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Nothing will motivate you to start living a greener life quite like parenthood. Suddenly the planet is no longer yours. It belongs to the little people, the ones who need to swim and climb trees and run through the grass like you did.
And if you’re a new parent like me, you probably look upon the gurgling, drooling — sometimes screaming — face of your offspring and find yourself knee-deep in that parental cliché, whispering into his ear, “I want you to have anything and everything — all that I was given and more.” Guaranteeing our kids a safe and healthy planet — one where the glaciers aren’t melting and the forests aren’t disappearing — seems like the least we can do.
Since I’m not an environmental engineer, and possess minimal potential of truly understanding the science behind anything, the majority of my environmental impact comes from the choices I make: how I choose to wash my laundry (with chemical-free detergent); what I do with my empty jelly jars (recycle); the shampoo I use (made from naturally derived ingredients); and the clothes I wear (designed with organic and sustainable fiber whenever possible).
These choices became of pressing importance the moment I discovered that I was pregnant. I spent those nine months eating only organic foods, taking my prenatal vitamins religiously and slathering my expanding Buddha belly with pure soaps and lotions. A handful of family members sneered as I insisted on registering for organic-cotton onesies, towels and sheets and as I stocked the nursery with gentle, unscented, all-natural diaper rash cream and baby shampoo. And why, I asked, would I stop caring once my baby had joined me in the world?
If Lynda Fassa has anything to do with it, nobody would ever stop caring. A mama with a mission, Fassa is the founder of Green Babies (www.greenbabies.com), one of the world’s largest organic-cotton clothing companies. A pioneer in the world of organic baby duds, Fassa has been working to educate the public about the benefits of organic cotton (and the dangers of the conventional kind) for more than 15 years. She recently compiled all of her eco-knowledge into "Green Babies, Sage Moms," a guide to raising an organic baby. ( Read an excerpt here .)
This week, Fassa took some time to chat with me, eco-mom to eco-mom.
What was the inspiration for Green Babies?
After I had my first child 15 years ago I found that I needed a job. I was wondering what I was going to do when I read a small story in the New York Times about a group of Texas cotton farmers who were converting back to the way their grandfathers had farmed [without pesticides and herbicides]. They didn’t call it organic; they simply felt like they weren’t respecting the stewardship of the land if they farmed in any other way. It was an ethical, moral and spiritual decision for which they risked everything. They lost bank loans and federal subsidies. I thought it was so beautiful — when you have a baby you suddenly get so emotional — and I said, “I’m going to make baby clothes out of that.”
At first, I sewed the clothes myself and walked around to stores in New York City and tried to sell them with a baby on my hip. From there it grew rapidly, but not because it was organic. There was no such thing as a “green” store, so it was more about the design. But the tide turned four years ago when Whole Foods called and asked to feature my clothes in one of their stores. I realized that it was a great opportunity for organic cotton — it was the first time that we were in an only-natural store. After one year we were in 100 Whole Foods stores.
Why is conventional cotton so harmful?
Cotton takes up approximately 3 percent of the world’s farmland, but uses 25 percent of the world’s pesticides and fertilizers (seven of 10 of the top pesticides are known carcinogens). Cotton is the most pesticide-laden crop in America. It’s estimated that 800 million pounds of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and chemical defoliants will be used on conventional cotton this year.
And cotton is not considered a food crop — by weight, it’s a fiber crop — but if you eat any kind of snack food, the top of the list of ingredients is often cottonseed oil. This is not organic cottonseed oil. Cattle also feed on cottonseed hulls. So it is a food crop, but not labeled as one.
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Why don’t more people know about this?
We all think of cotton as “natural,” but it was a great, big, fantastically successful marketing campaign. And “organic” had negative connotations for so long because people didn’t understand it. Organic cotton is actually so much softer than conventional cotton because it’s not finished with formaldehyde, [a potential irritant] for babies or anyone with sensitive skin. Organic cotton is naturally soft. The fluffy side of a conventional-cotton sweatshirt is created by a chemical that causes it to fuzz up. With organic that would never be allowed — it’s always finished with a mechanical method. Everything is done with less chemicals all the way through with organic cotton. It takes many washes to wash chemicals out of conventional cotton, and they go back into the ecosystem when you do.
Are the pesticides used in cultivating conventional cotton absorbed through the skin?
I don’t know [about pesticides]. But I do know that most conventional cotton is finished with a host of extremely irritating and toxic chemicals that do get absorbed through the skin. Organic fiber is much closer to its natural state. The mills that run our cotton yarn can only run organic fiber. They have to completely clean the machinery — using an Organic Trade Association and USDA-approved cleaning method — before running organic cotton.
What’s it like to be an ‘eco-mom’ today? How has it changed?
It’s really fun to be an eco-mom these days because it’s constantly changing in terms of products available. It’s growing so fast because it’s not a trend. Everyone is already part of it. And there isn’t one man telling us girls how we’re going to raise our kids. Women are the ones who run and shift society — this is not a feminist statement — everyone knows that we can’t do anything without the movement of mothers.
The challenge is how to sift through what matters and what doesn’t. We know that [energy saving] light bulbs matter, that carpooling or buying a hybrid car matters, but what else matters? There’s a lot of info out there, but there’s also a lot of greenwashing going on, where companies try to appear like they are on an environmental path, but it’s just really marketing.
The more you start thinking about these issues, the more you’ll discover. The green movement is all about selfishness in a good way. If it’s not good enough for you or your baby, then it’s not good enough for the environment.
Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.
Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.
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