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If you like it then you better put an ethical ring on it: the band guide

wedding bandsOnce spring hits full swing so does wedding season. If you’re already engaged, well, congratulations! When’s the big date? You planning on sealing the deal with a wedding band? Have I got the column for you. In the latest Ecoholic, we dig deep, real deep, like belly-of-the-earth-mining-conditions-deep to, er, extract the truth about which rings are truly fair and and full of heart from the ground up. Lots of companies claim to use ethical diamonds and responsible gold, but what steps have they taken to ensure they’re not selling you dirty bling, tainted with blood, sweat and tears? Check out Earthworks retailer score card called Tarnished Gold. Interestingly, Birks and Tiffany were two of the only major retailers that scored fairly well, though the top scorers are all indy brands that use certified fair trade and/or recycled gold.  For the complete Ecoholic wedding bang guide, though, read on here. And keep your eye on this page…Earthworks has an updated retailer scorecard coming out in the near future. I’ll be sure to post it.

ethical rings

The olive oil guide…with a drizzle of Vasil family history

olive oil guideMy grandfather Nick was what you’d call a Black Sea Greek. In fact, he was a Greek born and raised in Crimea, from another messy time in history – the years leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917. My family fled after my great-grandfather was shot for being on the losing side. By the 1930s, three of the sons had opened up a Greek grocery store in Montreal, somewhere on St Laurent Blvd. They sold black olives, feta, and of course, lots of olive oil, direct from the original motherland (Greece). My grandfather studied engineering (that’s his graduation shot below) but he also knew good olive oil when he tasted it. And now 80 years later, well, I’m offering you a guide of my own to olive oil. The scene has definitely changed a lot since then. Companies are pawning off all kinds of junk as EVOO. And let me tell you, the original stuff never had pesticide traces in the mix. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the guide, along with news on milkweed, palm oil and more. This one is dedicated to my papou, Nick Vasilikiotis.

Papou original

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Getting to the bottom of your yoga mat & lessons from Wisdom 2.0

NMFSC_036_0227yogaWhere do you find your bliss? Face first on a yoga mat? In a quiet moment to yourself? In a bowl full of ice cream? Well, this week, we dive into two of three, anyway. First up, you’ll find my Ecoholic guide to yoga mat materials, which I think may be pretty controversial. Long story short, too many eco mats claiming to be green are totally stretching their credibility (some puns can’t be avoided). It’s pretty astounding how many companies just say their eco mats contain TPE, when TPE is a broad category of synthetic rubber that can be all kinds of things. Turns out most of those “eco” TPE mats are made of styrene-butadiene-styrene – hello, styrene and butadiene are both human carcinogens! I dug up some government reports that document the elevated cancer rates in workers who make SBS. These compounds may not leach necessarily, the way hormone disrupting phthalates would from PVC mats, but these mats are certainly famous for crumbling (proof, manufacturers say, that they’re “biodegradable”). I’d say these mats are less biodegradable (returning to compounds found in nature) and more just degradable, breaking down into smaller bits over time – two totally different things. Creating SBS dust in your home isn’t what I’d call a selling feature. The whole thing makes me want to take a few deep breaths, just not next to most yoga mats.

Speaking of deep breaths, you’ll find my mini write-up on some of what I learned from the Wisdom 2.0 conference I was talking to you guys about. So much happened over the 3 days it’s hard to squeeze it into 500 words. I’ve got a way bigger piece coming out in the next issue of Corporate Knights magazine discussing the rise of corporate mindfulness and what it all means from an environmental angle so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the latest Ecoholic! If you can’t read the version above (click on it then click again to blow it up full size), head hear from the full online story.

The liquid hand soap guide + the latest on neurotoxic chems

NMFSC_033_0220 handwashEveryone washes their hands (we hope) – the question is what are you washing with? Bar soap is a good way to avoid plastic packaging and unrecyclable pumps (click here for my bar soap guide) but considering the popularity of liquid hand soaps, they deserve their own special guide. So voila! In this issue of Ecoholic in NOW, I looked at a handful of products (warning: puns are inevitable), including soaps that still have the gall to contain triclosan when the feds have said it’s dangerous to aquatic life and doesn’t even kill cold and flu viruses. What’s the point? Marketing! Yes, they’ve convinced us regular soap and water isn’t enough to kill germs, which is a complete fabrication. So, go ahead and dump your “antibacterial” handsoap. Good news is brands like Softsoap have already ditched triclosan and others like Bath & Body Works are finally offering options that are triclosan-free (though they still carry triclosan soaps).

Beyond that I review a selection of liquid soaps from green to greenest. How does Method measure up? Is your health store soap as eco-friendly as you think? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by reading the latest Ecoholic, naturally (by the way, the print version – which you get a snapshot of above – had a few typos and corrections made under Nature Clean, so check the online version at nowtoronto.com for the most up-to-date file). I was really excited to be able to include Green Beaver’s newest product, a castile soap that’s made with some Quebec-grown organic sunflower oil. Why is it special? Because it’s entirely organic (so no workers, wildlife or waterways had to be harmed to grow the plants needed to make your soap) AND it tries to include ingredients not grown thousands of miles away. Green Beaver wanted the whole thing to be made with local organic sunflower oil but there’s just not enough of the stuff to keep up with demand. Love that they’re actually encouraging the expansion of Canadian organics. And by the way, most castile soaps are essentially concentrates that can be used in a million and one ways, including diluted with water (1 part soap: 3 parts water) and placed in a reusable hand soap pump.

I also wrote a piece on a new study documenting the startling rise of chemicals now known to trigger neurological problems like ADHD and autism in children. The study was published in the Lancet Neurology and if you want to read the original study itself, here’s a link. Fascinating and terrifying really.

Oh and let’s not forget this week’s Greenwash of the Week: Tarte Cosmetics. I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a Sephora and was told Tarte is a great natural brand. Their marketers are genius, but definitely stretching their green cred. Anyway, enjoy the issue! If you can’t read the version above you can always click here to take you to the online version.

 

Cough syrup, chocolate and the quest for enlightenment

Woman meditating

Have you ever blinked and missed a few weeks of your digital life? Somewhere between January and now, well, I fell off the blog train. Did I hit my head on the way down and find nirvana, lined, inexplicably, with chocolate and cough syrup? No, but I did get to spend some time with a few pretty enlightened souls at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco last weekend. It’s where the tech world and the meditation/mindfulness community meet for thought-provoking dialogue around the ideas of hyper connectivity, disconnection and how meditation and mindfulness can help. I’m writing about my personal experience of it for next week’s issue of NOW (which I’ll post here next week) and another piece on the big picture coming out this spring.

Where do chocolate and cough syrup fit into the mix?  Well, those are the Ecoholic columns I never posted here while I was off the blog wagon. So without further ado, here are my product guides on the ecological ins and outs of chocolate, cough syrup and ice melt (who’s good/green, bad or ugly), whirled up in the Vitamix with Nature Notes on L’Oreal’s forest-friendly makeover, green reno loans, Keystone updates, and more.  Yes, you get it all in Ecoholic – green news, product tips and one woman’s quest to wisen up.

Mindful Living 2 Go: Resolutions & Apps for Mind, Body, Planet

Planet GoodwillWe’re only ankle deep into the new year and if you listen closely you can hear resolutions straining, cracking, and, wait for it, shattering left, right and centre.  All it took was a snotty cold to knock me off track with my resolution. Lying in my bed the morning of Jan 1, my vow was to turn love into a verb and put more mindfulness and heart-centred consciousness into each and every day. Hokey? Definitely, but life-shifting? 100%. My theory is if we choose to put more heart and awareness into literally everything – making breakfast, walking to work, working, shopping, eating, interacting with the world, including our family, friends and total strangers, well, we just can’t help but be better to ourselves and the world around us, including the planet as a unified ecosystem. Okay, fine, it’s not just my theory – there are a few thousand monks and yogis who’ve been saying it for eons, quite literally. And now a growing army of people around the world are turning on and tuning in to that very idea. I touch on it in my resolutions article.

Ratcheting up my morning meditations and yoga classes, I was feeling all zen and alive…until my face turned into a faucet and my body started begging for blankets and a soft couch. Goodbye enlightenment, hello, six of the seven dwarves (Cranky, Snotty, Sleepy, Grumpy, Sicky and Foggy). But now that the cold’s lifted, it’s time to get back into gear. So, I’m sharing here with you my Meditation on the New Year and Mindful Living to Go….5 apps that can help boost your mind/body/planet connection. Buddify‘s fun because you can take small ‘mindfulness’ breaks while at your desk, on the bus, on break, at the gym, eating lunch. Kind of cool. I’ve tried a lot of meditation apps and too many of them are just new age music on timers. There are, however, two others I didn’t have room to mention in print. Headspace is a proper good meditation app guided by a pretty hip British monk but after 10 free meditations, there’s a monthly fee – just a heads up. Omvana‘s got a big library of various self-help guru-led audios for meditation, sleep, relaxation, focus, inspiration. A bit hit n’ miss but worth exploring.

The other apps I mention are more about making conscious choices in our everyday routines, from the products we buy and food we cook up to the goodwill we spread. Go ahead try ‘em. They might just help keep you from falling off the resolutions wagon (it’s too soon to give up on ‘em!). To get the full low down, read on…

Burning truth about firelogs, foam insulation and Tresemme

NMFSC_026_0116 firelogsMaybe it’s the defiant Montrealer in me, but I really don’t mind a -30 day as long as the sun is beaming down from its blue sky perch. Of course, it helps if you’re tucked warmly inside. Okay, maybe that doesn’t count as a true love of the cold, but I’ll take icy blue skies over a week of frigid rains any day. No matter what your take on winter, it’s prime time to tackle some cold-weather questions.

This week in Ecoholic, you’ll find a product guide to fire logs. I got some flack from an astute reader who was appalled that I could recommend compressed firelogs over good old locally cut wood. And you know what, he has a point, I never did address the local factor in this guide, but one thing I do know from government stats: compressed synthetic logs weirdly burn cleaner than plain cordwood. Sorry, it’s just the truth. Doesn’t make compressed logs uber green or local or affordable or even an option if you have a wood-fired furnace, but they do burn cleaner. At the end of the day though, neither compressed logs nor plain wood logs are permitted in areas where wood fires are banned because of winter smog concerns.

Most logs have ditched the petroleum wax and now use recycled content but it was surprisingly tough to find out what wax companies did use. Still waiting to here from Northland on that one.  In the meantime, check out this week’s log guide.

Also this week, I answered a question about spray foam insulation. Is it safe? Is healthy? Is it green if it saves you energy? Are they all created equal? You’ll get the complete lowdown…except, sadly, Walltite Eco never did get back to us about what kind of flame retardants they use in their Mike Holmes-endorsed foam insulation.  Kind of odd.

And finally, you’ll get the dirt on our Greenwasher of the Week: Tresemme Naturals. They’ve reformulated this one to ditch the sodium laureth sulfate but there are still plenty of other dodgy ingredients in here to make us question their ‘natural’ claims. For the red hot truth about all this and more, check out the full column in NOW.

 

‘Tis the season to be giving: karma-boosting gifts

NMFSC_048_1212_v2 ethical guideMy family stopped exchanging Christmas gifts a good 15 years ago. My sister, in med school at the time, told us she just didn’t have time to shop for us (pshaw, what an excuse!). And just like that, the whole card castle crumbled and we gave up the whole swapping tradition ever since.  Instead, we just hang out, laugh and eat as much as humanly possible. There is one exception to the rule: kids. If you’re under 18 you’ll still on the “nice” list and will get gifts beyond love and hugs.

Whoever’s still on your gift list this year, make sure you’re opting for options that aren’t muddying your karma. I’m including my ethical giving guide (above) and my toy guide (below) for a survey of some of what’s out there. Just click on each image to lead you to my guides in NOW. Oh and check out my DIY gifts of the week each week to get some super last-minute ideas made with 100% upcycled and/or local/organic ingredients. Happy holidays!

NMFSC_037_1219 toys

 

The Sustainable Wine Guide + Carbon 14′s Electric Idea

wine guide imageWith the festive season in full swing, most of us are, let’s just say, enjoying holiday spirits a little more enthusiastically. Whether you’re sharing a hostess gift or stocking your wine rack for your own celebrations, be sure to check out the Ecoholic wine guide, with a ranking of five of the most popular along with the most sustainable vinos, from super affordable Fuzion Organic to Ontario’s own Southbrook (try the Connect Organic Red and Triomphe ). You’ll also learn about the pesticide residues found in every sample of conventional wine tested, making shopping for organic wine even more of a priority.

O wineAnd after a weekend of wine tasting (at my own kitchen party), I have a new organic wine to add to the list. It’s by French winemaker Gilles Louvet.  I’m a huge chardonnay head and guiltily love big California chards, so was happy to find Gilles Louvet ‘O’ has those creamy, toasty vanilla notes I love, for a few dollars less than uber popular Cali-based Bonterra organic. The bottle is the lightest weight bottle on the market today, helping to lower its carbon footprint (which, by the way, should be lower than Bonterra, if you live in eastern Canada or the north eastern US, since Bonterra has to be trucked in from California rather than shipped in from France). And the cork itself comes Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests in the south of France (much greener than plastic corks, since cork-harvesting actually helps keep the world’s few remaining cork oak forests alive and thriving, according to the WWF).

Also in this issue of NOW, you’ll find my experiential take on interventions-775the Carbon 14 exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. The piece is called Carbon 14′s Electric Idea for a reason, the whole Carbon 14 festival is fantastically inspirational and just a really exciting fusion of art, politics and science. Which is why I had to interview Carbon 14′s curator Claire Sykes, so look for an excerpt of our Q&A in this issue too  (you can find the full length interview with Claire on Cape Farewell’s site here). Art, wine, culture, now that’s an organic fusion!

The Bright Idea Edition: lightbulbs & Tzeporah Berman

Lightbulbs guide image

In this issue of Ecoholic, we’re just brimming with bright ideas, both literal and figurative. The literal ones come from the latest innovations in lighting – figured a roundup on light bulbs would be useful right about now since most basic incandescent bulbs are being phased out in a couple weeks. The figurative ones come from Canadian activist extraordinaire Tzeporah Berman. I got to have dinner with Tzeporah when I was hosting Earth Day’s Beyond Green Youth Summit that she was speaking at. I have to say I love this woman. She’s a power house for change and the new green economy. (I definitely recommend putting her bio “This Crazy Time” on your holiday reading list. You can read some snippets from her fascinating speech on Petropolitics here, along with my bulb guide and greenwash of the week (Raw Essentials!).