I pride myself in helping people find solutions that fit their lifestyles and leaving the judgment behind.
What is the favorite part of your job?
The best part of The Green Mama is bringing together a community of women, moms, small business owners, couples trying to conceive, and inspiring each other.
Where does a person interested in going green begin?
I have three philosophical tips for those just getting started:
- Start with the savings (either time or money).
- Ask questions.
- Have fun!
The biggest barrier to people making better choices is how hard we are on ourselves. New parents particularly fall into this trouble: give yourself a break. Start with things that actually seem like fun. Yeah, using cloth diapers is the green and cost effective choice, but if every time you think about doing it you want to cry, pick something else to start with. If you do something new and it seems worth it to you, your enthusiasm will lead to other green habits and it will inspire others. (Editor’s note: I can attest to this. One of the greenest mamas I know is one of the quietest about it. But every time I discover something she does that hadn’t occurred to me or she asks me a question about a product we’ve covered, she inspires me to dig a little deeper and think a little more about what I’m doing.)
What are the next three things a family might do to go green?
- Join a CSA (community supported agricultural project a.k.a. a farm box) or become a regular at your local farmer’s market. A family will save approximately $500 a season over conventional produce and you will get the highest quality produce: local, organic, and fresh. The health benefits will be felt by the whole family, but even better you can be assured that if your toddler only eats two bites of carrot the whole day at least those two bites have the most nutrition possible without the pesticides.
- Try cloth diapering or even baby potty training. A family can save $2000 a child using cloth diapers instead of disposable. A family can save even more with elimination communication (a.k.a. baby potty training): a new, old trend. Our grandparents had their children potty trained by 18 months on average and families who use cloth diapers or practice baby potty training often get a similar result. That can save a lot of diapers and a lot of potty training battles with your three year old!
- Give up the throw-away habit. The bottled water habit can cost a family $1200 a year, the paper towel habit $50, disposable batteries $30. Other habits than can add up: disposable dishes, Ziploc bags, baby wipes, and cleaning products. There are greener alternatives for all these things that will save you money and the environmental (and sometimes health) savings will also add up.
What are common faux pas people make when trying to be greener?
- Not reading labels. To avoid being greenwashed, you have to bring along your reading glasses and flip to the fine print. Most likely source: your personal care products. If it isn’t certified organic (USDA Organic or Canada Organic Biologique Label) then be skeptical of claims of natural, non-toxic, or safe for baby. These other claims are often meaningless and baby products are often the most misleading.
- Think paying more means it is better. Sometimes things cost more because they are better quality and sometimes they just cost more. Most likely source: the nursery. For instance, an expensive new crib can often expose a child to more off-gassing chemicals, such as formaldehyde, than a used crib. Whereas buying a certified organic mattress might actually be worth it for your child. The same goes for many other aspects of a nursery where a bit of information upfront can save parents from spending (or re-spending) thousands later.
- Falling into the plastic trap. Everything about having a child forces you up against plastics: plastic bottles, plastic toys, even plastic lining on cans of formula or food. Many plastics have been found to leach BPA, phthalates, or other chemicals. Most likely sources: lining of canned goods (including formula) and soft chewy toy. More information has been coming out about the health effects of these chemicals: from feminizing effects on baby boys to toxicity concerns. Canada has done a good job minimizing exposures by banning BPAs in certain baby products, but these chemicals are still nearly ubiquitous. The exposure levels for North American children are among the highest in the world. The alternative is to get back to the basics with glass, stainless steel, and natural fibers like cotton and wool.
Does being more eco-friendly mean spending more money?
No! This is where it is good to remember every cliché you have ever been taught: less is more; penny wise is pound foolish. Quality often does cost more, but still the greenest moms I meet are also often the most frugal. Why? Because its more sustainable to have fewer things that are more durable; and if it is valuable enough, you won’t routinely walk off and leave it at the playground. The same goes with businesses: being green means investing in better products that will pay-off in the long-run and reduce exposure in the short-term. Being green really can and should save money as well as other resources.
How can you avoid being greenwashed?
Learn to read labels. If a label uses language like “natural,” “hypoallergenic,” “fragrance-free”: be on the alert as these are often meaningless phrases. Other words that get me asking more questions: recyclable packaging (okay so I can recycle it, but is anything in it recycled?), non-toxic (means it won’t immediately kill me, but in the long term?), and organic but without a certifying agency.
Look at the fine print. Avoid chemicals such as PBDEs, triclosan, parabens, and fragrance all of which can have serious health effects.
Ask questions. Whether in person or on a label: if a company won’t tell you what is in a product: don’t buy it!
What does it mean to be a green parent?
I love working with new and expectant parents and new business owners. They both have something in common: they are curious, they are open, they ask questions. I’ve learned from experience that the most effective greenies aren’t the most strident: they are the most curious.
Manda Aufochs Gillespie, a.k.a. The Green Mama, is an environmentalist, writer, business owner, and mom. She started The Green Mama LLC in 2007 in response to the growing demand for healthier homes, spaces, and products for children and their families. Today, The Green Mama LLC consists of a small team of women trained in aspects of green living from chemical sensitivities to small business development who bring their various expertises to thousands of parents through the web, radio, TV, and in person with classes, play-think groups, and consulting for homes and businesses. She recently moved to Vancouver from Chicago: www.thegreenmama.com