To President-Elect Obama – Lead By Example to a Green, Sustainable, Non Toxic Safe Future

This month’s topic for the Green Moms Carnival is prevention.  More specifically, the question posed is if we, the Green Moms, could create an agenda for President-Elect Obama to address environmental, health or social problems, what would it be?  What would we like to see addressed by the new administration to PREVENT some of the problems we discuss and rant about all the time.

Diane MacEachern at the Big Green Purse will host the carnival on December 7.  She has also set up The Prevention Agenda forum at the social networking platform Ning, which adopts the slogan that I favor – “because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure . . . ”  I urge you to head over to Diane’s summary of the posts on December 7 and check them all out.  The participants and founding members of the Green Moms Carnival are AMAZING people.  Also, if you want to change the world, participate in The Prevention Agenda and say your piece.  Diane is going to prepare some one pagers for submission to the Obama administration, and she really has the pull to get them in front of the right people.

So, turning to the topic at hand, I have to admit it.  I’m flummoxed.  Faced with the green light to propose what I want to see, I don’t know where to start.  There is so much that I want – an overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act, a focus on health based regulation not cost based, science not politics to rule decisions, ingredients listed on household cleaners and other products, a focus on sustainability, solutions for energy, independent, verifiable standards for green, including labeling, etc.  But I realized that as much as I have to say on those topics, well, just, read my letter:

Dear President Elect Obama –

I know as you prepare to take office you are faced with numerous important issues, the most pressing of which is our deepening financial crisis.  The environment and environmental health issues may not be high on your list of immediate issues to tackle, although it is imperative that the US moves quickly to prevent dramatic climate change.  And I’m sure you have advisors on all the topics I could discuss with you – bisphenol A in polycarbonate plastic food storage and canned foods and beverages, melamine in infant formula, changing our regulatory focus to the precautionary principle, overhauling TSCA, greening our energy policy, stopping climate change, stamping out persistent organic pollutants and preventing new ones from being introduced, learning to know all the environmental and health risks before introducing chemicals, such as PBDEs, nanotechnology, triclosan, and more.

And all of those are important environmental issues to tackle.  The future of our world and our children depends on you addressing those issues.  But to do that, Mr. President-Elect, you have to be a leader.  You must lead by example.

So this is my prevention agenda for you and your administration.  Do just that.  Lead by example.  Make conscious, informed choices for a better, safer, healthier planet.  I know that some of the suggestions below may be thwarted by various guidelines and standards for purchases, but I assume you can change those to make them greener.  Do it. 

In any event, according to news reports, one of the first things a new president does is redecorate the White House.  So, instead of ripping out the carpet and throwing out the furniture, be green.  Re-use and re-purpose everything you can.  By throwing away what doesn’t quite meet your decorating plan just advances the consumeristic culture that we must change to sustain our planet.  So don’t do it.  Keep the old – repurpose it if you must – but don’t just toss it into a landfill.

If you do buy new building products and furniture, buy sustainable and green.  Don’t be fooled by those pitches touting the benefits of recycled plastic.  I agree with Beth over at Fake Plastic Fish that creating a market for used plastic is foolhardy.  We don’t need to continue to encourage the use of disposable plastic.  Instead, buy sustainable products – those products that minimize environmental impacts from manufacture to use to disposal.  Consider organic wool carpet untreated with moth repellant or any other finishing and jute backing.  Or perhaps reclaimed wood, finished with a natural oil.  Use no VOC paints.  Choose furniture made with certified sustainably grown wood, with organic cotton or wool, untreated with flame retardants, stain repellants, or any other toxic finishes.  Lots of the founding members of the Green Moms Carnival can educate you on what products are sustainable and which ones aren’t.  We would be more than happy to help.

As you hold your meetings, use glass or lead free ceramic plates, not disposable plastics.  Just think about the Great Plastic Pacific Garbage Patch is you want to know why disposable plastics suck.  Stay away from disposable coffee cups, particularly styrofoam, and choose reusable glass or lead free ceramic.  Keep in mind that disposable paper coffee cups are manufactured for the most part using 100% bleached virgin paperboard coated with polyethylene.  I don’t know how many coffee cups we dispose of every day in the US, but in 2006, Starbucks alone estimated that it used 2.3 billion cups in its stores.  Just think of the impact if your administration does away with those disposable cups.  Have your staff choose the “We are happy to serve you” ceramic cup or the “I am not a paper cup” re-usable mug if they want the “to go” coffee cup look.  And, don’t have your administration use disposable stirrers – choose glass instead.  And for coffee, choose organic, rainforest safe, fair trade coffee.  All of those steps make life a little less convenient, but those steps go a long way.  Every thing we do each day is a choice – choose the more sustainable, greener, healthier and safer option each time.

For your food, insist on relatively local, organic foods.  You’ll cut down on pesticide use and the climate change impact of transported food.  If your staff has to eat fast food when working late, then insist that they bring their own reusable containers, not depend on take out containers.  Most restaurants will let you bring your own containers.  Not only will this help the environment, but it will reduce the amount of perfluorinated compounds to which your staff is exposed.  Did you know that all of those take out containers such as french fry and pizza boxes are lined with perfluorinated compounds that migrated into food?  Also, don’t forget reusable cutlery.  Try the Bamboo Utensil Set from To-Go Ware and glass straws

I hope I never see anybody in your administration with a disposable plastic water bottle.  Lead and choose wisely. Have your family use Klean Kanteen’s stainless steel re-usable bottles for their water – you don’t want aluminum that can be lined with a hormone-disrupting bisphenol A containing liner or polycarbonate plastic that could leach bisphenol A.

For cleaning supplies, go non-toxic.  Think that it costs more?  It doesn’t.  Not that I would want to, but I could clean the White House with some Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap, baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil.  Even if you can’t go the homemade route, at least try some of the more environmentally friendly products on the market.  I like Seventh Generation and Ecos.  Having trouble figuring out which earth-friendly cleaners are just that?  Yes, greenwashing is rampant.  And consumers get frustrated by the lack of standards and information.  Perservere, and you’ll be rewarded.  Switching out of the nasty conventional spray cleaners will save you money in the reduction of asthma and respiratory irritation rates among your staff.

For your personal care products, again, go non toxic.  Have you every checked out what is in the products you use at the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic safety database Skin Deep?  What about your daughters?  They are still a little young, but I assume they will be experimenting with makeup and other beauty products soon enough if they aren’t already.  I know my 3 year old daughter likes playing with cosmetics.  Do you really want them using products on their skin that contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, the carcinogen contaminant 1,4-dioxane found in ethoxylated ingredients, formaldehyde contributors, and other potentially harmful chemicals.  Lots of alternatives exist without these ingredients for everything from shampoo to makeup. 

And speaking of personal care products, does the White House use antibacterial soaps containing Triclosan?  Do you know that they don’t really work and triclosan has proved particularly disruptive to the development of frogs – interfering with the transition from tadpole to frog.  This may signal that triclosan is also disruptive to us.  So why not switch out to a liquid soap that doesn’t contain triclosan.  Or, for that matter, any synthetic fragrance that may have phthalates or any ethoxylated compound that could have the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane as a contaminant.

There are so many things to consider.  I know that the White House has a flower shop that supplies blooms.  Make sure that they are pesticide free and are grown with sustainable techniques.  And aren’t flown in out of season.

Be a leader.  Just imagine the change you can make just by showing that green, sustainable, non toxic principles can be incorporated into your administration.  From your clothing to your food to your cleaning products to your personal care products.  Talk about an impact!  Every choice should be for green.

I know that many of these steps make life a little less convenient.  Your staff may find it difficult to give up disposable coffee cups, to carry around their own utensils, etc.  Your staff may not like the extra burden associated with washing reusable dinnerware and cutlery.  You may not like the more limited options in green building products, green clothing, green bedding, and green personal care products.  But, this I believe.  I believe that we cannot change this world if we don’t individually take responsibility for the footprints we leave. 

The founding members of the Green Moms Carnival have all taken some or all of these steps to reduce our footprints – we’ve eliminated all disposable plastic, we’ve built green, sustainable homes, we’ve spent hours upon hours researching greener cleaning products and safer personal care products, we’ve tested organic bedding and safe, flame-retardant free mattresses (another option you must consider), we’ve grown our own food, and we’ve eliminated fast food.  We all have expertise in one facet or another of living a healthier, more sustainable, greener lifestyle.  We would be happy to help.  Want to know whether your daughters’ toys or jewelry or zipper pulls contain lead or cadmium, or your mattress contains polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants?  I’m more than happy to come test using my Niton XRF analyzer at the White House.  (Yes, even though the CPSC only has 9 or something, I made the investment and have one).

Your administration is about change.  Creating new policies and laws is important, but so is making our individual contributions.  Without changing our individual lifestyles, all the policies in the world won’t matter if we won’t make changes in our own lives.  So lead by example.  Choose well.  By doing so, you will encourage a prevention-based lifestyle and preserve the earth and the health of our children. 

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