Good Green Reading: Big Green Purse

Editor’s note: The following excerpt is from Diane MacEachern’s book, “Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World.”  We like the book for its organized information (segemented by categories from personal-care products to appliances and electronics), product/company reviews and easy-to-follow suggestions for greener living … and although it targets women consumers and readers, we found most of the content equally guy-friendly and relevant.

From the moment we get up in the morning until the moment we go to bed, we depend on energy to maintain our busy schedules.  Just flick a switch or push a button.  Alarm clocks and coffeepots buzz to life.  Toasters and TVs feed us body and (occasionally) brain.  Hair dryers and dishwashers whir, computers and Cuisinarts stir.

It’s so easy we probably aren’t even aware that we’re using energy, let alone how it affects the planet.  Take electricity.  Creating kilowatts is the leading cause of industrial air pollution in the United States.  Most of our electricity comes from coal, and it leaves its mark not only on our well-lit households, but also in the smog, soot, acid rain, particulate matter, and other air pollutants that cause asthma and have been linked to increased heart disease among women.  When we shift to power-saving strategies at home, we’re standing up for cleaner air and our right to breathe it.

Abating electricity demand also helps moderate global warming. US households produce 21 percent of the country’s global-warming pollution.  That’s more than the entire heat-trapping output of the United Kingdom, according to Phillips Electronics and Environmental Defense.

One challenge we’ll all have in common as we struggle with how to control our growing energy demands will revolve around electronics.  During most of my youth, which was only one generation ago, my family – two parents and five siblings – shared one telephone, one television, three radios and one phonograph.  My kids have grown up in a house wired from top to bottom to accommodate three land phones, four cell phones, two PDAs (personal digital assistants), one fax machine, a minimum of one and sometimes two computer printers, two desktop computers, two laptop computers, a variety of CD and DVD players, a VCR, two iPods, one MP3 player, and six radios (though still no PlayStation or TiVo and only one TV).

Clearly, to make a dent in energy consumption, we have to curb our enthusiasm for electronics.  In doing so, we’ll reduce pollution, too, since e-waste is the fastest-growing component of trash.  Between 1997 and 2004, more than 315 million computers became obsolete in the United States.  As of 2007, at least 750 million cell phones needed recycling in America. Another 150 million will be added this year and even more next year.  Once in the waste stream, these devices may leak lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and other toxic substances into the water supply.  Municipalities that incinerate their waste instantly propel these toxins into the air, whereupon they return to earth in rainwater.  And once in our air or water, this junk is almost impossible to remove.

Because women are usually the chief executive officers of our households, we already manage lifestyle and shopping decisions to keep our families on track and our budgets in line.

But we can be the “chief environmental officers,” too, setting household guidelines that make saving energy and reducing e-waste a priority.  When we do, we’ll free up money we can shift to appliances and services that help us live a cleaner, greener life.

Diane MacEachern is a bestselling environmental writer, sought-after public speaker and founder of  To learn more about Diane or to order your own copy of Big Green Purse, visit her website.

Done any good green reading lately?  Share your favorites.

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