Look Who’s On GoodGuide: Alexandra Zissu, Co-Author of Planet Home

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!

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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15 Responses to Look Who’s On GoodGuide: Alexandra Zissu, Co-Author of Planet Home

  1. Emily S Keenan says:

    Just wrote my 2011 Resolutions based on Zissu’s book the Conscious Kitchen. Among other things I have pledged to NEVER buy another plastic water bottle or other plastic drink bottle again, which has been very difficult and it is only February. But our family of 5 (almost 6) is stocking up on canteens, and making a go at it. All the better because we drink more water this way and less sugary drinks. Also pledged to cook two vegetarian meals a week, which means when you add in Pizza Friday, we are only eating meat 4 nights a week. I think in 2012 I can cut that back more, but for now this is about right for us. And come spring I have pledged to be a composting queen.

    Anyway, I need a copy of Planet Home to keep my momentum rolling. Thanks Zissu for your clear writing and great ideas.

  2. Paula says:

    The Conscious Kitchen is great! and I’d really love to win PlanetHome to help do more in our community.
    I’ve learned lots over the last few years about the environment I live and cook in. The rules of our house changed with a child and it made it easier to change for the better because of him. New rules in our house – we recycle everything possible – if our recycling center doesn’t take an item then we hold items for when we visit WFM. Plastic was never big in our house so this was easy to purge from the shelves. Food waste goes to our backyard chickens – they eat practically everything. We buy as close to organic and local as possible. No shoes in the house, work/school clothes off when you get home. I can’t change everything but I can feel good about what we are doing. Thank you GG and AZ for great info.

  3. Tatiana says:

    As a student, I do not make a lot of big purchases. I try to learn as much about responsibility in business as possible by researching these topics as a part of my study and try to translate them in my own life. This has made me aware that currency is life voting rights that gives me the power to chose, which businesses I would like to support based on their attempt to become as sustainable as possible. This way, I buy less and can afford the higher premium of more responsible offerings.
    In a few weeks, my boyfriend and I will move back to our home country, which entails a new home from scratch (except the things we bring along). I can only imagine how many conscious choices we will have to make to ensure that our home is made up of "the right choices". This book would allow us to systematically reconsider our decision taking for the better. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll be one of those who get a copy!
    Thank you for interesting blogs and your great initiative.

  4. Jennifer says:

    We do a lot of green things already. We clean with vinegar and baking soda, we take off our shoes at the door, we buy organic fruits and veggies and milk… But we’re taking it a step further by washing and re-using our plastic baggies. My husband was complaining that I use too many baggies in my son’s lunch and they get thrown out every day, and he is right. There are 3-4 bags in his lunchbox a day. So i’m using reusable containers and washing bags now…

  5. Donna says:

    We bring our lunch to work pretty much every day in a reusable tote bag with reusable containers. Our lunch is generally leftovers from the night before. We are trying to get away from all snack type foods (chips, pretzels, etc.) and eat healthier – fruits and veggies. We now keep reusable cloth bags in our car so that we have them when we go shopping. As we live 12 miles from the nearest city, we sit down and make a list before we even drive into town and make sure we do all of our errands at one time and in the most fuel efficient manner.

    We long ago switched to organic cleaners that we buy in bulk and then mix ourselves. Except for food, we try and buy everything at second hand stores (garage sales in the summer). Any purchase is thought out and questioned if we can rent or borrow the item instead of buying it – especially things that are not used often.

  6. Ligia says:

    We have been using cloth diapers for my 8 month year old. It is just as easy as disposable diapers. There are many options out there too ie. Cloth diapers biodegradable or both! I love getting our regular shipment on our porch every Monday. No need to run to the store either!

  7. Beth Kane says:

    Streak-free shiney windows – About 2 Tbls. Dawn detergent, 2 cups white vinegar in a pail of hot water. Scrub with a rag and Squeegee dry.

    Hang-dry paper towels used to dry hands or washed dishes and re-use to clean up after pets, kitchen spills and other "dirty" chores.

  8. Michelle says:

    I have not read any of these books but looking forward to it. I hope in the holistic approach that it covers the concept that not everything is so straightforward in green. What might be good for one aspect may not be good for another – for example – cloth diapers use more water or the gas used to deliver the diapers needs to be included looking at the total life cycle of the diapers. Or perhaps you should keep your energy inefficient washer until it dies rather than buying a new one that used a lot of resources to be made. Or as GoodGuide points out – a product that might be good on health might not be so good on social responsibility.
    My tips for going green – it’s a journey where you need to choose your priorities at each step. I am working on looking at levels of extremeness for various green actions. By extreme I mean the level of life style change, time and money involved. I try to think of what has the most impact on the world vs. what just makes me feel good about doing something.
    BTW- I put my son’s lunch in wax paper – so it’s compostable and no clean up/water usage.

  9. Deborah says:

    Treating the environment and it’s inhabitants with respect has been a mission of ours for years. The biggest push for me is to use only products not tested on animals and although we do eat meat, to consume only animals raised humanely. It takes time, extra money, and research to do this, but after awhile it becomes second nature along with other habits put in place and developed over the years: We avoid bottled water completely, a roll of papertowels lasts us 6 months or more because we use handiwipes which can be thrown in the dishwasher or laundry over and over. We always take reusable bags with us to the market, the clothing store (I get strange looks at times) and every store we go to. Occasionally I need those large paper grocery bags to hold our recyclable plastics and papers, so then I’ll forego the reusables and ask for the paper bags. We wash plastic baggies and ziplocks and try to use plastic storage ware (without the BPA now) in general to avoid plastic bags. We use very little salt on the ground when it’s snowy or icey as it’s rarely needed. Just heard that pickle juice can be used, so we’ll try that sometime. Turning off lights is a big one and using renewable energy from the electric company. Don’t use much air conditioning and keep the heat low. It takes time to develop these habits, but after awhile, it’s hard to live any other way. Last year I put together an event for our civic association for the Global Day of Work for 10/10/10. Now we’ll do it every year involving the scouts and the neighbors and the kids to get them in the habit of caring for their communities and the planet.

  10. Charlotte says:

    I made the decision to go green one step at a time. The one step that made the most impact was discontinuing the use in our home of all plastic zip-top bags (for leftovers, school lunches, storing foods in the pantry, etc.), and favoring the use of glass covered dishes that are microwavable (Not sure when we can get rid of that!), freezer and oven safe, and recyclable cotton bags for sandwiches. We store pantry staples in bamboo boxes with a tight seal, which has worked fine so far. My family protested initially, but are slowly coming around to my change, and realizing what an impact it has made on us, and how that could be REALLY beneficial if we could influence other families to do the same!

  11. Kerry says:

    Since my son was about 5 months old i have been using cloth diapers and make my own wipes. I am also a member of freecycle.org so I get a lot of stuff secondhand.

  12. Donaldor says:

    Our family tries to do one new "green" thing a month and turn it into a regular behavior. For example, currently, my infant son uses compostable diapers & wipes that via high-heat composting are turned into soil for use in non-food green spaces. The diapers stay out of the landfill and green spaces benefit.

    This summer, my plan is turn my front yard into an edible organic landscape as a model for my neighborhood that eating healthy, growing delicious produce, and having a beautiful space is attainable with a small effort. The space will also have both regular compost areas as well as a worm bin for green food material. Lastly, the honey bee hives in the back yard will pollinate the garden and give us delicious honey.

    Future goal: thinking about getting a few hens to have fresh eggs and the hens will eat the bad bugs that eat the garden.

  13. Erin Ely says:

    My big push is to get rid of plastic as much as possible. I have been eating organic for over 15 years and I’m pretty fanatical about organic in my life. I also buy local food, raw milk and humanely raised meat and eggs as much as I can. I use kleen canteens or glass bottles for water and I have water filter in my kitchen. I’ve been using green cleaners for years, and just purchased an organic/latex mattress which was a big splurge. In general I’m focusing also on just not buying stuff. If I need a "shopping fix" yes I admit I do like to shop once in a while, I go to goodwill and look around, and that does it. Kind of silly but it works. My computer is 5 years old and still working so, I’m going to use it until it dies, then I’ll replace it. We are lucky to have a very good electronics recycling center here in our community too. I have to admit though it’s hard not to buy books, I’m kind of a book freak. I live in a very green community so I’m surrounded by a lot of people who think this way which I think does make it easier. We have curb side recycling and that is such a great thing… but plastic is still a difficult thing to get rid of completely. I use glass storage containers and I have purchased canvas lunch sacks and cotton bags for produce but can’t seem to always remember to bring them to the store all the time. I always leave canvas bags in my car for my grocery & store shopping. It’s a work in progress.

  14. Donna C Phillips says:

    I am making an effort to increase my ‘greenness’ daily. My diet is vegan and primarily raw, especially in the summer. I carry small bags to the grocery store for my purchases, all of the light bulbs in my house are c.f. except in the bath. I have a 2000 car that is gas efficient and the next one will be more energy efficient.
    My wardrobe comes from yard sales and ‘the secondary market’ such as Goodwill and consignment stores. Finding a bargain is so much fun! Ditto my kitchen appliances. I bought a great food processor for $10 and use it nearly every day! I bought a good blender for $1 and also use it at least once a day. I am replacing my plastic kitchen containers with glass as the plastic wear out.
    I have two computers. The desktop is about 6 years old and runs well. The laptop is two years old and I love it. My job is teaching online courses so I depend heavily on my computers for my livelihood – but I don’t need brand new.
    I keep the thermostat in my home at 62 degrees and use a luxurious throw (found at a yard sale) to cover my legs while I read or work.

  15. Jeanette Peters says:

    I first decided to start ‘going green’ about 2 years ago. I think it came more from trying to eliminate toxins from my personal environment (food, personal care products, cleaning products, etc) and grew from there as it’s all so interconnected. I started by trying to eat better: local, organic when possible, and most importantly, whole foods instead of processed. Next came the things I was putting directly on my body: we’ve switched to natural cleaning and personal care products, and have also eliminated a lot of products we used – no hair care products anymore, only one cleaner in the house, we also use baking soda and vinegar for most of our cleaning. From there, I’ve continued to choose a few things to change at a time, like switching from plastic to glass containers, eliminating non-stick pans in our house, and keeping a ‘clutter free’ home (no unneeded things anymore!). I feel happier, healthier, and more optimistic for our future – if everyone makes consious choices for themselves and their families everyday, the world stands a chance 🙂

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