Archive | March, 2012

Has The Word ‘Green’ Become Polluted?

For months now I’ve been scratching my head wondering why the green movement has stopped. Worse than stopped – reverse might be a better word for it. I’ve been asking questions like “why are people back shopping at Walmart?” and been at a loss, but I think I know the answer. The retail world and marketing minds behind them have simply started to overuse a word we used to trust. The word green meant safe, it meant Eco-friendly, and something we didn’t have to research, but with everybody now using this word is no longer has meaning. And with big box stores now offering ‘green’ selections, people just throw up their hands and start shopping back based on price.

Here are some tips to cut through greenwashing and hold stores or products accountable for their green rating:

1) What is the item made from? Make sure to cover exterior and interior of a product. I see so many products coated with a form of antibacterial coating but marketed as winkle free, or a good thing with avoiding germs. If you are looking for natural materials (100% cotton, etc.) ask that it’s in fact 100%.

2) What is inside the product? When the item you are purchasing doesn’t contain an ingredient list, this can be difficult but someone selling the product is responsible for knowing this information. Is the stuffing or inside sprayed with flame retardants?

3) Where was this item manufactured? * I have a story that is a great example of why a product might not be ‘green’ if it’s not locally made. This is a great question and why it’s not asked more often I have no idea. I ask it every time I go to the Mall. Ask the question every time you purchase something and the answers might surprise you.

4) Where can this item go when I’m finished with it? The end of a product’s life is pretty important. Once you figure out that land fills are getting to a point where they can’t take more junk, the 2nd hand stores are full of crap, and if we are back to shopping based on cost alone, my fear is we are turning away from a simplified approach to living that we’ve been moving towards over the last couple of years. Invest in quality, not quantity and you’ll learn that heirloom products in your life are important because they can be reused for a long time.

* I have an example that covers ‘green’ items that are imported. There are many items that we don’t manufacture yet in North America, however you might be surprised at how many we can! I actually felt ill when I received a price list sent to me by an overseas rep a few months ago. Because I’m the owner of Green Planet Parties, I’m often sent pitches from overseas companies and a flower felt garland caught my eye. I thought – “how cute and it’s made from felt!” But when I saw the price list my heart just dropped…the cost of the garland was $0.15. I had no idea this was how inexpensive overseas products could be. For 4 years I’ve had party decorations made locally by moms that sew so I’ve never out-sourced decorations before. Do you know how much I pay someone to make a garland?  $9.  How would a store like mine ever be able to compete with prices this low? I guess the only way is if you, the consumer, care that someone is receiving a penny to manufacture an item or not. Asking the simple question of “where is this made?” is easy, interesting, and will salvage small businesses and local artists. There is a great quote on Pinterest that captures this concept from Anne Lappe:  “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for what kind of world you want.”

If you are new to the term ‘green washing’ it simply means to market a product as ‘eco-friendly’ when it’s actually not. There have been great articles written about pink washing lately too!  This term deals with the topic of companies that put pink ribbons on their products for breast cancer awareness when the product actually contains ingredients that are linked to cancer. Pink washing again is a marketing ploy to sell products based on ‘marketing’ not the integrity of the brand.

If we continue on the journey of supporting big businesses that think they have our health and the environment’s interests at heart, I think we’re in trouble as consumers. If you are a big box business, in my opinion, you have a diluted business plan – meaning you carry everything under the sun because you want to be an all inclusive one-stop shop for everything a person needs to purchase. But by doing this, you are diluting more than just your products…but also run the risk of diluted product knowledge. If I’m shopping at the butcher shop – would I ask him/her for tips on how to garden? Or about the latest fads for my hair style? No I wouldn’t. Individual product expertise when we are talking about bringing new products into your home, this is the edge a small business has over big stores. I know of a respected organic skin care line that catered to children with sensitive skin. In order to be available at the big box stores, they had to add a new preservative to this line of skin care. Being available in the big box store actually made the small company reformulate their ingredient list. But when you drive prices down and don’t ask questions, these are the types of problems that will occur. Chemicals that are hard to detect like lead and flame retardants – you need expertise product knowledge to counter act if you are looking to bring ‘green’ items into your life.

I’m not the only person frustrated by green or pink washing. Here are some related articles for more info!

Avoid Greenwashed Brands by Fashioning Change http://fashioningchange.com/blog/five-ways-to-avoid-greenwashed-brands

Why Pink Ribbons Are Fading by EcoMom Alliance: http://www.ecomomalliance.org/profiles/blogs/why-pink-ribbons-are-fading

What Does Natural Mean To You? by Organic PR: http://www.organicprpro.com/2011/07/what-does-natural-mean-to-you/

From Paige Wolf, author of Spit That Out! Sins of Greenwashing http://www.spitthatoutthebook.com/2011/09/whats-a-green-mom-to-do-an-excerpt-from-%E2%80%9Cthe-sins-of-greenwashing/

And Danika, editor of https://www.facebook.com/greenwala manages two Facebook pages on the topics of Greenwashing and Pinkwashing

 

 

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Compostable Dinosaur Dig – Owl Pellets!

Have you visited your local raptor recovery center? It would be a great outing over Spring Break and with our recent visit to O.W.L. with my son’s Grade 4 class, I discovered a new respect for an animal I already adore – owls. They have multiple superpowers (hearing in particular) and produce owl pellets – which are honestly one of the coolest science projects for children. They are like a dinosaur dig that you’d purchase at the toy store – you know where your child spends hours looking for the bones to complete a skeleton?  Only an owl pellet is made from all compostable materials and the different learning options for children are endless.  What is an owl pellet?  It’s a popular belief that they are owl poo (that’s what I thought). But they are actually regurgitated parts of non-digestible prey from an owl. An owl has the ability to unhinge it’s jaw (like a snake) when it wants to eat quickly. It is able to eat larger prey this way like a small crow, rat, mouse, rabbit, etc. Because owls have two stomachs, they take the nourishment of what they’ve just eaten, but then use the 2nd stomach to separate the fur, bones, and tail. Then they cough up an owl pellet (like a cat with a fur ball) in the form of a pellet. The largest pellets are roughly the size of a child’s fist, but they can be much smaller too – depends on the size of the owl. The pellet looks like a lump of mud or poo, but really it’s a ball of mostly fur and skeleton matter.

My son’s class dissected owl pellets last week and it was amazing! With 30 kids in the classroom, you would expect a few children to be whining or complaining about how ‘gross’ this project was.  Especially since after some pellets were dissected, there was a fluff of fur on desks that really resembled the prey. BUT – every single child in that classroom was totally excited and I only heard the words “COOL!” and “Look what I found” coming from desks.  My son was lucky enough to find two skulls in his pellet which was amazing because you can actually make out the eye sockets and the curved nose and front two teeth of the field mouse inside:

Each child in the classroom put newspaper on their desk with a brown paper towel for bone collection. If you are doing this project at home, also have tweezers and a ziplock back to collect the bones. A few of the children could identify the bones they dug out of the pellet – the skulls, vertebrae, and pelvis were exciting to find.

When each child was finished their dissection and collection, we simply rolled up the newspaper and pellet matter and emptied into the compost. It was just like playing with a dinosaur dig toy like you’d purchase at the store, except this one is actual bones and there is no plastic or packaging to worry about. Bones went into a ziplock bag with the child’s name so the next day they’d be able to try and piece together the skeleton. There are many printables online to help with this – here is an example of this exercise from a pellet dissection in my son’s class!

I can’t wait to find or purchase more owl pellets for all my children to experience this amazing activity!  Learning more about owls was very interesting and dissecting the pellets would be a memorable Spring Break activity.

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Movie Review: The Lorax

I have been so excited to see the release of our favorite Dr. Seuss book classic The Lorax on big screen. I was most excited to see the Trufulla trees because I’ve loved them for so long…to see them move, get a sense of their texture, colors and beauty was a big treat. We returned home from the theater a few hours ago and I’ve been buzzing to write down my thoughts. It would be easy to hate a remake of a book that has meant so much to me personally and my children, but this movie is a good thing. It’s coming at a great time in the world where greenwashing is high, our love of excess is also high, and the wise reminders from The Once-Ler need to be heard. A few of my kids commented they found the movie a bit depressing and I have to agree at the beginning. You are introduced to a world where everything is plastic. Then you see the outskirts of this town and everything is dark, bleak, and barren. I also thought my twins might get scared of the Once-Ler when he’s in the tower looking out through the blinds, but this wasn’t a problem. The movie weaves through the retelling of the book The Lorax told by The Once-Ler. You don’t get his side of the story in the book, so it’s amazing through the magic of the movie to understand how greed and power are an easy lure. But before all the Truffula Trees disappear you get to see them on the big screen and they are beautiful. The forest of Truffula trees is amazing…it’s how you’d imagine it from the book. My kids also really like how funny the Humming-Fish are in the movie…kind of understated humour and they got it and liked it!

I’m not going to go through the entire movie with this review. I want people to watch it and don’t want to spoil it. I do want to talk about my two favorite scenes in the movie and they are so understated (and brilliant) but I don’t think you’ll mind if I share them.

When the Once-ler cuts down the first Truffula tree to make a sneed, the Lorax pops out of the tree stump. We know this part from the book. But in the movie I love how the character The Lorax starts to place rocks around the tree stump and it’s a beautiful moment where he works with the animals to create a monument around something of great importance that has died.  The animals in the forest (Humming-Fish and Bar-ba-loots) all lend a hand and soon the stump is surrounded by rocks. They flash to this stump at the end of the movie when all the trees have been cut down. This was understated brilliance number one from the movie.

My other favorite part in the movie was when Betty White’s character (the very fun and wise grandmother in the movie) sees the Truffula seed her grandson is given and says to the seed “Oh!  I remember you!” and is so excited. You see, she is the only character in the movie that actually remembers what a real tree looks like. I haven’t seen the movie producers or other movie reviewers talk about the importance of giving a grandparent such a key role in the film, but I think it’s brilliant that she is one of the main characters and heroes in the movie. I wonder if they are making reference to how today’s society is moving towards harkening back to how our grandparents did things in our desires to become more ‘eco’. Actions and everyday life that is ‘green’ to us was just how it was more than 60 years ago. Plastic did not exist and the environment was treated with so much more respect, but it wasn’t out of a way to be ‘green’ or ‘cool’ . . . it simply just was.  If they meant to do this – I got the message loud and clear. Relying on the expertise and knowledge of the grandmother in the movie truly helps save the day in the film and she was my favorite character.  A good lesson to take away from the movie – learn from older generations. They have so much knowledge on how to do things better…that includes not indulging in over-consumption of  ‘things’ and ‘stuff’.

I was expecting to face palm or roll my eyes at the ‘romantic’ element in the movie. I mean, really, it’s Dr. Seuss. . . but unlike other parents I’ve heard make mention of the romantic story-line, it was very low-key and gave the older crowd in the audience a laugh.  The elephant in the room I do need to write about is the amount of commercialism associated with The Lorax.  I’m a rational enough person to separate commercialism via car sponsorship, toys, and many other items of Lorax merchandise we don’t need….but is everyone? I’ve read the uproar over Mazda using the ‘Lorax approved’ button to sell gas fueled cars but the sponsorship relationship that got me upset was the one signed with Target. For me, Target (which we don’t have in Canada) is an equivalent of Walmart (which we have plenty of in Canada) and why this company was given the rights to distribute and mass commercialize this movie still has me shaking my head. If the movie producers wanted to really make a statement, they would have not have made more ‘stuff’ that adds to the problem of over-consumption and greed that is so harmful to the environment. This is the goal of the movie – to educate against consumption. “Biggering and biggering” was the problem and the song routine that really drove home these words and also included messages of greed and power. In my opinion, this was a colossal error and I encourage parents to not buy that stuffie or plastic toy their child wants with the Lorax’s face attached and explain to the child why you’re not buying the toy. Take that opportunity to talk about the message and true goal from the book and movie.

I think all parents and children will learn a positive message from the movie The Lorax. Not all children (especially young ones) are able to truly understand what Dr. Seuss  was trying to tell us from the book The Lorax. Sometimes it’s easier to see it on the big screen where there is more detail and a longer timeline to get the message across. I asked my sons what message they took away from the movie and Angelo responded “unless people care a lot about nature, bad things will happen to it”.  It was my older son’s short response that really surprised and delighted me “only take what you really need from nature”.  I’m glad I have a reference point now with my younger daughters when we talk about plastic toys, nature, and our own consumption. It is much easier to point to messages from the movie with the younger crowd. Thumbs up and I’m excited to see change inspired by the retelling of this brilliant and beautiful story!!

Related Articles:

I loved looking back on the article I wrote about the book The Lorax from 4 years ago. I still love the book this much and take away a new message every time I read it to my children. Here is the post:

The Greenest Book You’ll Buy….and It’s Dr. Seuss!

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Compostable Fairy Gardens: Fairy Party Craft

A few weeks ago my twins celebrated their 6th birthday. We incorporated a really special party craft that I wanted to share for a few reasons: it is basically compostable, so party guests can return it to the earth when it gets ratty looking, the amount of imagination it inspired with the kids was amazing, and the supplies required where found for the most part in the forest. I am always totally inspired every time I walk into a West Coast forest – the amount of moss, ferns, and toadstools right now is breathtaking. I wanted a way to bring some of this beauty into the party give aways at the twins party. I mean really, it would just be too easy to go into the Green Planet Parties warehouse and start pulling out magical items. I wanted to challenge myself and incorporate a few of the fairy items from this popular category on the site, but also input some creativity. So voila – the concept of creating compostable fairy houses and wooden dolls was born and the effect was quite magical. So here is how you can construct the ultimate craft with a fairy themed soiree!

Collecting Supplies For Compostable Fairy Houses:

This was my favorite part of the craft. I got the opportunity to walk into our local Mall and rather than walking out with purchased goods, I went to all of the shoe stores and asked them for empty shoe boxes. Shoe stores collect many empty boxes during the day from customers that opt out of taking them home.  They are just broken down and recycled, but I managed to collect close to 20 over a 2-day period. I would advise getting regular sized shoe boxes…not big ones from boots. Here is what the stack of boxes looked like pre-party.

After we had boxes collected (1 box per party guest), we headed into the forest and started collecting our nature. The bottom of each shoe box was going to be lined with moss.  It’s easy to find thick, wet, beautiful moss in our local forest so we collected our moss and fallen twigs. Moss to line the bottom of the box and twigs to create rugs and ladders for inside the fairy house and fallen ferns to create a pretty design inside the house. I thought the ferns might look nice in small section in the fairy house glued to the side of the walls to give a shutter or the allusion of window blinds.

 

Making Wooden Fairies for Fairy Garden:

We then decided to include a wooden clothespin fairy for the girls to decorate inside their fairy house. We used all upcycled materials for these that included: wooden clothespins, tissue paper for wings, sharpie to draw faces and hair, fabric scraps to make clothing. We pre-painted faces (I did the faces and my girls did the hair) onto the clothespin dolls and we loved how they turned out. The ladies are whispering below how excited they are to get dressed and have a rest on their leaf bed.

The ladies continued to chat to each other about how they wanted to be dressed. Also included in the below picture is some inspiration to avoiding glitter to decorate the fairy wands. We found glass beads and glued them to the middle of the wooden wands (same beads we used for the pond) – loved the effect!

In order to ‘dress’ the fairies, we cut out rectangular strips of tissue paper. We slid the tissue paper up the clothespin opening, then fanned out wings. Then the girls used Green Glue and glued on the little bits of clothing I had pre-cut. The effect was lovely and I wanted the party guests to have a doll and some quality pieces from inside the house that they could play with for a long time.  Here is a dressed doll after one of our guests finished gluing on clothes.

Putting Together Fairy Houses:

After the party guests finished making a doll, they painted a few quality pieces that would be reused from the fairy house (the shoebox, moss and twig pieces could later be composted) and they included, fairy doors and beds from Green Planet Parties. The beds had huge impact with the girls because they were able to lay their newly acquired fairy dolls and put them to sleep inside the box. Here are the fairy doors that each party guests painted.

A great idea if using a fairy door for your fairy house is to cut out an opening in the shoe box where the fairy door can be placed. It’s the entry point for all the magic inside the house to be contained!  I did this for a few of the guests and they loved the effect!

While the guests were painting fairy doors and wooden wands, I was getting another table ready for the completion of the houses. The guest had their shoebox ready with moss inside, a leaf bed w/ pillow and twig ladder next to it to put inside the box, the fairy they had decorated, I put the guest’s name on the box, then they walked over with their fairy door and wand that was put into the box to dry. They started looking like this:

Another extra I had waiting to put into the box were blue glass rocks. Once a few were added to the corner of a fairy house it looked like a pond where the fairy could have a swim later.

Voila!  Close the lid and the fairy garden/house/doll is ready to go home when your party guests. I wrote names on the outside of each box so it was easy when guests were picked up to find their box. With the shoe box lids closed, I loved watching the reaction of parents (probably thinking why is she giving me this?) but then I looked them in the eye and said “compostable fairy house” and the adult’s eyes lit up because they knew these take home gifts were something different and unique.

Prep time for these fairy boxes should be about two weeks before the actual party. You want to enjoy the process of going into the forest and searching for treasures. Try to find sticks, leaves, acorns that have already fallen onto the forest floor. One idea we had was to collect acorns and glue them to the head of each fairy doll but there weren’t any in our area this time of year. It would have been a cute accent but I love how the faces on the dolls turned out. A glue gun really came in handy with making the twig ladders – I would have loved to make and hang some windows with twigs in each box too.  Using the glue gun also allowed me to not have to use glitter with decorating the wands. By adding a glass bead to the centre of the wooden wands, the girls just added some paint to them and we by-passed using glitter. I try to stay away from it because it’s plastic. I didn’t want this getting into the compostable materials inside the box.

We had a little over 15 party guests and it’s doable, but a smaller number of children is probably recommended for this craft. I divided the kids up into 2 groups otherwise it would have been overwhelming to orchestrate all of the little steps. It’s fun when you can take the time to listen to the kids and have them decide what all of the materials will be in their house: carpets from sticks, windows, ponds – very fun!

I write this article not as the owner of Green Planet Parties, but as a mom of two adorable little girls and a person with a serious Peter Pan complex; never want to grow up and someone that believes that fairies are real!

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