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Going green doesn’t mean avoiding big stores

For the past few years, I’ve been so busy putting down the big-name stores that I failed to notice when they actually did something right. More and more of them are now taking clear steps toward a more sustainable future.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Working to transition my family to a life that is as close to eco-friendly and organic as possible, I stumbled upon a lingering prejudice: I skip the big names. That’s right. If you’re a big-box retailer or a major brand, I assume that you won’t have what I need, that my eco-aware sensibilities will not be respected or satisfied — in fact, they’ll probably be insulted.

For the past few years, I’ve been so busy putting down the big guys — for their unfair employment practices and for their sweatshops; for their toxic emissions and for their poorly constructed products that will quickly end up in landfills — that I failed to notice when they actually did something right.

This is a habit I’m trying to break. As more and more big names strive to balance out the damage they’ve done to the planet by taking clear steps toward a more sustainable future, I’m continually reminding myself that though bigger is not even close to always better, it also isn’t necessarily worse.

I’ve spent a lifetime of seeking out the little guy, of solely patronizing the mom-and-pop health food store or the independent boutique, of purchasing the handcrafted soap or the locally sourced essential oils, all the while demonizing giant, shiny stores with their excessively roomy aisles and endless choices and auras of grotesque conspicuous consumption. Ahhh! There I go again, unfairly bashing the big names, refusing to accept the bully who has reformed, the criminal who has rehabilitated. But I’m trying.

It may not look like it, but I am working to shift this deeply ingrained preconceived notion. When I slow down enough to really think about things, I can’t deny the good that comes from Wal-Mart’s decision to offer organic cotton products to its zillions of customers. (Currently, the company is the biggest purchaser of organic cotton goods.)

Wal-Mart’s reach is clearly vast, and exposing its clientele to an environmentally safe material such as organic cotton at affordable prices (a huge plus!) helps to keep both the planet and the people using those products away from the pesticides and herbicides used in conventional cotton production while stimulating organic cotton farming. Today, it’s possible to turn to Wal-Mart to outfit everyone in the house with organic cotton duds or to prepare the ultimate organic nursery (your baby can be organic from top to bottom with sheets, bumpers, blankets, curtains and clothes).

Check out Wal-Mart’s other eco-savvy products — furniture, clothing and the like — and don’t miss its sustainability report, which has the latest on what the company is doing to go green globally.

Another big name that’s been slowly winning me over is everyone’s reliable pal, Tar-shay. Target has been increasing its natural and organic inventory to include major players such as Burt’s Bees and Dr. Bronner’s. I almost jumped for joy when I saw Weleda, one of my all-time favorite brands, sitting casually on the shelf.

And like Wal-Mart, Target can also help you set your babe up in an organic cotton wonderland, outfit your pad in an array of sustainable furniture and dress you in snazzy eco fashion. Look for T’s, skirts and tops from Loomstate, a cutting-edge sustainable line that I’m continually pining for.

Though I’m not currently looking to improve upon my home, I now know where I’ll go when it comes time to give my abode a green facelift. In the past, I would have sought out small purveyors of cabinets crafted from FSC-certified wood, independent retailers specializing in reclaimed hardwood floors and so on. But these options can be quite expensive and hard to find.

You know what’s not overly expensive and pretty darn easy to find? Home Depot. Yup. The company has made serious efforts to increase its environmental awareness, not only offering planet-friendly products such as Energy Star appliances and FSC-certified wood products, but by developing a system of customer education that guides the uninitiated through the process of greening their homes.

Always on the hunt for products that succeed in being both affordable and eco — eco-affordable, if you will — I was pleased to stumble upon Crate and Barrel’s collection of planet-conscious goods. From furniture — check out the Ceylon dining table made from sustainable mango wood — to tableware such as recycled glass margarita glasses, the big-name one-stop home shop seems to have covered it all.

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of, 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 has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.