Doing ‘One Green Thing’ For The Earth
It’s not easy going green. In fact, it can be downright confusing: “Natural,” “organic,” “certified organic,” “fair trade,” “recycled” - what does it all mean?
Mindy Pennybacker is on it. As the former editor of The Green Guide and fact-checker for Glamour magazine, current Body + Soul (a Martha Stewart publication) columnist (Ask Mindy), eco-blogger and www.GreenerPenny.com editor, she just released Do One Green Thing ... Saving The Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices, a how to guidebook for those who are ready for that “greener” lifestyle and are seeking the best eco-friendly products.
It’s a useful tool not only for beginners, but for the seasoned environmentalist as well.
“My proposal was to have a book that wasn’t just prose, not just a lecture,” explains Pennybacker, who recently relocated back home to Honolulu. “I wanted it to be real user-friendly so that people could find what they needed quickly and use it to shop and make decisions.
“Each section has it’s own ‘Choose It’‘Lose It’ charts and specific product or label shopping lists that you can take along,” she adds. “On my Web site, I’m converting a lot of the lists to PDFs so you can make wallet cards or look at them from your cell phone.
“So the book has everything, and these basics aren’t going to change.”
Oh, and by the way, the book’s foreword was written by acclaimed actress Meryl Streep, a longtime advocate for children’s environmental health with Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, with whom Pennybacker sat in meetings back in the ‘90s when she was the editor of The Green Guide and Streep was on the publication’s board.
“One green thing: It’s so simple,” writes Streep. “This book takes the pressure off by giving you one easy but effective choice to make in each basic area of your life. And it’s written by a trusted voice in environmental health reporting: Mindy Pennybacker. I first met Mindy as an editorial adviser to The Green Guide, where she became editor in chief in 1996. That she had worked at both Glamour magazine and the Natural Resources Defense Council attested to consumer journalism skills wedded with environmental knowledge.
“The first thing Mindy did as editor of The Green Guide was to establish a research department. With the help of the scientists on her advisory board, she made certain that all her reporting was accurate and reflected the most recent studies on a given topic, from asthma to pesticides.
“If you’re like me, and you want to be sure that solid research informs your healthy living choices, you can rest assured that Mindy has done the work for you.”
Pennybacker also met media maven Martha Stewart through Body + Soul, a magazine published by Stewart.
“It was a wonderful experience,” says Pennybacker, who was a guest on Stewart’s TV show to promote Do One Green Thing in New York City.
Small-world scenario: Her paternal grandfather, Miles Pennybacker, knew Stewart when she was first starting out selling her pies in Westport, Conn. “He had a sweet tooth and an eye for pretty young ladies,” says his granddaughter.
The Nation magazine recently published “Ten Things You Can Do To Shrink Your Carbon Footprint,” listing Pennybacker’s recommendations for “small steps that make a big difference” as told to writer Walter Mosley Feb. 25.
We’re not sure if they’re listed in order of urgency, but first on the list is “Use less paper,” so please “do one green thing” and recycle this copy of MidWeek!
So just how did Pennybacker end up so environmentally aware?
Growing up in the Diamond Head area, taking walks with her grandfather to the beach, talking story with the local elders - these were the sparks that ignited Pennybacker’s lifetime passion for protecting the environment.
“My grandfather (Lawrence Kang, who with wife Mary owned Halm’s Kim Chee) took me to the ocean when I was 6 months old. He took me down right out here (Diamond Head area),” Pennybacker says. “Another really important reason was the Hawaiian people I met when I was small, and their ethic of living with nature and not disturbing it.
“All my life growing up, learning Hawaiian people’s respect for the land and their use of plants, their sustainable gathering practices, really influenced me.”
As a surfer girl, her love of the ocean and all things in it had a big influence in her life as well.
“When I was maybe in my early teens, seeing how suddenly the coral started dying because of processed sewage and even raw sewage being dumped ... I mean, growing up surfing at Point Panic in Kewalo was certainly enough to make anyone into a passionate environmentalist,” says Pennybacker, a proud 1970 Punahou graduate. “You were surfing with feces and tuna heads and everything in the water around us. We called it ‘Point Source Pollution Control’ then.
“Land-based pollution is directly hurting our oceans, certainly now we have mercury in our fish, so I was an ocean person, joining Save our Surf, and I remember the Sandy Beach evictions and protests, which was like the beginning both of a really intense environmental movement in Hawaii, and also the Hawaiian Renaissance - a sense of really being connected to the land and supporting small farmers, not just evicting them for development.”
So she went off to study English literature and creative writing at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif, always with the environment in mind.
“We all had to take human biology,” she says. “We had to take a lot of science because it was Stanford. And although I was really bad at it, I learned a lot.”
Pennybacker married Don Wallace in 1976, a writer and editor. They have one son, Rory, who just turned 24 and works for a hedge fund in NYC.
Back to Do One Green Thing, a big reason people don’t go green is because they’re overwhelmed, which is just where Pennybacker’s book comes in. It goes hand-in-hand with her Web site, and throughout the book it’s noted that, for updates, go to www.GreenerPenny.com. She says new stores and details are always added.
“There’s plenty here to get people started going green. Or for someone who has been committed to green for some time, hopefully they will find it useful, too, just having everything in one place for reminders, etc.”
Pennybacker’s stint at Glamour taught her a great deal, and it’s not at all as fluffy as you may think. She worked as a research editor mostly for its medical column.
“It was great training,” she says. “Ruth Whitney was one of the great classic women’s magazine editors, and the fact-checking department was based on the New Yorker‘s department. Since then I’ve written for The Nation magazine and been fact-checked by them, and I have to say they are no more rigorous than Glamour magazine was.” So attention to detail is ingrained in Pennybacker.
Her colleague, Dr. Luz Claudio, associate professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who is a member of the advisory board for www.GreenerPenny.com, says she’s known Pennybacker for about 10 years.
“She contacted me for quotes for The Green Guide, and she regularly would contact me to consult with me about environmental health. Whenever she was writing something that was in my area of expertise, environmental health, she would ask me my opinion or some background information about the issue.
“She has a high level of expertise. One talent she has is being able to explain very complex scientific knowledge into practical information that anybody can use. And I think this book is particularly timely because it puts together easy, step-by-step ways in which people can improve their personal environment and their global environment.
“It’s very user-friendly,” she continues, “and that’s something that, I think, we scientists in the environmental health field and environmental sciences need people like her to translate our discoveries into things that people can actually do something about. And that’s what she’s been doing for so many years.”
So it’s obvious that Pennybacker is a stickler for research and clarity in her work.
“One thing I also wanted to have in the book was the substantiation of credibility, that’s why I cite a lot of studies and the end notes are comprehensive,” says Pennybacker. “And at the beginning there are ‘better for you, better for the planet’ sections that distill the health studies and all the environmental statistics, so that if people want a good reason to do this ‘one green thing’or the other green suggestions in the chapter, they can look for the reasons in these longer sections.
“But they’re always broken out in specific boxes so people can skip them (laughter). When I read, even a novel, I have to confess I often skip stuff, and I don’t want people to feel guilty about it. They don’t have to do the lecture every time. Just cut to the chase.”
So go ahead, cut to the chase and go green.
Mindy can help.
Visit GreenerPenny.com, for more information about the book, a chance to win a Martha Stewart Clean green dish soap, and lots of green living tips. You can download a GreenerPenny
Top Picks shopping guide for lipsticks and balms, which also gives a good sense of greenest brands, plus the label claims explanation (note that a local company, Ola, made the grade) at http://greenerpenny.com/guides/lipstick_guide.pdf
MidWeek readers can buy signed copies of the book at Barnes & Noble Kahala and Native Books Ward Warehouse, and Pennybacker will speak about and sign copies of her book Sunday, May 16, at 2 p.m.at Borders Ward Centre.
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