The Eco Chick Guide to Life

How to Be Fabulously Green

Starre Vartan

St. Martin's Griffin

Introduction Why You Should Be an Eco Chick

Nobody can ignore the fact that there’s an environmental crisis going on. Between wacky weather courtesy of global warming; environmental toxins showing up in our food, water, and, ultimately, our bodies; widespread ecosystem destruction; and the extinction of thousands of plants and animals every year, it seems that all of us are finally getting the message that we are creating some serious problems.

The time to deal with these issues is now, and change starts with each one of us taking action in our own lives. But before you get out the sackcloth and banana-leaf moccasins, understand that just because we are facing a coming crisis with serious repercussions for us and for future generations doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy ourselves, look good, dress well, and even have a great time! That is the mission of the Eco Chick; if we throw a big green fiesta, and invite everyone to come, they’ll want to make the cool, positive changes that need to be made. If that sounds too good to be true, you’ll be (pleasantly) surprised by what you find inside this book.

Being an Eco Chick means doing good while having a good time doing it: it is NOT about depriving yourself, but about rethinking how we live our lives, and living better—more creatively, more passionately, and more consciously. And don’t worry, just because it’s good for Earth doesn’t always mean it will take a chunk out of your paycheck. Plenty of the ideas in this book will actually save you money! Eco Chicks not only cultivate exciting and joyful lives for themselves, but they also always have their minds on how their choices are affecting the rest of the world.

Back in the day, all women were Eco Chicks; they couldn’t help it, because to survive, one had to be savvy with resources. That meant using, reusing, and rereusing. Food wasn’t wasted, and what ever couldn’t be eaten would be recycled as fertilizer. Clothes were made by hand, and tropical fruit was an unheard-of treat (unless you lived in the tropics!). While this may have been a very planet-friendly way to live, it was hard work day in and day out, which led both women and men to figure out ways to make all that toil a little easier.

Fast-forward to today, and we don’t have to live the tough lives our ancestors did. But in order to maintain these life-styles, we use huge amounts of energy, depend on adults and children in third-world countries to do the work that we won’t (and then pay them poorly for it), and throw a lot of junk into ever-growing landfills. The depressing truth is this: our lifestyles, right now, depend on being wasteful, taking advantage of less-fortunate people, and consuming in a way that cannot be sustained in the future. We are polluting our air and water, using up oil and other nonrenewable resources, destroying everything from five-hundred-year-old forests to five-thousand-year-old ecosystems, and literally living as if there were no tomorrow. We are living at the expense of humanity’s—and the planet’s—future. The legacy we’re leaving behind could be very grim, but we have the power to transform that legacy, from doomy, gloomy desperation to a bright, green future that benefits all life on Earth.

The choice is ours.

Some people say the answer to this problem is going back and living like we did in times past. I don’t agree. While living the simple life might be great for some people, I love the modern world I live in, and I expect many other women do as well. Women are now able to run for office, hold top jobs, and travel the world freely, all thanks to the hard work of those smart, tough ladies who came before us. But however much I enjoy being a modern woman, I don’t want to hurt people, or the health of the environment. And there’s no reason to, as long as you’re savvy about what you buy and how you live. Become an Eco Chick and you’ll join women who are living wonderfully complicated, fun and fashionable, warp-speed, high-tech lives AND doing it without hurting the planet, other people, or ourselves. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Of course you can’t just simply walk around with a belief and good intentions and expect the world to change. You have to make changes by taking action. Here’s where it gets interesting—and fun! Action could mean modifying your shopping habits, writing to your legislator, changing the type of lightbulbs you use, or exploring new and different ways of getting to work or school. It doesn’t mean wearing a sack dress and sitting at home peeling potatoes, giving up style and life-style. This book is filled not only with specific ways your choices can contribute to a more environmentally sustainable world, but also with background information so you will know why an action is suggested.

I’ll even name names and tell you which brands are eco-friendly (and why) to make everyday shopping easier. I’ve included lots of retail Web sites so you can use the Internet to stock your makeup bag, closet, kitchen cabinet, and more. The Web isn’t just a great place to go shopping, though; it’s also a fabulous destination to learn more about topics that interest you, so I’ll point out the best online resources that will give you the eco point of view. You’ll find this same information on the Eco Chick blog (http://www.eco-chick.com), so you can start there and click away! Any recommended sites tackle the topics in a fair, evenhanded way and are usually run by nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations that don’t take money from corporations or businesses, so they’ll fill you in on the real deal.

Making changes can be difficult and complicated, and doing right by the environment is not always a straightforward proposition. Not everyone agrees on how to solve some problems, but this book will be your guide, showing you the changes you can make (and perhaps even inspiring you to try some new things too). Think of it as your best friend’s advice: you take what’s valuable and applicable to your life and take a pass on what doesn’t work for you. To know what kind of actions to take, you need to be educated. It’s all about what you know, so turn the page and learn how you can take better care of yourself and the environment. Welcome to Eco Chick’s world!

Why Should You Trust Me?

One of the best lessons my grandmother, who raised me from the age of four, ever taught me when I was growing up was how to be a critical thinker and consumer. After seventy years as an active American woman she told me the truth that we all forget sometimes: people will tell you all sorts of things to sell you stuff (so they can make money), or to try to get power or influence. Just because someone’s written a book about something, is on TV, or speaks really loudly at a party (hey, I’ve done all three!) does not mean you should automatically believe what they tell you.

But this is why you can trust me. I wrote this book because I sincerely care about the future we all share, and I think we are headed for major ecological disaster if we continue with our wasteful, unsustainable, head-in-the-sand ways. To earn my bachelor of science degree I studied biology, geology, and environmental science in college, and took classes in Earth’s natural history, basic and advanced biology, climate change, and ecosystems. I’ve seen the evidence firsthand of humanity’s impact on the planet, through my years of environmental reporting for magazines, and more recently my blog. I’ve spoken to doctors, scientists, nutritionists, politicians, government spokespeople, activists on both sides of debates, and lots and lots of regular folks who see what is happening in their communities, on their farms, or on their ancestral lands. As a trained scientist, I’ve read the original scientific reports and experiments regarding topics such as environmental toxins, global warming, and species extinction. I don’t know everything, but from my decade of experience, I’ve learned a lot, and I apply a critical lens to everything I check out.

What does it mean to be critical? I ask questions (sometimes ones people don’t like to answer); I check to see if what people or companies say is accurate; I follow the money and influence trails to figure out if information is biased and why; and I trust my gut that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

None of the companies’ products mentioned in this book gave me any money for endorsement; they are things I think work as well as, or better than, conventional Earth-unfriendly stuff. I’ve used myself as a natural products guinea pig and have been attempting to live each year more sustainably than the one before. I don’t work for any nongreen company or organization, do not have one specific political identity, and frankly don’t even hold any particular religious belief. (I think they all have great stuff to teach us.) I’m a citizen of planet Earth and I’m here to leave it better than it was when I was born.

I welcome complaints, corrections, curious questions, and constructive criticism at starre@eco-chick.com. I take compliments too!

Excerpted from The Eco Chick Guide to Life by Starre Vartan

Copyright © 2008 by Starre Vartan

Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Griffin

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.