These days, when I read environmental books or articles, I usually have on my heavy duty critical thinking cap. Sometimes, I get so involved in picking apart the nitty gritty details of a book that I can’t see the forest for the trees. Yes, that’s a huge cliche, but it’s apt. And I also forget the person behind the book, the author who put their time and energy and maybe even love into bringing the book into the world.
Back in May, I wrote a review of Sierra Club’s Hey Mr. Green, at the end of which I mentioned Diane MacEachern’s Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World and took issue with the vagueness of the book’s recycled content statement. Well, a few days later, Diane herself left a comment here which made me rethink the way I read, review, and critique books. Here is her comment:
Thanks for the feedback on the recycled paper labeling for BGP. Actually, I had heard from the publisher that “printed on acid-free recycled paper made from 30% post-consumer waste” would be listed in the book, so was as surprised as you to see the more generic “acid-free recycled paper.” Just goes to show how important it is to double check in the “practice what you preach” column (but, perhaps, to also question one’s own assumptions when hunting for examples of blatant inconsistencies that turn out to be oversights). Diane MacEachern, author, Big Green Purse.
Ouch. She was right. Before tossing out out a criticism like that, I should have given her the benefit of the doubt and sought some clarification first.
Tonight, I (finally) finished Big Green Purse after getting involved with other things and putting the book aside for a while. And while I did take copious notes on each chapter and have my little list of disagreements (mostly to do with paper vs. plastic), what I am primarily left with is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the massive achievement that this book represents.
When I first saw the graphics on the cover of, I kind of snickered. “This book can’t be for me,” I thought. “I don’t wear a dress. I don’t even carry a purse!” But between the covers, the book is significantly meatier than it appears. And while it focuses on women’s ability to change the world through their spending power, the information in it is certainly not just for women.
The first chapters list in excruciating detail each of the environmental problems that we face and what will happen if we don’t do something about them. MacEachern covers climate change, toxicity issues, harm to wildlife, water, air, and forest issues, and (on page 8) gives a really great explanation of the Precautionary Principle.
The second chapter describes the seven Big Green Purse Shopping Principles which guide the discussions of specific types of products in the remaining ten chapters. They are:
1) Buy less.
2) Read the label.
3) Support sustainable standards.
4) Look for third-party verification.
5) Choose fewer ingredients.
6) Pick less packaging.
7) Buy local.
I love that “Buy less” is number one on the list. How can anyone argue with that?
Chapters 3 through 12 each cover a specific category of purchase: personal care products; cars and transportation; coffee, tea, and cocoa; produce, dairy, and meats; household cleaning; clothing & jewelry; lawn and garden; children’s things; lights, electronics, and appliances; and home building/remodeling. Each of these chapters discusses the issues and environmental problems associated with its subject in detail, gives loads of resources for finding green alternatives, and (one of my favorite pieces) often lists Action Items with contact information for major corporations so we can write them and ask for the kinds of safe products that we want!
I’ve learned a lot this past year about the impact of plastics on the environment, but there are other environmental issues which I fear I’ve neglected or simply been ignorant. For example, I never really thought about organic seafood. Have you? According to MacEachern, it doesn’t exist. Makes sense when you think it through. And how about dry cleaning? Yes, I’ve been asking for my clothes not to be covered with a plastic bag and have been vaguely aware of the toxicity of the chemicals used, but Big Green Purse educated me on all the different alternatives and why some methods advertised as green are anything but. (I’ll have a post about dry cleaning probably next week.)
Personally, I’d have liked even more emphasis on DIY solutions and buying used rather than new. And perhaps a section on plastics, especially their impact in the marine environment. (Maybe in an updated edition?) But overall, I think this book is an invaluable resource, and I imagine I’ll refer to it over and over again as I find myself making choices about what to buy. I can see myself using the Big Green Purse web site as well, as a source of continually updated information.
Thank you, Diane, for helping us to create a greener world!