Category Archives: Environmentally Friendly

Is Online Shopping an Eco Friendly Choice?

Is Online Shopping an Eco Friendly Choice?

Online shopping is hugely popular. Not only is it often easier than going out the the store, you get an amazing selection and generally good prices. The big question is whether or not it’s the most eco friendly choice.

Online Shopping Disadvantages

There are certainly times when it’s frustrating to look at the packaging your purchases may arrive in. I recently ordered new windshield wipers online – every time I was at a store that sold them, I forgot about them. Remembering to order them online was much easier.

The packaging, however, was absurd. I ordered 3 wipers – two front and one rear. The rear windshield wiper arrived in a nice, narrow box, well sized to it.

The front wipers, however, arrived in a huge box. Now I had ordered some school uniforms for my kids at the same time, so I assumed that all came together, hence the large box. Nope. The box was just a bit longer than the wiper boxes were, 20 inches wide and a foot tall. The cardboard was also double thickness. Absurd to say the least.

Most packages also come with some plastic padding of one sort or another, whether it’s pop bead style or the pillow type. Sometimes one sort or another of styrofoam is used.

There’s an interesting chart on the Stanford Magazine website that gets into energy use for retail versus e-commerce pathways. In most ways, e-commerce does really well, but in packaging and last mile delivery, it uses more energy than retail. But when all the factors are put together, on average e-commerce comes out more efficient. That drive most people take to the store to buy things ruins the energy efficiency of retail.

While not necessarily an eco issue, I loathe doing online returns. Come to think of it, I hate doing them in person too, but sending a package back is generally an inconvenience that I find somewhat more difficult than doing a return when I go back to a store for some other reason as well.

Online Shopping Advantages

So just what are those advantages for online shopping, aside from the personal ones?

Saving gas is a huge part of it. Most people drive to the store, and that’s really inefficient from an environmental standpoint. This is why combining errands is so important. Most people don’t often walk, ride a bike or even take public transportation to go shopping – driving yourself is so much easier, especially if the store is more than a mile or two away or you’re buying groceries or other things that get heavy fast.

The other side of this comes from looking at how deliveries get to your home. Yes, that last mile delivery uses a fair amount of energy. However, delivery trucks are generally far more efficient than individuals driving to the store. Delivery companies plan their routes to be more efficient – that saves them a lot of money on fuel. Companies such as UPS have learned to avoid left turns, for example, when possible, as that has proven to be more efficient.

It’s not all about saving gas, of course. It’s also more efficient having your purchases come from the warehouse than from a store. Stores have to do more to look attractive. Warehouses can be laid out for efficiency.

Product research is one of my favorite advantages. You don’t have to take your best guess – you can see what other people think of a product you’re shopping for. You can find the most eco friendly options for what you need with relative ease. Salespeople can tell you a certain amount in person, but nothing beats the personal experience of many other buyers.

In general, online shopping is very safe so long as your computer is safe. A virus on your computer can compromise its safety – so can falling for a phishing email that tricks you into visiting a copy of a site and sharing your information with the wrong people. But so long as you are careful, keep your computer free of malware and don’t click on phishing emails, you’re pretty safe online.

The one other risk of shopping online is when you go away from the major websites. It can be more difficult to know who to trust when you go away from the big sites such as Amazon and eBay. You should always check an unfamiliar company out before buying from them online. Read their terms of service. Check out online reviews of them – with a grain of salt as online reviews can be faked. Make sure their checkout process is secure.

That said, there are risks to shopping in retail stores too. Just look at the widely publicized hacks of Target, Michaels and Home Depot. There are credit card skimmers that can steal your card information without you knowing it. Your credit card information it at risk whether you use them online or not – be wise about how you use them online and it won’t be any bigger of a deal than using them in person. Most credit card companies will easily reverse unauthorized charges, making them a good choice for online purchases.

What Does Eco Friendly Mean?

Lots of people and companies talk about eco friendly this and eco friendly that. What isn’t always clear is what they mean by that. Definitions may vary somewhat by source, but there are a few things I believe eco friendly ought to mean.

In part, the definition depends on what you’re talking about. There are different considerations when you’re talking about food, cleaning supplies, electronics and so forth.

1. Harm to the environment is minimized.What does eco friendly mean?

Pretty much everything has some impact on the environment, and some things can’t help but be a little harmful. The most eco friendly things are the ones which harm the least. This means thinking about what you buy, where it comes from, how it’s made, and so forth.

2. Benefit to the environment when possible.

Some eco friendly things you do will benefit the environment overall. Trees can be planted, a refuge for wildlife can be established, waterways can be cleaned. Mostly, the benefit will be in relation to what else you could have done. Cleaning with vinegar, for example, is much more eco friendly than using harsh chemicals, but there’s still some environmental cost. It should be much less than the environmental cost of other cleaning supplies, however.

3. Non-toxic.

This one is great for you, your family, and the environment in general. Non-toxic products are kinder to you and the environment. Non-toxic doesn’t always mean completely harmless to everything, of course. Your standard household white vinegar is non-toxic (obviously, you use it in food!), but it can be used to kill weeds in the yard.

4. Organic or sustainably produced.

Organic and sustainably produced products are generally more eco friendly than the alternatives. Non-natural pesticides aren’t used, fertilizers are organic sorts, and in general the impact of production is considered, so that the resources are used in a sustainable manner.

5. Recycling.

Recycling can be a part of eco friendly products, both in manufacture and how excess is disposed of. A plastic bottle in general isn’t eco friendly, but one made primarily of recycled plastic is considered more eco friendly than one without. Any plastic that you can send for recycling in your area is more eco friendly than plastics that will only end up in the landfill.

This is one area in which the eco friendliness of a product depends in part on you. It doesn’t do the environment any good for you to buy something that could be recycled if you don’t bother to recycle it.

6. Ingredients listed.

When possible a product claiming to be eco friendly should make its ingredients clear. It’s too easy for manufacturers to claim that a product is eco friendly when overall their product is not. Labels allow you to research and find out what’s in a product and if it really is eco friendly or just a greenwashed claim. Don’t trust the pretty pictures on the packaging – find out for sure. You may have to visit the company website if the label isn’t clear on the matter.

7. Use legitimate labels.

There are a lot of meaningless claims that make products sound environmentally friendly when they really aren’t. Make sure you know which labels are legitimate. Some must be verified by third parties. Here are some of the most trusted logos to help you pick eco friendly products:

Energy Star
USDA Organic
Green Seal

If the product is making claims not covered by one of these labels, you should read the claims they’re making and how they back them up. It’s easy to make nonspecific claims that sound good but are really meaningless. Be picky about what you trust. “Eco,” “natural,” “biodegradable,” and even “nontoxic” don’t always mean that much and may not be well regulated.

7 Green Valentine’s Day Ideas for Parents

Green Valentine's Day Ideas For Parents

Valentine’s Day is a fun time for parents to remind each other how much they care for one another. That makes it another holiday with the potential for a mess of stuff that will shortly be thrown out. Here are some more eco friendly options for Valentine’s day gifts for parents.

1. Fair Trade or organic chocolate.

Is this obvious or what? I don’t think much more needs to be said.

OK, so my preference is to make pomegranate truffles for my family. Whether you make your own chocolates or buy them, pay attention to the quality of the products you use. Fair Trade chocolate is a great way to go.

2. Fair Trade or organic flowers.

Of course, you could go with flowers from your garden, if you’re fortunate enough to have any at this time of year, but most people will have to buy flowers if that’s what they want to give for Valentine’s Day.

Think about drying any flowers you get, and using them as decorations. I have a huge jar full of every flower my husband has given me since we got married. We hung each bouquet upside down in a closet until the flowers dried completely. This way they remain a lovely and sentimental part of our home decor. If that’s not your thing, compost them.

Alternatively, choose potted flowers that can be added to the garden or grown indoors. I have a lovely miniature rose bush that my husband gave me a few years ago growing in our garden. He tried to sneak it in, but my youngest’s loud “WOW!” gave him away.

3. Serve organic wine.

Whatever your romantic dinner may be, select a bottle of organic wine. Look for the USDA organic seal.

4. Organic lingerie.

A nice piece of lingerie is such a classic gift for couples. Think about the materials it’s made of, but still have fun.

5. Eco friendly jewelry.

Most jewelry is pretty bad for the environment, and often bad for social issues as well. Just think about blood diamonds.

You can do better. Companies such as GreenKarat will take your old gold to make new jewelry. Others focus on ethical origins for their supplies.

6. Rethink the card.

You don’t have to buy a Valentine’s Day card to express your feelings for you. Instead, make your own. You can write poetry, a haiku or even just a few quick sentences to show how you feel. Print it up or say it out loud.

7. Plan a spa day.

Check out your local spas and find one that focuses on environmentally sound practices. You can go together or just give your loved one a day to relax. SpaFinder is an easy way to get a gift card that works at many spas. Check to see if the spa you’d prefer accepts gift cards from them.

Eco Friendly Workout Gear

My husband and I joined a local gym recently. We had talked a few weeks before about keeping an eye out for an affordable gym membership, and it should surprise no one that this happened shortly after the new year began. What better time for a gym to entice new members than when resolutions are fresh, right?

We were both quick to recognize a problem, however. I almost always wear jeans, not exactly suitable gym workout attire. My husband also lacked appropriate clothing for the gym. We actually had to go shopping for stuff to wear to the gym. At least we both had suitable shoes.

A lot of the workout gear out there really isn’t all that eco friendly. Still, there are some worthwhile options to consider.

Eco Friendly Workout Clothes

Gaiam is a wonderful source for sustainable workout clothes. They use organic cotton, recycled polyester and other such materials. also has a nice selection, but you have to find their eco-friendly department.

The recycled synthetic fibers really can be better in workout clothes than natural, much as I generally prefer natural. They may better wick away moisture – that is to say, sweat – which is why you see so many workout clothes advertising that feature. You don’t need new materials for that – some recycled fibers do that just fine.

Tencel (or Lyocell) is popular. It’s made from the cellulose in wood pulp. Modal is also popular, and also comes from spun cellulose, generally from beech wood. You may be able to find workout clothes with these materials.

Workout Shoes

I like my New Balance shoes. I got them from Planet Shoes. They sell footwear at environmentally consciously as they can. They even offer Carbon-Free Shipping, which means that you pay a fee so they can offset the carbon resulting from the shipment of your shoes.

Planet Shoes has a nice selection of athletic shoes. You should be able to find some to suit your needs there.

Know Where Your Towel Is

You should bring a towel with you when you work out at a gym. It amazes me how many people don’t at my gym, one of my few disappointments, but at least the gym provides a spray cleaner and towel in a few spots around the gym, so you don’t have to worry about things staying too nasty from other people’s sweat staying on the machines.

Still, you should be wiping down the equipment after you use it. It doesn’t take a big towel to do this, so bring the size you need – smaller if you shower at home rather than at the gym is fine. I’m just using a towel that I already had, no need to buy a special towel just for use at the gym, seriously folks. Using one you already have is better than buying some organic cotton towel you don’t really need. But if you really do need towels, organic cotton’s a pretty good way to go.

Water Bottles

I remember the last time I had a gym membership, call it 15 or so years ago. I don’t know that many people at all brought bottled water to the gym – I think most people just used the drinking fountain. I know I did. I could be wrong about that, it has been a long time.

These days, practically everyone has a water bottle. Unfortunately, they’re mostly the usual plastic bottles intended for a single use. I see a few reuseable water bottles, but not that many. Seeing all the treadmills, bikes and elliptical machines with bottle holders was a welcome surprise to me.

I love my stainless steel water bottle. It’s a steel Thermos Intak, not a specifically eco friendly brand, but quite durable. My husband has a large Klean Kanteen, which goes to work with him also. Both have been around the house for a few years now, and are holding up really well. My husband’s bottle has a few dents from going to and from his work all the time, but nothing that’s a problem.

And remember that water is just fine for most people working out. Most people really don’t need a fancy sports drink to recover from a workout.

Gym Bags

I’m only mentioning gym bags because some people use them. I don’t. I change clothes at home and don’t shower at the gym, so I don’t need one. It would be a waste for me. My gym doesn’t have things like swimming pools or saunas, so there’s no need to bring a change of clothes there.

Think first about whether or not you need a gym bag, then about what you can use instead. You may well have a bag of some sort that will do the job. You’ll probably be mostly shoving it into a locker while you work out, after all.


IPods and such are so common at the gym these days. It’s nice to have a little music to keep yourself entertained. It’s not absolutely necessary – so far I’ve skipped it, in part because my husband’s iPod nano would be awkward to deal with, as my gym clothes have no pocket, and the iPod doesn’t have a clip.

If you’re sharing an iPod or other MP3 player, I would suggest getting your own earbuds. It’s just more sanitary.

As far as the environmental considerations, I generally like Apple’s products. They try to make their carbon footprint smaller and limit their use of toxic materials. I’m not always happy with them, and certainly not a raving fan, but they’re pretty good. They also provide recycling programs in many places for their products.

Why Should We Be Eco Friendly?

One question I get asked some time goes along the lines of “why be eco friendly?” For some people, it seems like too much effort for too little reason. The reasons just aren’t apparent to everyone, even as others state that it’s obvious.

The need to be eco friendly goes beyond whether or not humans are causing any sort of climate change, even though some want to reduce it to that single reason. It’s a good reason, but it only works for those who agree that there is human-caused climate change. For others, you need more reasons than that.

Why should we be eco friendly?

It’s Good For Your Health

Eco friendly products are generally better for your health. They use fewer toxic materials. And contrary to common belief, they aren’t always of poor quality. Some of my favorite eco friendly cleaning supplies, for example, are at least as effective as their more toxic counterparts. My favorite personal care items are, in my opinion, even more effective than their more common counterparts, and cheaper too. The list goes on.

It Often Saves Money

You save money a few ways by being eco friendly. The simplest is by just not buying as much stuff. One of the greenest things you can do, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Eco friendly living save money other ways too. Most eco friendly products use less energy, so even some of the things that cost a bit more upfront cost less in the long run. Sometimes the payback takes a while, but it’s usually there.

A good eco friendly product should also be more durable. It’s not terribly eco friendly to be constantly replacing things that should last for years, or even decades. If you can use something that functions just as well, is more eco friendly than the alternative in general, and lasts longer, why wouldn’t you prefer it?

Pollution Means More Than Climate Change

Pollution means more than climate change

People focus on climate change when they talk pollution, but it goes far beyond that. Think about dead zones in the ocean, caused by agricultural runoff. Think about plastic floating in the ocean. Think about the air you breathe.

Recycling and using less energy helps cut down on pollution. In many areas, recycling has become much easier to do than it was in the past. With more energy efficient appliances and lights, cutting down on your power usage is getting easier too. The more people participate in these things, the more everyone can benefit.

It’s Delicious

Ever compare produce from a good farmer’s market or your own backyard garden to produce from the grocery store? Most would agree there’s a difference, and grocery store produce loses. I’m not even getting into organic vs. conventionally grown produce here – food miles make a difference too. Fresher food simply tastes better.

It’s Just the Right Thing to Do

You may not see the immediate benefit of some of the eco friendly things you do. That doesn’t mean there’s no benefit at all. Take a look at where the benefit comes in for the various things you do and buy, and you might be surprised at the impact you’re having. Many of the worst environmental impacts happening right now are affecting the poorest parts of the planet. The part you play in that may be small, but it doesn’t hurt to decrease it.

You’re An Example to Others

Your impact is small, but that’s how many things start. When others see you care about the environment, you’re making it easier for them to care. When others see you not caring, it’s easier for them to not care. Either effect goes beyond you as others take action, at least in part based upon what they see others do.