Thursday, July 7, 2011

People-Tested, Animal-Approved: Revisiting the Topic of Organics

Last year I wrote a post about the benefits of organic products, the difference between "natural" and "organic," and avoiding being duped by advertising. Well, a couple days ago I came across an excellent post by Jem's Room on essentially the same topic. Their post lead me to another great post on Green Options listing "fake organics," "fake naturals," "real organics," and "real naturals." To my horror, quite a few of the products I've grown to know and love were on the fake side of things. I--a former advertising copywriter--have been duped by advertising copywriting. That's the power of advertising.

It turns out that none of my bath products were certified organic. :(

Since this low-blow, I feel that it's safe to say almost every bath, body, and beauty product on the market is harmful even for its intended use unless they are USDA Certified Organic (or international equivalent). For this reason, I am no longer going to use the term "organic" and/or "natural." Why? Because they're buzz words used by advertisers that describes some of the characteristics of a product, but not all, and clearly not accurately.

Instead, I'm going to call acceptable products "USDA's" because there's no getting around that argument. I am also going to assume and accept that nearly everything these days seems to be harmful. Simply stepping outside and breathing urban air is a frightening concept for me. But as I stated in my post many months ago, my main reason for not wanting to use products with synthetic chemicals is because of animal testing. Ethically, that is not okay in my book.

So this time I did a simple Google search and looked for a credible source for "USDA's." (My actual search was "list of USDA certified organic products.") So now I have that forum post on Green Options I linked earlier, and a directory by the Organic Consumers Association. Unfortunately, neither list seems to be maintained any longer but it's a great jumping-off point for both you and I. But then I found the motherload....

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization which advocates the regulation and removal of dangerous chemicals in consumer products. They also developed the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database which has more than 65,000 products for you to search through, each of which will tell you on a scale of 0-10 how safe your products are (0 being the safest, 10 being the most toxic).

You can also search by ingredient which tells you about the ingredient in question, how safe it is, and lists all the products in their database which has that ingredient. For example, I am concerned about the use of Carmine which is perfectly safe but is derived from crushing the shells (graphic) of the Cochineal Beetle. The reddish tint is used in many different products like lipstick, eyeshadow, lollypops, and popsicles, just to name a few. There are 3,913 products listed in the Skin Deep Database that use Carmine. Gross.

That said, if you're concerned about the safety or ingredients of your soaps and whatnot, I suggest you search for it in the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. It may just be the greatest thing since sliced bread!

If you enjoyed this entry, please check out the original People-Tested, Animal-Approved blog I wrote last year!

Monday, July 4, 2011

America the Beautiful: Celebrating U.S. conservation efforts on Independence Day

On July 4th, 1776 the congressional approval of the Declaration of Independence severed direct ties between the United States and Great Britain. Since that time, we the people have celebrated the Fourth of July with family, fireworks, beer, and barbeques as a day of appreciation for this country's freedoms and accomplishments. So before the festivities begin, read about a few other reasons to have pride in the United States as not only protectors of its values and citizens, but also of land, water, and ecology.

For Purple Mountains Majesties

Mt. Whitney has an elevation of 14,505 ft and is the highest summit in the lower 48 states. Image provided by

One of the greatest achievements of the United States is its avid protection of land for the immeasurable tangible and intangible values it brings. A pioneer in environmental conservation and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, President Theodore Roosevelt once said "A nation that destroy its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people." He later went on to help protect 150 National Forests with friend and colleague, environmentalist John Muir; established the National Park Service; and passed the Antiquities Act of 1906 which protects landmarks and monuments of historical or scientific value.

The National Park Service today maintains approximately 84 million square acres of land and over 4.5 million square acres of oceans, lakes, and reservoirs. They are also joined by the Bureau of Land Management which maintains approximately 643 million square acres of surface land, 247 million square acres of which is protected as public land for recreation and conservation. The U.S. Forest Service also protects more than 192 million square acres of public land, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which manages approximately 150 million square acres of National Wildlife Refuges. These are only a few of the agencies responsible for protecting land. There are also state, local, and privately owned protected land. Seeing is believing.

'Til all Success be Nobleness

The Bald Eagle was successfully recovered and removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. Image provided by

Beyond that of land, the United States has maintained continuous effort in protecting threatened and endangered species of both flora and fauna. Congress recognized in the Endangered Species Act of 1973 that "fish, wildlife, and plants are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people." As of today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 1,974 U.S. and foreign species as being threatened or endangered, 1,139 of which having active recovery plans. To date, the USFWS has aided in the recovery of 21 species including the Bald Eagle, American Alligator, Gray Whale, and Peregrine Falcon.

Maguire Daisy. Photo by Michelle Dela Cruz / NPS.

This year alone, we celebrate the recovery of two species: the Gray Wolf of the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Maguire Daisy. Gray Wolves are unfortunately still endangered in many other regions, but continued efforts are being made to successfully recover them. However, the Maguire Daisy was removed from the endangered species list on February 18th, 2011 and is found throughout Utah in higher elevations between 5200 and 8600 feet.

The Gray Wolf is prosperous in some regions but is still considered an endangered species. Photo by Tracy Brooks / USFWS.

From Sea to Shining Sea

Hawaiian coast. Photo provided by

But none of these efforts are possible without maintaining the integrity of our water, oceans, and atmosphere. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency both work to improve our oceans and climate by studying resources and interpreting the results; providing cleanup and manpower for disaster relief; ensuring the safety of chemicals and their usage to prevent pollution; and passing and enforcing laws to protect people, animals, and the environment.

The EPA also manages all hazardous and non-hazardous waste and recyclables under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. They are responsible for ensuring that contaminants don't effect our food, water, air, land, and oceans and are constantly attempting to improve current waste management programs.

So today when you're out barbecuing, spending time with your family, and celebrating our Independence Day, I hope you think back to some of these contributions made by the United States to protect the natural beauty of this portion of our planet. Not only are you able to enjoy this country's beauty, but so will future generations that sees beyond the years.

If you're all about the United States, maybe look into footage from last year's Puppy Bowl VII, or learn more about what Los Angeles is doing to cut down on trash.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I now pronounce you...Eco-friendly!

Long time no blog post! My apologies to you all for my absence these last few months. I assure you that it wasn't out of pure laziness, rather it was out of being overworked by my education. Now that the semester is over and I ended it with a 4.0 semester GPA, I am back to blogging!

In other news, my fiancée and I have been engaged for about a year now and we've been really honing in on the wedding plans lately. Since ecology is important to both of us, we have been coming up with environmentally friendly alternatives to some of the more traditional wedding practices. Almost everything can be bought from organic and fair trade vendors, but knowing how to go about the details is a little tougher. Here are two of our more unusual eco-friendly wedding ideas for those of you out there who are also in the same love-boat.

The rings!

Arguably the most important icon of weddings across multiple cultures since ancient times, the ring has been on the receiving end of much criticism lately in regards to conflict diamonds, or diamonds sold to fund wars responsible for the deaths of nearly four million people. For this reason, the Kimberley Process (KP) was born which is an international government regulation to ensure that diamonds are mined and traded conflict-free. Jewelers and jewelry companies now often advertise the fact that their diamonds are conflict-free and provide credentials to their customers.

A miner in Sierra Leone holding a diamond. Photo by Yannis Kontos.  Published by the New York Times, 2006.

But for those of you who still have concerns over the integrity of diamonds, you would be happy to know that diamonds weren't always the "go to" stone for marriage. In fact, diamond wedding rings were only worn traditionally in specific cultures and often came with other gemstones and styling requirements. It wasn't until the launch of the 1947 De Beers "A Diamond is Forever" campaign in which diamonds were regarded as the gem of choice because of its properties of strength and stability not found in any other stone (a rating of 10 on the Mohs Scale). Popular alternatives to diamonds include sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and cubic zirconia, however any stone with a rating of 8 or higher on the Mohs Scale is of a desired strength for wedding rings.

If you're considering a Kimberley-certified diamond or alternative gemstone, you may also be interested in buying recycled rings or having your old unwanted jewelry made into your wedding rings by a jewelry designer. Recycled jewelry is often less expensive and since it's not generally done by large jewelry corporations, it tends to add a personal touch to it. The process involves removing any stones or beads from old jewelry, melting down the precious metals, and reforging them into a wedding band. If you have them made, you and your fiancée get to decide on the design and materials with the assistance of a jeweler while also having the comfort in knowing where all the materials came from.

This modern wedding ring from Erin Jane Designs is made from 14 kt recycled gold and a white sapphire.

So whether you have your heart set on diamonds or you're getting a feel for alternative stones, there are many ways to go about the rings without feeling guilty on your wedding day!

Register with Kindness

You may be thinking to yourself, "Gift registry? That's random!" But really, there are ways to be eco-friendly when it comes to gift registry as well. One way would be have a registry somewhere that is environmentally conscious and fair trade--that's obvious. But we're going about our registry a little differently:

8"plushy from the World Wildlife Fund.
In lieu of gifts, my fiancée and I are asking our guests to adopt an endangered species through the World Wildlife Fund. As an example, when you adopt a polar bear for $50 you'll receive a polar bear plushy and other goodies while helping a critically endangered species. Then during the reception, guests could bring their plushies and take pictures together with them. This would capture the fond memory of loved ones having shared in the conservation of endangered animals. I personally would rather have that than a blender.

Yeah, it's kinda cute...but not as cute as polar bears.

If you're considering going this route but aren't really interested in the World Wildlife Fund, there's always other organizations or fund raisers you can support. Whatever is important to you and your family is what really makes this idea special. Perhaps you have a loved one who suffers from an illness and you would like people to donate to its cause. Or maybe you're involved in your local church and would prefer donations to benefit your creed. Whatever your cause, you would be sharing something that is important to you and your fiancée with the rest of your family. (And if you still really want a new blender, you can always have an alternative registry--I promise I wont tell anyone.)

When it comes to your wedding, it's important that it represents the values of you and your fiancée. If being environmentally friendly is important to you both, there's an endless amount of things you can do for your wedding to support those values. What are some of your wedding plans?

There's at least 52 other ways you can be more eco friendly in your every day life. You can also learn the history of electric vehicles, and maybe make the switch yourself!