Before last week, “going green” referred to the detox I employ on Sunday nights to flush the weekend out of my system. You know the one: chug green juice, choke down some combination of green leafy vegetables and apple cider vinegar, and slather on Glossier’s Mega Greens mask. But then Earth Month happened and, since it’s not currently possible to go anywhere on the Internet without reading another article about how to exist cleaner and greener, I thought I could give the real definition of going green a try.
According to this quiz, my ecological footprint is a 3.6, which means if everyone on earth copied my lifestyle, we would need 3.6 earths worth of resources. While that’s not necessarily high, it could stand to be whittled down a bit. And so, for seven days I did just that. I whittled. I swapped my common beauty products for more natural versions. I timed my showers. I spat and hissed at plastic anything. There were high points. Like abandoning my hair dryer and discovering new techniques to air dry my strands to perfection (top knot sleeping FTW!). And then there were low points. Like the charcoal toothpaste. But nothing prepared me for how much time and stress switching to a greener lifestyle would ultimately save me.
“People think going green is going to be a pain, but it’s actually very freeing” says eco-lifestyle expert and writer Alexandra Zissu. “Going green edits things down.” After seven days of minimizing my footprint and, ultimately, minimizing my daily routines, I can honestly say I agree. Read on for more of my adventures in sustainability.
My typical daily diet doesn’t include a lot of animal-based proteins, especially meat. So I was off to a good start green-wise as Zissu had told me the impact of not eating meat is “monumental” for the environment. Apparently, it requires 15,000 litres of water to produce a little over 2 pounds of beef, and beef production also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. So I cut out the little bit of meat I do ingest each week entirely. The next change I made was buying all of my produce from the farmers market where the fruits and vegetables come locally sourced, which cuts down on the time food is in transit and requires much less processing and energy. So I hit up the Union Square Greenmarket and stocked up on all organic produce. I’ve always been good about buying organic versions of the dirty dozen, those fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide residues. But I might become a strictly-organic produce buyer after this. The difference in freshness and taste, not to mention the peace of mind, is so real.
I’m adamant about reading ingredient labels on the foods I eat, but don’t pay as much attention to the ingredients I slather onto my sensitive skin every day. “What you put on your skin gets into your system. Think about how a nicotine patch works,” says Zissu. Just like processed foods, many conventional beauty products are essentially mixtures of different ingredients—some natural, some not—and sometimes those ingredients can be questionable. For example, the dangers of parabens, a common preservative found in beauty products, and their impact on the body have been widely debated. Some researchers claim parabens could be linked to estrogen disruption, which can play a role in breast cancer and reproductive issues. But the jury is still out as the CDC maintains that the health effects of parabens are unknown.
In addition to potentially irritating your skin and body, in some cases, products can include chemicals, synthetic fragrances, or preservatives that can also be harmful to the environment. For example, some shampoos and soaps with sulfates might contain the potential carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, isn’t readily biodegradable and can build up in the environment. For similar eco-friendly reasons, the use of plastic microbeads is now banned from beauty products in the U.S. because of their negative impact on aquatic life.
So, in order to play it safe for both my body and the earth, I swapped most of my adored regular beauty products for those that contained zero traces of parabens, synthetic fragrances, and sulfates, and that were made from natural or naturally-derived ingredients. Some of the easiest switches came from simply subbing in food products from my kitchen that double as beauty staples. Think apple cider vinegar for toner and coconut oil for moisturizer, makeup remover, and a bi-weekly hair conditioning treatment. Some changes were welcomed, like switching from my regular shampoo to J.R. Liggett’s Bar Shampoo ($8, rodales.com), turning in my beloved mascara for W3ll People’s Expressionist mascara ($24, w3llpeople.com), and tossing my old toothbrush to try the chic Source Ergonomic Recycled Handle Toothbrush ($10, rodales.com). Some were a little more challenging, like abandoning my over-loved aerosol can of dry shampoo for Days + Nights unscented powder version ($28, daysandnightsnyc.com) and tossing my tube of toothpaste for an all natural paste made of activated charcoal. But by the end, I actually significantly reduced the number of products I used as a whole, something Zissu expected might happen. “Going green is about simplifying your routine. You don’t need an eye cream, an elbow cream, and a body cream. Cream is cream,” she says. And in the case of coconut oil, you really can slather that stuff everywhere.
In addition to changing what I put in and on my body, I played green as much as I could in my real life. I took the week off the gym and all of its energy-sucking cardio machines in favor of running outside or working out at home with Kayla Itsine’s Sweat with Kayla app. I timed my showers and ultimately got what is usually a 15 minute ordeal, down to six minutes. I plugged all of my kitchen appliances and bedroom electronics into power strips and shut them down when I wasn’t home. On Sunday, I overhauled my laundry routine. “Ninety percent of the energy expended doing laundry in hot water is used simply heating that water,” says Zissu, who also recommends switching to free and clear detergents that voluntarily disclose their ingredients to avoid using petrochemicals that can get back into the water supply. So, I did all of my laundry in cold water and swapped my standard detergent for an organic free and clear version from GreenShield Organic ($50 for four, amazon.com). And yes, everything came out just as clean and snuggly as usual.
Ultimately, living a little more eco-friendly didn’t require any drastic changes. And that’s something Zissu would love more people to understand. Just like New Year’s resolutions, if you try to do it all at once—exercising every day, giving up all unhealthy foods—you’re going to throw in the towel quickly,” she says. “It’s small changes over time that are key to creating a bigger lifestyle change. So taking baby steps like eating a little less meat or using a little less hot water each week will make more of a difference than you even realize.”