Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Book Review: Big Green Purse

Today we have a guest post from Joce, also known as JAM. She is a stay-at-home mom raising two school-age daughters and a bunch of chickens in New England. She's new to the blogging world and we're so glad you found us, Joce!

As I’ve been making changes in my own life, and reading more eco-books, I’ve started to be a bit more critical of many of the ones I read. In other words, it’s taking more and more to impress me! I was prepared to be disappointed by Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World for a few reasons - I thought it would be another consumerist guide to relieve guilt by buying more and more “green” items, and because my husband just plucked it off the new book shelf at the library – it wasn’t one that I had heard of and requested. But this book, but Diane MacEachern, was a happy surprise.

The author, who also wrote Save Our Planet: 750 Everyday Ways You Can Help Clean Up the Earth, is not only an environmental writer, she has advised the EPA, the World Bank, the WWF and more on protecting the planet. She also walks the walk, having built an eco-friendly house in Washington D.C. over twenty years ago. She has an engaging writing style which is easy to read and she comes across as very likeable, in my opinion.

The premise of the book is not to buy, buy, buy (a relief right there!) But it does acknowledge that even if we try to live a green lifestyle, we obviously do have to buy a lot – food, transportation, things for shelter, things for pleasure, etc. The book states that 75% of the dollars spent in America are controlled by women, so this book is targeted to women although anyone who makes purchasing decisions could benefit from it. I believe it is also targeted to women because women tend more to change their habits based on information, if they feel it is important and worthwhile. This isn’t a slam on men, but in my experience men tend to buy what they’ve always bought, or use price more as a determining factor, and women are more likely to stop and think about the impact of their purchases. This might be more of a reflection on the men I know, so if your men are super aware, know that I’m not talking about them!

The book starts with a complete summary of climate change - talking about chemicals in the environment, what’s happening to wildlife, water, forests, and air. It explains the Precautionary Principle, which states that “we should not wait to protect ourselves or the planet until we’re absolutely positive, from a scientific point of view, that certain products or activities…can indeed do damage …When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

The next chapter of the book explains the seven Big Green Purse Shopping Principles. They are:
Buy less
Read the label
Support sustainable standards
Look for third-party verification
Choose fewer ingredients
Pick less packaging
Buy local

There is a great emphasis on not buying - either borrowing, renting, making do with something else, or realizing something isn’t needed. That was really good to read.

The rest of the book is divided into chapters which cover different areas of purchasing –
Cosmetics and personal-care products
Coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate
Fruits, veggies, dairy, meat, poultry and seafood
Clothing, accessories and jewelry
Lawn, garden and patio
Baby and Children’s food, gear and toys
Lights, appliances and electronics
Furniture, paint, flooring and fabrics

Each of these chapters talks about ways to determine what you really need, figure out the best way to procure it, and gives a lot of details to back everything up.

Interspersed throughout the book are personal anecdotes of what the author does in her own life, spotlights on companies that are particularly good for the environment, as well as noting those you should avoid, and hints for greening the workplace. It also highlights changes that women can make immediately, green choices that are cheaper than the non-green alternatives, and suggestions of what to say to store managers to ask for more green options.

One thing I found particularly helpful was the lists of good eco-brands, especially in the personal-care products and cleaners category. This may get out of date reasonably soon, but for now it’s great to have a list of brands where she’s already done the research. She also warns about greenwashing, and shows readers how to tell the difference between claims that have nothing to back them up, and those that do.

There are a few things I wish were in there that aren’t – anti-perspirants with aluminum are to be avoided, but there aren’t any options given for women (although a few are given for men). Some of the green options are given without explanation that they’re not really equivalent to the traditional – for example, solar ovens are suggested as replacements for grills, and while she does say they cook “more slowly” and don’t give a grilled flavor, from reading Chile’s experience with solar ovens, I think “more slowly” is an understatement and many of us do not live in regions of the country where we get enough sun and heat for solar ovens to be practical. But these are pretty small quibbles – overall I really enjoyed the book and thought it had a lot of good information. It would not be overwhelming to a newly green reader, but it’s not too simplified for someone who has been moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle for a while already.

I would recommend this book, giving it 4 out of 5 stars, and best for light to medium green readers. If you’re already dark green, you may not learn too much but I think you would still enjoy reading it. If you purchase the book, I think you’ll refer to it when you need to buy your next laundry detergent or bottle of shampoo, and if you get it from the library, you might want to jot down a few good companies to keep in mind when you do need to stock up.


Unknown said...

Wow - this book sounds great! I'm calling the library right now to put it on reserve!

Green Bean said...

This is the second positive review I've read about the book. Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish also liked it. I've got it on my list for the library. :)

Great review, Joce. Please come back any time you want to review a book!!!

Diane MacEachern said...

Thank you so much for one of the most comprehensive reviews of Big Green Purse. You can't believe how often people "review" the book without actually reading it! It's so helpful to provide a detailed overview like you did. As for the content, I appreciate the feedback. As an author, it's so helpful to hear learn whether both the content and the style help convey the information. I'll be looking for more of your reviews on the Blogging Bookworm.

Donna said...

Thanks for the great review, Joce! I just tried to put in a request from my library and once agian, they don't have it. BUT... I just found the online form to request that they buy a book! Are they ever going to be hearing from me a lot!

Natalie said...

Great review, Jam! I'd heard of "Big Green Purse" before from a couple of people I know who've had a hard time curbing their own consumerism. So I got the wrong impression of the book. You make it sound great. I'll have to check it out!

Melissa said...

this definitely sounds like one I'll put on my wish list (growing longer every day!) thanks for the review!

Melissa said...

this definitely sounds like one I'll put on my wish list (growing longer every day!) thanks for the review!

Kale for Sale said...

Joce - Your review is as likeable as the book sounds. I love how straightforward and common sense the advice seems especially the big green purse shopping principles. And yet it's common sense I'm having to relearn. Thank you. What are you reading next?

ruchi said...

Jam, man I wish I had read this book a YEAR ago! I bet it would have made my life much easier.

Going Crunchy said...

Good one! I'm off to see if I can find it. I think the section on greenwashing would be very helpful.

Diane, thanks for giving feedback. Shan