Monday 25 April 2011

a green Easter fling

Easter's always been one of my favourite holidays - I'm sure the fact that it coincided with spring and the end of the snowy Utah winters of my childhood have something to do with it.  So this year when my gorgeous friend Jess suggested we have an Easter Feaster I 'hopped' at the opportunity.  I offered to make egg bread and a ham, and endeavoured to make them as green as possible (green egg bread and ham!).

Egg bread is an Italian family tradition, and my favourite part of Easter brunch.  It's dense, slightly sweet and baked in the oven with coloured eggs nestled in the braid of the ringed bread.  I emailed Mom for the recipe and after some slight tweaking to the recipe, voila! Green egg bread for the Easter Feaster!

In addition to green coloured eggs I used organic flour, organic raw sugar, organic milk and organic free range eggs - some of it package free from the Co-op.

The ham was naturally harder to green because it's meat (the livestock industry is to blame for around 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions and uses 70% of all agricultural land on earth*), but I can't imagine Easter without a ham, so we looked for an eco-friendly one.  Luckily pigs are not from the ruminant family (like those poor cows that constantly belch methane), and our friendly neighbourhood butcher explained his ham was from a free-range pig on their own local farm.  I don't think it was organic, but at least we had a happy, healthy pig with a reasonably small eco-hoofprint.

I'm also happy to report that the rest of the Easter Feaster was a vegetarian affair (totally unplanned by me, so was a pleasant surprise) - a delicious salad by Beth and veggie empanadas by Jess - making it a very a green Easter Feaster indeed.

The Easter Feasters: Beth, Jess, Luke, Ty and I along Manly's harbourside walk. Perfect day!

Happy Easter everyone!

*Stats above are from the UN's report, Livestock's Long Shadow

Tuesday 19 April 2011

a green laundry fling

Well, life can't be all fabulous frocks and long weekends - occasionally I have to do housework, so I thought I'd share the latest green fling I've had with laundry.

I've been using Nature's Organics Earth Choice laundry detergent for awhile - it's plant based, biodegradable, has no phosphates, and is a super concentrated formula so you only need to use a very small amount, reducing the materials and transportation of the product.  It seems to tick most eco-boxes, and I like the smell better than the super-greenie laundry detergent we tried from the Manly Co-op, which was very runny and contained mostly vinegar.

I'd read about soapnuts in my favourite book - Gorgeously Green - but hadn't been able to find them in Australia until this weekend when I saw them in Manly Health Foods (next to the Co-op, my favourite eco-product shop).
500 gram box of organic soapnuts from India
Soapnuts have been used for centuries as a natural, versatile cleaning agent in India, and also have a history with native people of Asia and the Americas.  The shells contain saponin, which when mixed with water is a natural surfactant (detergent).  Eaternal's soapnuts are harvested naturally, after the fruit ripens and falls to the ground they are sun dried before being packed up, using no chemicals or artificial ingredients.  These Soapnuts have Indian, EU and USDA Organic certification, and the company claims to work under fair trade conditions, though no certification is apparent on their website.  The packaging also consists of handmade, uncoated recycled cardboard printed with soya based vegetable inks, and the interior bag is biodegradable and compostable as well - amazing eco-credentials all around!

I followed the instructions and placed six half shells inside the small organic cotton bag provided in the pack and tossed the lot in with my washing.  I'll admit, I felt doubtful that those little shells would be enough to clean an entire load of laundry, especially since it contained my hubby's dirty basketball clothes, but I'll try almost any eco-experiment once.

Soapnut shells - these fragile lightweight shells sure pack a cleaning punch!
Wouldn't you know it - everything came out super clean and fresh, even the stinky basketball gear!  The only difference I noticed compared to other laundry detergent was there was no 'laundry' smell.  The instructions suggest adding a few drops of essential oil if you'd like a scent - I think I'll add some of my lavendar essential oil when I do my next load of sheets and see if that makes a difference.

Soapnuts can also be used in dishwashers and to make your own liquid soap (by boiling in water for 10-20 minutes), so it seems I have more experimenting to do with this little wonders.  The 500g box cost nearly $18, not cheap for laundry detergent or soaps, but since you use so few shells per load I think it will last awhile - I'll keep track and let you know.

I'd love to hear if you've experimented with soapnuts or other natural cleaning products.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

a green travel fling: part two

It's nearly 10.30pm and I'm on the final leg of my green travel adventure - the Manly Ferry and it's glorious free Wi-Fi. 

I have to confess, if it were up to me I'd be in a taxi right now - well, I'd be home by now, we disembarked the Country Link train 45 minutes ago - instead of halfway through a ferry ride that followed a short train trip from Central to Circular Quay.  Mother Earth can thank my hubby for his commitment to public transportation, because this little greenie would have caved if I were traveling solo.

Today's journey started at 7.30am on a two-hour coach from Byron Bay to Casino.  We waited about 30 minutes for the train, and then had over 11 hours on the train to Sydney. 
Happy to be back in our fancy cabin car.
In the lead up to this leg of our journey, I'd silently wondered if I would get sick if I read on the train, because I get sick when I read in a car.  Yes.  Unfortunately I get sick if I read on a train - not great news to learn on the first hour of my train journey.

I was able to distract myself looking at the gorgeous scenery for about two hours, then we ate lunch and it was only 12.15 and I had over nine hours left (on a side note, the hot food options put airline food to shame, and even shared the ingredients listing - absolutely no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives in my vegetarian curry, so I was happy to know I was eating a low carbon meal during my low carbon travel).  My saving grace was that we had a fancy cabin, so I was able to lie flat and read while keeping the window out of view.  Once I figured that out, the time flew as I read, napped, watched the scenery and attempted to photograph out the windows. 

It can be tricky photographing out the train, it was a constant battle against blurring objects and reflections off the windows.
Once it was dark I could read upright, and we also watched a movie on our laptop while we ate dinner and enjoyed a couple beverages from the bar car. It was so relaxing, and so nice to be able to talk with my hubby while neither of us had the stress of driving.  I felt that I could have stayed on the train and gone to sleep for the night in our cozy little cabin - and seeing as it's nearly 11pm and I'm not yet home, that still sounds like a lovely option.

I'm now in a strange jet-lag state, I think because I've been sedentary all day and eating a fair amount, so I have a bit of energy and yet am sleepy at the same time.  Actually, it feels very strange to have been traveling for over 15 hours and not even have crossed a timezone, let alone any international borders.  But I'll take the comfort of train travel over an international flight any day!

All and all, I'm totally in love with train travel, what a delightful little green fling I've had.

Monday 11 April 2011

a green travel fling: part one

Tonight I find myself typing about my latest green fling from an unlikely place - the overnight train from Sydney to Byron Bay (well, technically to somewhere called Casino, the Beef Capital of NSW, where we'll change to a coach for a two hour ride to Byron).
My hubby chilling in our spacious cabin

I LOVE to travel - next to fashion and my husband it's my longest love affair.  Sometimes it seems all the hubby and I do is hop from travel adventure to travel adventure, always in planning mode for the next big adventure.  But Mother Earth doesn't love my travel as much as I do. And as yet another aspect of my lifestyle comes under investigation by environmentalism, I'm forced to ask myself:
What is my travel costing the earth?
According to The Green Travel Guide transport accounts for about a fifth of global energy consumption and a quarter of key pollutants emitted into the atmosphere, and holiday travel accounts for around fifty per cent of those pollutants.  So, as my feet started itching a couple months ago, not long after returning from three weeks in Hawaii, I thought, 'Let's have a green holiday and take the train!'  After all, train travel emits only a quarter to a third the amount of carbon as flying.  Of course I could just offset my flights, but there is debate amongst some environmentalists over the efficacy of offsetting, and at any rate, I think it's really important for me to reconsider how I travel if I want to keep trotting around the globe at my current rate.

In Australia, as America, train travel isn't exactly embraced, and my conversations with people around my train getaway have all followed the same general trajectory:
Me: We're headed to Byron for a long weekend!
Them: Oooh, I'm jealous, I love Byron!
Me: I know, I'm excited to check it out.  We're taking the train up Friday night.
Quizzical expression on face . . . 
Them: The train?  How long will that take?!
Me: 13 hours - I think it will be a fun adventure!  Plus, my hubby works for RailCorp so we get free train travel.
Them: Oh, that makes sense.  I guess it's about the same amount of time as driving, isn't it?
It's just when I mention the travel is free that people accept we're training up to Byron - why else would you take the train for 13 hours when you can fly up in an hour for roughly the same amount of money? (Which really frustrates this greenie - it should be cheaper to train than fly!)

So, here we are. It's been about two hours, and the scenery has been really lovely heading north out of Sydney, crossing the Hawkesbury and other inlets and bays.  At one stage the train was hugging an inlet filled with oyster farms and small rowboats and sailboats, and I felt so privileged, you would never be able to see this corner of the world from a car.

It's 6.30pm and since daylight savings recently ended it's pretty dark outside - not sure how long I'll be able to stay awake!  The gentle vibrating hum of the train is very relaxing, and I'm very cozy in our little loveshack of a sleeper cabin, especially now that I'm sipping on the organic wine I smuggled on the train.  An early bedtime wouldn't be a bad idea, actually, since we'll be woken up around 3am to have breakfast (our choice of coffee, tea or hot chocolate with toast and cereal) - an early start, but what's travel without a little inconvenience?

Service has been phenomenal, actually.  Upon arrival we were guided to our room, stocked with fresh towels and an overnight kit (in case you wanted to brave the train shower - I think I'll give it a miss this time around), as well as a pack of snacks including veggie crisps, grissini sticks and dips, and some sweet biscuits - the snacks barely lasted the first hour!  Our car hostess showed us how to convert the couch into our bunks, and was really funny and lovely and made us feel right at home.  Forget flying! This is so much better!

The contents of my first-class overnight kit.  I put everything back in the bag and returned it, as far as I'm concerned the last thing I need is travel-sized anything, such a waste of plastic and other materials!  Though, if you had forgotten your toothbrush, it's nice to know they've got you covered.

I have to admit, since we're in a 'fancy cabin' my footprint isn't quite as low as if we were in the seats, but I imagine still smaller than flying and I'm thoroughly enjoying stage one of my green travel fling. Here's hoping the journey home next week during daylight hours is as smooth sailing as this evening has been - I'll keep you posted!
Our breakfast box complete with environmental message - a bit ironic when it's filled with mini plastic food containers, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Friday 8 April 2011

a green glamorous fling

During my day job I recently worked on our annual conference, Green Cities.  Besides looking forward to the inspiring speakers and lively discussions with delegates, I was totally excited about the Gala Dinner, the perfect opportunity to get frocked up and celebrate our job-well-done.

Pre-greenie days I’d have been on the hunt for the perfect dress at least a month in advance. I’d have referenced fashion magazines and dedicated hours to trying on dresses, seeking the perfect number that was sexy but classy and on the cutting edge of fashion.  I’d spend a little too much time and money, but it would totally be worth it.

But this year, embracing my new environmental ethos, I couldn’t really justify buying a new dress just for one night, so I had to get more creative in an attempt to reduce my consumption. 

Of course I thought about reusing dresses I already have – thanks to my history with shopping my wardrobe is quite full – but I’ve been rotating my glam-outfits for the past eighteen months at various events and quite frankly, I’m bored. I just can’t be seen in that black Sass & Bide mini one more time, no matter how fabulous it is. 

I considered getting a recycled number by going vintage, but I didn’t want to rock the vintage look at this event, I wanted something modern. I want to fully participate in the environmental movement but also still look and feel like myself – is that really too much to ask?

Then I remembered reading somewhere about borrowing designer clothes, so I Googled rent designer dress Sydney  - jackpot! 

These companies offer recovering shopping addicts like myself (or perhaps fashionistas on a budget) a guilt-free fashion experience by letting you borrow the most gorgeous and of-the-moment dresses, bags and accessories.  This is definitely collaborative consumption at its sexiest.

I found myself drawn to Can I Borrow That? (CIBT). They stock dresses from the likes of Versace, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, McQueen – I couldn’t afford these brands even if I wasn’t eco aware, and you’re telling me I can borrow one for a week?!  I’m in heaven!

I selected a Versace and a D&G to try on (obligation free) from over 100 styles on CIBT’s website, and on the selected date a gorgeous courier came to my door holding a lavender wardrobe bag containing the two dresses and told me he’d be waiting outside until I was done – talk about celebrity treatment!  I rushed inside and unzipped the bag and just stared at the two designer dresses in veneration for a moment before trying them on.
Left, Versace; Right, D&G
Online the Versace looked like the winner, but on me it looked like a figure skater’s costume, with the layers of fabric and gold sequins falling on all the wrong places. 

The D&G didn’t look like much on the hanger, but as soon as I slid into the pale silver satin dress with gunmetal gray leather trim and flirtatious pleats on the derriere I knew it accentuated all the right places and my heart raced with excitement. I took a quick pic and messaged my hubby, who promptly replied "You’re not going anywhere in that dress without me!" Oh yes, this was the one. 

As an added bonus, once I had it on I realised I already had shoes and a handbag to go with the dress – more reuse signaling that yes I could be an environmentalist and still look and feel like myself.

Thanks Dolce. And Gabbana.  And CIBT.  I felt like the hottest new greenie at the Gala, and you can bet I’ll be borrowing more things in the future. Another fun green fling and another unexpected way of being an environmentalist; who knew being a greenie could be so glamorous?  

Have you ever considered borrowing anything online?

Tuesday 5 April 2011

a green creativity fling

This weekend my green flinging took me to a shop I've been DYING to visit for months - Reverse Garbage (sounds sexy, doesn't it?).

This non-profit organisation has been around since the mid 1970s arranging 'resource re-use'.  They:
make available industrial and commercial discards, off-cuts and over-runs to creative and practical people, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.  
Essentially the shops contain random, reasonably priced bits and pieces that would otherwise be thrown out that many people use in art, DIY and other creative projects. 

I've heard a lot of hype from fellow greenies about this amazing reuse shop, and headed there with a specific goal in mind - fabric to recover my kitchen chairs (bought secondhand from a coworker a couple years ago and looking more shabby than chic).  I've looked into eco-fabrics, but wanted to see what off-cuts were available before committing to purchasing lovely (but pricey) organic fabric I found at Thea and Sami.

Because of the nature of Reverse Garbage you never know what's going to be in stock, so I tried to manage my own expectations as I excitedly approached the Taylor Square shop (with mannequin legs appropriately sprawled in the arched window of the old T2 building).  My initial impression after stepping into to the shop was not good, and I felt it was more like a garage sale than art store.  The ground floor was dimly lit, smelled a bit musty and was filled with disparate piles of crayons, mannequin pieces, beads, mounting board off-cuts and even promotional notepads and toys. My senses quickly adjusted, though, and as I saw a method to the apparent madness I could also see why this place has been so popular with creatives for decades with its affordable and unexpected goodies stashed in every possible corner of the shop.

Then I wandered into the fabric room and my heart dropped - they certainly weren't making it easy for me! 

The huge pile of fabric rolls was quite difficult to look through, and at one stage I rolled one off the pile and it thudded quite loudly on the ground - luckily my hubby was there to help me pick it back up, it was really heavy! The pile contained a lot white and off white cotton, jersey and polyester blends, but nothing suitable for covering chairs, and the few rolls of upholstery-like material weren't really my taste (there were a few corduroy-like rolls in pale green, blue and golden shades if anyone's interested).  There were also hundreds of swatches hanging on a rack, but nothing large enough to cover my chairs.  Although I'd tried not to expect much, I was still disappointed after all the buzz I'd heard.

I headed up the stairs into the lofty-second floor just to have a peek, and the lovely light streaming through the windows perked my mood immediately.  There were Mardi Gras costume extras, dresses and belts, containers and art boards of all shapes and sizes, and cute wooden stencils with Aussie animals - the potential was amazing! 

Then I saw some hessian coffee sacks and my creative wheels started spinning - could these fun pieces of fabric be used to cover my chairs?  The sacks were not as scratchy as I thought they'd be, they need a bit of a wash and have potential to shed, but at $3 a piece it's a very low-risk investment - sold!

This green fling reminded me that when shopping sustainably, I'm not shopping conveniently. The shop will not always have exactly what I want when I want it, and I may have to change my expectations - like being open to the possibility of recovering kitchen chairs with coffee bags instead of fabric. Watch this space in the coming weeks as I recover the chairs with reused hessian coffee bags.

Thanks Reverse Garbage for this lesson, for my cool bags, for all your efforts in keeping rubbish out of landfill, for helping artists, teachers and other creative folks in the process and for really being the experts in reuse.  I do understand what the buzz is all about now.

Sunday 3 April 2011

a green rally fling

Yesterday I was one of 8000 people rallying for Climate Action in Sydney's Belmore Park; the rally was organised by GetUp in response to a rally organised in Hyde Park protesting a carbon tax (they only had a couple thousand attendees - were you paying attention, Julia?!).

I really love attending these type of events (it's my third environmental protest/rally since becoming a new greenie).  It's amazing to be surrounded by others of all shapes and inclinations who want the same thing I do for the planet, and instead of focusing only on personal changes I can feel the strength and power of collective action.  Words can't even explain the energy hit I experienced while standing in that crowd of thousands all chanting for "Climate Action Now!

There were plenty of 'professional' placards by the Greens, Greenpeace, GetUp and other organisations, but people were also encouraged to BYO sign - below is a collection of my favourites from the day.

I felt this kid's sign really summed up why we should all care about cleaning up our act:

Look, it's not like I could protest everyday, it's simply not in my DNA, but I know that if I'm really serious about the environment, these events must be part of my life, too.  I have SO much fun with my green flings with fashion, beauty products and food, but I also know it's so important to not lose sight of the larger, social and governmental shifts that need to occur to ensure the health of our planet for generations to come. Luckily protest rallies can be fun, too - just ask the cheeky Tuvalu Scuba Team.

Were any of you at the rally, too?

Friday 1 April 2011

a green wedding fling

When I got married (pre-greenie days) I wore the most beautiful dress in the world...

This is from a magazine, you can find
a pic of me below.
My dress had been the focal point of my wedding plans – the venue, the theme, the hair and the flowers all had to go with the dress. As a fashion fanatic, I figured this was one time in my life I could buy exactly what I wanted without limitations and I felt like a million dollars in that gorgeous gown. 

Despite my love affair with the dress, I always knew I didn’t want to keep it forever.  But what to do with such a gown?
I’d heard about brides who trashed their dresses in stunning photo shoots.  I also contemplated taking it to a charity shop, but I couldn’t risk someone using it as a fancy-dress costume and then tossing it aside.  Even though I didn’t want to keep the dress, I couldn’t bear the thought of it being destroyed, it was far too special.

I decided the best thing for this dress was a new owner – someone who'd wear the dress with the excitement and reverence it deserved.  I was just starting to flirt with environmentalism and thought this was an exquisite form of reuse.

I posted an ad on Easy Weddings and responding to a few inquiries, and eventually found an owner for the dress. I could see in her eyes that she loved the dress as much as I did when she came to try it on, and after a lovely text-message tête-à-tête during which she gushed about loving the dress from first sight, we negotiated a price and she took the dress home the next day. Any hesitations I had about farewelling the gown were erased when I saw the joy in this bride-to-be’s face as she collected our dress and we hugged goodbye. 

Though my hubby was happy with the extra cash in the bank, he looked entirely perplexed as I explained my euphoria about the beautiful, unexpected bond I felt with a stranger who shared my love of this special dress.  I knew she felt the same, though, and the other day I received the most gorgeous email: 

As promised a good 6 or so months ago - see attached some pics of our beautiful dress.
I am so happy and feel so lucky that you had made the decision to sell your dress, as i am absolutely in love with it!  EVERYONE commented on how beautiful and different it was.
I hope all is well - thank you so much again :)

She looked amazing and I was surprised to see how different the dress looked on someone else in a different wedding – I also felt oddly happy that the dress had a more traditional wedding experience since she wore a veil and carried flowers.  I suspect she will keep the dress, though I’m not sure; at least it had two weddings in its lifetime, which is one more than most bridal gowns can say, and I loved experiencing a unique connection with my dress-sharer.

This has definitely been my most treasured (and unexpected) liaison with environmentalism yet.