Alexandra Zissu is a writer, a mom, and one of today’s foremost advocates for leading an environmentally safe and healthy lifestyle. Her books include The Complete Organic Pregnancy, The Conscious Kitchen and her latest Planet Home, which she co-authored with Jeffrey Hollender, founder of Seventh Generation. We’re thrilled that both Alexandra and Jeffrey are members of our GoodGuide community. We’re also thrilled to be raffling off a few copies of Planet Home (more on that later).
Alexandra has been traveling the country lately to talk about Planet Home, and we had a chance to ask her a few questions about her work.
GG: What makes Planet Home a really worthwhile read? How does it differ from other green living advice books that are available?
AZ: Planet Home’s holistic approach to going green makes it unique. We’re all part of one big shared planet home—what you do at home affects me and what I do affects you. And our actions ripple out—hurting or helping the environment. Planet Home takes our interconnectedness as a point of departure and then flows into excellent green living tips for every room of the house from the bathroom to the kitchen to the attic to the nursery.
The small choices we all make on a daily basis can have tremendous impact. Tests show that in cities including Los Angeles, Denver, and Baltimore, household products such as cleaners, personal care products, paints and stains are the largest source of pollutants after cars. It’s empowering to think you can have such tremendous impact if you choose the greenest versions of these very products. The book also includes a chapter (my favorite) on understanding the bigger picture—all of the systems that are involved in any household. Sometimes going green can be a vague concept. By explaining the systems behind simple green steps, and taking away that vagueness, Planet Home helps people go greener faster.
GG: What did you personally discover while writing/researching this book that you didn’t know before?
AZ: Well I’ve been greening my life for a while now and writing about it as I go. Planet Home is my third book on the topic. I had been searching around for a way to describe this holistic/interconnected/big picture approach to going green but not finding the right way to explain it. All too often people focus on the minutiae—me included. We try to go green by turning our own individual homes into green bubbles. This is folly—there is no such thing as a green bubble. My indoor air might be as pure as I can make it but there’s a bus idling outside my window, or my neighbors may have just had the exterminator spray the wall our apartments share.
Jeffrey Hollender turned me on to systems thinking. This is the exact framework I was looking for to help describe to readers. As I mentioned in response to your last question, a systemic approach to eco living helps people go greener faster and with a less vague and more concrete sense of what exactly they’re greening and why. It was a wonderful discovery and I’m extremely grateful to Jeffrey for sharing it. In following the systems of water, air, and energy as they flows into and out of a house, I learned countless other bits of information. I’m a lifelong urbanite and apartment dweller so I am admittedly very far removed from knowing how a house truly runs. A true education.
GG: What was it like working with Jeffrey Hollender? How did you two divide the writing workload?
AZ: Working with Jeffrey was a dream come true. Jeffrey has an amazing mind. The book was his idea and he already had a strong concept of what he wanted it to contain. But he’s also very open – there was a lot of give and take. And countless interviews. I also appreciated—and continue to appreciate—how curious he is, how approachable he is, and how much he wants to learn even as he’s teaching/instructing/sharing. He’s also very trusting and really let me take his words and get them on paper. I feel lucky to have walked away from the experience with a book as well as a mentor.
GG: If someone were only willing to do one thing to green her home, what would you recommend she do?
AZ: Green what you’re interested in greening and go from there. If you try to do too much, or set the bar too unrealistically high, you won’t succeed. That’s too much like a diet. Going green shouldn’t feel like a burden.
Are you in the market for a big new purchase? Start there – buy a greener mattress, or a better computer (and donate or e-cycle the old one). Do you want to clean your house less? Take off your shoes before you enter your house. It’s the public health equivalent of washing your hands. A large majority of the dirt in any home arrives on the soles of our shoes, and removing them will help keep your house cleaner. Mud, water, snow, and animal feces are not pleasant, but the real issues here are the invisible ones: pesticide residues if you live in an agricultural area or if your neighbors spray their lawns, automotive exhaust, and chemical contaminants from your workplace. You do not want these substances in your home. Also: having less dirt means you’ll be less likely to reach for a harsh conventional cleaner and you will have drastically reduced your indoor pollution. There’s a snowball effect that happens once you see how easy some green steps are. It becomes addictive. Trust me.
GG: You mention GoodGuide in the book. How do you use GoodGuide to inform your own shopping decisions?
AZ: In Planet Home, we suggest GoodGuide as a great way for readers to inform their own shopping decisions. If you’re in the market for just about anything, you can plug it in there and get a sense of where the product stands—and why. And the iPhone app is helpful for people with an iPhone. I’m the sort of person who is already pretty set in what she shops for, but if I’m in the market for something new, say, art supplies for my daughter’s classroom, I’ll pop it into a number of the online sources we mention in the Resources section of Planet Home, including GoodGuide, then I’ll cross-reference and research any questions that remain. But then again I’m obsessive so readers don’t have to be! One thing GoodGuide offers that I so appreciate is environmental and society ratings, as well as health ones. Like I’m glad to see GoodGuide has concluded that Crayola is ok healthwise but the company itself has a low air pollution score. Shoppers can really customize a search based on what’s important to them beyond health. That’s unique and really helps connects the green dots for any conscious decision-making.
You can learn more about Alexandra on her site. Plus, see for yourself what Planet Home has to offer. Share a story or tip from your “going green” experience in the comment section of this blogpost – we’ll randomly pick five of you to receive brand new copy!