The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 17, 2008

Gratitude for Diane’s Big Green Purse

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!

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Diane MacEachern
15 years ago


Thank you for writing such a thoughtful review of Big Green Purse. I’d like to invite you to write a guest post for my blog on plastics. It would be especially useful to let people know what you’re doing to eliminate plastics from your life. If you have a previous post and just want to point me there, I’d be happy to publish it at, and link back to your site. I also appreciate the comments of others. It gives me a perspective that I might otherwise not get. I have to say, regarding the cover — what one of your commenters calls the “dress/purse thing” — the design was really intended to be sort of tongue-in-cheek (I have very few dresses myself!). But it was also intended to appeal to the millions of women out there who, unlike those who read your blog, probably never think about the connection between what they buy and the impact it has on the planet. Again, thanks for actually reading the book all the way through! With much appreciation for all your good work, Diane MacEachern

15 years ago

As you say, buy less is the key. We are all alive in a unique period of human history that combines two things that are dynamite together – there are too many of us and we have been set free with cheap energy to consume beyond the wildest dreams of any who came before us.

I think we’ll look back both fondly and ruefully to this period as one in which we could literally have anything we wanted in any quantity while at the same time we did not hold back.

We will look back ruefully because I believe the time is soon approaching when there will be mandatory restrictions on what we can do/buy (carbon limits) along with “natural” restrictions like we are seeing even now that are due to a lack of the item (collapse of the Pacific salmon fisheries, etc.)

That there are those of us who are consciously scaling back pales in comparison to the number who consume heedlessly and the number who long to do so, but what we do isn’t pointless: I want to be able to look my grandchildren in the eye and tell them I played a minimal part of the problem and was active in going against the tenor of the times.

15 years ago

Thanks for the review Beth. I’ve been a bit put off by the cover — dress/purse thing. But now I think I’ll request it from the library. I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainable seafood recently; it’s a tough issue but one that a lot of mainstream supermarkets are starting to take note of. I rely heavily on the information at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program site.

15 years ago

I’m off to the library today, so thanks for a great suggestion!

Green Bean
15 years ago

Beth, I’m so glad you wrote this. I’ve debated reading Diane’s book for a while. I struggle with the idea of “buying our way” out of this versus mindfully using our dollars and cents to vote in the marketplace – as Diane seems to suggest. Ironically, I have a post coming up tomorrow that is a play on words off of her book. I’ll have to get the book from my library.