Things You Might Not Know About Coconut Oil

As a holistic designer and architect, I'm all about finding ways to incorporate natural, less-toxic substances into my daily life in place of those harmful chemicals we normally keep beneath the kitchen sink or in the medicine cabinet. One of my most recent discoveries is coconut oil. The holistic perks of this natural oil are incredible, and of course I want to share them with you. Some of my favorite uses are below!

In the Bathroom

Coconut oil is awesome as a natural hair serum. Adding just a small bit to your hair can reduce the frizz we so often deal with as ladies. Be careful here, as you don't want to overuse any sort of oil in your hair. Just rub a dab onto your palms, then distribute evenly throughout your locks!

Try mixing coconut oil with equal parts sugar to create your own simple exfoliating scrub for those long, nourishing showers. 

Coconut oil makes an easy lip balm too! Especially in colder, dryer months, our lips are susceptible to weather and have the tendency to chap and crack. Anyone who's ever experienced this knows it isn't fun! Next time your lips start acting up, try rubbing a bit of coconut oil on as a lubricating balm and soothing agent.

One of the most common beauty products containing toxic materials is deodorant. Unfortunately, this isn't a product we can really do without, unless we're all willing to deal with each others' body odor. Coconut oil can provide a natural remedy for this issue. Using the oil by itself as deodorant is very effective and eliminates the need for harsh chemicals that you may find in other store-bought products. 

Around the House

Aside from its numerous uses for the body, coconut oil also makes a super stain remover and furniture polish. You can rub the oil alone on a tough-to-conquer stain for some help, or mix the oil with baking soda for a non-toxic stain removal option. 

Back in the bathroom, coconut oil works wonders on soap scum, which is great, since bathroom cleaners can be some of the most toxic on the market. Instead of exposing yourself, and ultimately your family, to the toxic chemicals and VOCs in bathroom cleaning chemicals, try using natural coconut oil on a rag instead! 

There are literally hundreds of uses for coconut oil outside the most common uses in cooking. With an increasing number of cautious dieters and, thankfully, individuals concerned for the environment, coconut oil is becoming more and more popular, and with good reason! Next time you're near a natural market, stop in and get some coconut oil to get started on the many things you can do!

by Anjie Cho


Benefits of Low and Zero VOC Paint

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compound) are chemicals added to paint for a variety of reasons including color enhancement, increased adhesiveness and increased ease of spreading. Despite these conveniences, VOCs are extremely dangerous to humans, and the use of them in many paints results in indoor air being anywhere from 3-5 times more polluted and harmful than outdoor air.

What can you do to prevent this? Buy low- and zero-VOC paints, which are now available from almost every brand. Though the main, and obvious perk to using low-VOC paint is reducing the toxicity of your breathing air, benefits do go a bit deeper.

Lower Toxicity

According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), VOCs are some of the environment's arch enemies and a huge risk to humans as well. One of the easiest ways to reduce this risk, both for our environment and our bodies, is to use paints with lower or no VOCs.

VOCs are even more toxic to those with high vulnerability to smells and chemicals as well as allergies. Using lower VOC paints reduces the uncomfortable side effects for this group of people as well.

High exposure to paints with excessive VOCs can result in a wide variety of complaints, from watery eyes to respiratory infections, and in some cases, even cancer. Using paints with a lower level of VOCs can directly reduce these health risks.

No Smell!

Low VOC, No VOC paint contains zero or a minimum amount of compounds, which basically makes the paint almost unscented when wet, and leaves it with no smell at all as soon as it is dried.

Better for the Environment

The toxins emitted from regular, high VOC paints end up in the atmosphere and ultimately the ozone, adding to an already colossal problem of greenhouse gases. Using paint with reduced VOCs significantly decreases the amount of toxins that are released into our ozone. In addition, these paints reduce toxicity in landfills and water, as excess, discarded paint is nowhere near as toxic.

Low or zero VOC paint is also very easy to clean and requires only soap and water, rather than heavy chemicals. One more point for low VOCs versus air-killing chemicals.

by Anjie Cho


Why Compost?

The benefits of composting, combining a variety of kitchen scraps and organic materials, are numerous, whether or not you garden or have a yard. From enriching the soil without harmful chemicals to reducing a trash collection bill, time looking into composting is not time wasted. See below for a few examples of how composting can benefit you, no matter where you are.

Enriches Soil

Composting creates humus. The process required to transform scraps and other materials into organic fertilizer involves the production of positive “micro-organisms.” These guys make a job out of creating humus from broken down organic matter. In this case, humus is, rather than a savory dip for celery and pita, a gardening material filled with nutrients that add to soil and assist in retaining moisture.

Adding compost to soil also balances PH and improves soil CEC, which makes it easier for the earth to hold tight to nutrients. These nutrients are vital for growth of many plants, from food plants to pretty plants. Essentially, when soil isn't an ideal consistency and texture, it will be difficult to grow any kind of plant. Compost helps to ensure that soil is crumbly and open enough for water and nutrients to move through.

Cleans Up Contaminated Soil

Not only does it absorb odors, composting counteracts VOCs and other semivolatile compounds. Examples? Heating fuels, PAHs, and explosives. Yup, explosives. Not impressed yet? Composting also prevents heavy metals in soil from being absorbed by plants or other water sources, thus helping to keep our water sources cleaner. Plus, composting actually degrades lots of chemicals that have no business in our earthy soil anyway, including pesticides and wood preservatives.

Helps Prevent Pollution and Save the Planet

When you compost organic materials, instead of dooming them to landfills or other trash collections, you prevent production of harmful gases like methane and leachate formulation.

Composting is among the top options for reducing your carbon footprint, thus doing your part to save our planet.

It's sustainable too! Instead of using precious natural resources that we will not have forever, composting uses scraps from already eaten food and other natural products to produce the same effect without depleting our supply of non-sustainable materials.

Saves Money!

There is tons of energy in organic waste like vegetable scraps. Composting easily collects that energy and directs it back into the ecosystem, whether you apply it directly to the soil or donate it for application.

If you apply directly, this in turn also saves on gardening expenses like fertilizer, pesticides and the like, as you can use the scraps of food your family has already eaten as repurposed compost.

Using chemical fertilizers often leaves behind a wealth of  heavy metals (lead, arsenic?! and cadmium) that can build up over time. Overuse of chemical fertilizers can actually bring death to the very soil itself, which only requires dependent use of these same fertilizers, thus costing even more money over time. Composting skirts this issue entirely, as it is composed only of organic materials.

If you pay for disposal of garbage, especially by weight, composting will immediately reduce that bill, as you'll be using a significant amount of previously dubbed "garbage" to garden and enrich your soil.

Supports Our Economy

Composting reduces our dependence on oil from overseas, as it reduces the need to purchase chemical fertilizer often made using petroleum.

by Anjie Cho


5 Green Living Changes for Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, and the start of Earth Week. I encourage each of you to incorporate one green living change into your daily life. Below are five simple, yet impactful changes you can make.

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1.  Adopt or Donate an Indoor Plant

I have a Golden Pothos from when I first moved to New York City in 2003. I can't even remember who gave it to me, but it was a housewarming gift. This plant is so hardy, it's survived and flourished through weeks of forgetful watering and even a dark ground floor apartment. In feng shui, house plants bring life energy into a indoor space. They can create a softer and more vibrant energy in a home or office.  Living plants are wonderful for improving overall indoor air quality. The Goldon Pothos is said to be particularly good for removing formaldehyde and carbon monoxide.  

What I love about the Golden Pothos is that they are easy to propagate. Simply cut off a 3" or longer piece, just below a leaf or a node (or joint). I like to take cuttings and place them in a glass of water. Alternatively, you can plant them, or you can wrap them in a wet paper towel and give them as gifts.

Orchids are also very common houseplants. What most people don't know is that after the flowers die, the remaining plant is still alive! The plant is dormant, and you can keep it. It's such a reward to see my orchids bloom every year.  

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2.  Switch to a Renewable Energy Provider

An easy way to minimize your carbon footprint is to switch to a renewable energy provider. There are many different companies, and it really depends on where you live. It can be overwhelming to weed through all the companies, but it's worth it. The EPA gives some information on where you can find renewable energy companies for residential and commercial locations.  

Switching to Green Power does not typically mean that you need to install solar panels or a windmill on your roof. Although that is sometimes an option, in most urban areas this simply means that you can call your electricity provider and request you switch to a Green or Renewable energy source. In New York City, there are a handful of Energy Supply Companies (ESCOs) that provide a green option. You may see a small increase in your monthly bill, but in my experience it's very minimal. Probably around $10/month for a one bedroom apartment. You can also look into Renewable Energy Certificates RECS to offset your DIRTY electricity usage.

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3.  Reduce Bottled Water Usage

Contrary to popular belief, the National Resources Defense Council NRDC says that bottled water is “subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water.”  If health is a concern, plastics are terrible to eat and drink from.  There may be Bisphenol A (BPA)s or other toxic chemicals and substances in plastic containers that will affect water quality.

In New York City, we have excellent quality tap water. I recommend those outside of NYC use a high quality water filter and drink tap water whenever possible. I use reusable glass bottles and my Soda Stream seltzer machine as much as possible at home.

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4.  Buy Post Consumer Recycled Products

Most of us know by now, we need to recycle.  Reduce, reuse and recycle!  Note, recycle is last on that list.  

We put our glass bottles, metal cans, plastic bottles and paper/cardboard in the bins and out on the curb.  But what happens when we recycle? Sadly, not everything gets recycled. The recycling carter or your municipal recycler picks up the waste-- but if no one wants to buy the recyclables, they can put the unsellable material into the landfill. Glass, metals, cardboard and paper are typically easy to recycle. There is a market for these materials. Plastic is another story. Not all plastics are recyclable. The plastics that can be recycled have a shorter lifecycle, require more energy to recycle, and are not as valuable.

So.. what can we do? Purchase more Post Consumer Recycled products! "Recycled" typically means that the content is made from pre-consumer materials, such as the leftover waste from manufacturing. It's good, but not the same as Post Consumer. "Post Consumer Recycled" indicates that the recycled portion is from the recycled waste that you and I have put into our recycling bins. If we make an effort to purchase more post consumer recycled plastics, we in turn create a demand for the recyclable plastics. This will also cut down the creation of new plastics. 

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5.  DIY Water Saving Toilet

My final tip is for those of us with a tank toilet. This is a toilet where there is a tank behind, rather than in the wall or with a flush-o-meter. It's super simple to make your own water saving toilet. Take an old plastic bottle (the ones you're no longer using!), and fill it up with water. Open the toilet tank cover, and place the plastic bottle inside. Be sure to avoid and not obstruct the toilet flap, ball, handles, etc., inside the tank. Voila! The water filled bottle will displace water in the toilet tank and reduce the water usage each time you flush.

As a final feng shui tip - be sure to keep your toilet bowl cover shut. The bathroom is a place where water is always coming in and out of the home. In feng shui, water represents wealth and money flow. Make sure you keep the toilet seat closed, as well as the bathroom door. This will keep the wealth from flowing away from you!

by Anjie Cho 


Greenwashing and How to Avoid It

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With the increased focus worldwide on taking better care of our planet and preserving our natural resources, marketing campaigns have started to focus on sustainability as a selling point in many fields. This is an awesome move if the company really is an active advocate for preserving water, energy and the like; however, many times companies toss a green marketing claim to consumers based on little to no actual action. Customers who fall for these claims and purchase advertised products from companies who aren't actually green are doing little to help save our planet and, in reality, may be unwillingly doing more harm than good. We call this "greenwashing."

Fortunately, greenwashing is a villain that can be stopped relatively easily if consumers are careful and pay close attention to products they purchase. The most accurate way to avoid being greenwashed is to properly research "green" products before purchasing. If your favorite detergent company has just launched a green cleaner, take the time to check facts about what exactly makes this new detergent qualify as green.

On this same note, avoiding greenwashing is about more than just ensuring that you buy holistic products. The idea behind going green requires that we do everything in our power to reduce the carbon footprint each of us leaves on the world. In this way, we can directly save many of the non-renewable resources we're currently flying through. That said, even if a product really is "green" on the consumer side, if the company is required to use more energy and produce more waste in order to create the product, perhaps promoting its production isn't the best thing for our planet. Just like you research your products, research the companies who make them. Are they really following a green initiative or just trying to make a buck off the good efforts of others?

I'm very happy to see the overwhelming number of new environmentally friendly options on the market, but remember the reason for these products. If we aren't actually conserving the earth's resources, perhaps these campaigns are less "green" and more "greenwash."

by Anjie Cho


My Favorite Things: 5 Accessories for Getting Cozy

Welcome to My Favorite Things! Each month, we highlight products to help you create a holistic lifestyle that inspires and nurtures you, so that you can be happier and feel supported.

Next week is already fall! I can't believe it! We've had a long, warm summer, but the weather is beginning to get cooler and crisper, and soon we'll be switching walks in the park for snuggling up indoors. That's why this month's My Favorite Things is all about getting cozy! We put some thought into the necessities for a staying warm in the fall air, and here's what we came up with.


Sun Yantra Mandala for Radiance & Warmth

I love mandalas as a way to add a certain energy or intention to a room. This Sun yantra mandala is perfect for warming up your space as the weather cools off!

The Sun is associated with individuality, radiance and yang energy. It depicts yellows and oranges and radiating lotus petals, and looks similar to the sun itself! As it represents warmth and radiance, this mandala is perfect for seasons when we see less sun. 

Yellows and oranges are representative of nature, which is appropriate for autumn, and the bright colors are also a helpful dose of optimism and positive qi during fall and winter months

Available at: Holistic Spaces


Wool Angled Front Wrap Cardigan

I love Eileen Fisher clothing. I probably wear at least one piece from her designs every day! They're so minimal, easy to match, high quality and incredibly eco-friendly. Eileen Fisher supports sustainable sourcing, fair trade, domestic production and much more!

This front wrap cardigan is no different. The sweater is made of Eileen Fisher signature washable, chlorine-free wool, which means it doesn't contain as many harmful chemicals, and you don't have to take it to the dry cleaners every time you spill tea! 

Its versatility also means it's perfect for wearing out or cuddling up inside with a good book. It's a must-have for cooler weather!

Available at: Eileen Fisher


Indian Cardamom Chai Tea

I am a huge fan of tea, and these days I cannot stop drinking Kalustyan's Indian Cardamom Chai! It's a blend of Darjeeling and Assam teas with cardamom flavor, milk and sugar to make it the perfect tea for a chilly afternoon.

I also like to add turmeric to my tea. Both turmeric and cardamom are powerful herbs used for years to aid in digestion, fight depression, build anti-oxidants and so much more. Plus, as members of the ginger family, they offer a warming sensation!

Since many of us get busier during the last part of the year, the Kalustyan's chai mix is instant, which means you just add hot water and enjoy! 

Available at: Kalustyan's


Wool Rug

When it comes to making your holistic space warmer, a wool rug is a no-brainer, and I love this neutral rug from Organic Looms!

Most rugs can help to reduce the cool temperature beneath your feet, especially here in NYC where everything is wood flooring, but wool rugs are especially warm!

This wool rug is suitable for any room, organic, non-dyed and allows for customization of shape, size and more. It's also ethically sourced and hand-woven, and it improves indoor air quality!

Available at: Organic Looms


Sandalwood Essential Oil

My favorite things for warming up wouldn't be a complete list without essential oils! Fall is a great time to utilize these incredible healing tools, and sandalwood is on our ultimate fall list

My good friend, Andrea Giordano, of Aromatherachi, specializes in using essential oils to make amazing products like soap and bath salts, but she also sells the oil itself! Her sandalwood oil is sustainable and eco-friendly, sourced in Hawaii! Can you think of a warmer place?!

Available at: Aromatherachi



Q&A Sunday: Feng Shui and Interior Design

I've been receiving your newsletters and am an interior design student currently and wanting to learn more about feng shui. I'm half Asian and have basic understanding having grown up with the Korean tradition, but I would like to know more about about feng shui that I wish to apply to my career as a sustainable interior designer. Although there is a plethora of books and references out there, I wondered if you might be able to give me your advice on how or where I can go to learn more? I really appreciate any advice you could offer!

Emma B., Sydney, Australia

 

Hi Emma,

Thanks so much for reading my newsletters and for your question. We actually just answered one similar to this a few weeks ago. Here’s a link to it. But i’ll add some more information based on your specific request.

Since you’re half Korean, you may want to reach out to your family members to see if there are any connections to your ancestry there. Korea has their own form of feng shui called Pungsu-jiri. Most cultures have some form of “geomancy” — a way of looking at the environment and our relationship to it. By definition, geomancy is a way of divination through signs from nature, which is essentially how the art of feng shui works. You might have interest in learning more about Korean feng shui.

There are definitely many books out there, and as I’ve mentioned before, because there are so many schools of feng shui, it can be confusing, and the information may be conflicting. If you really want to incorporate this into your career, I suggest you look for a teacher locally. But if you want to just tip your toe in, my top books to recommend are:

Modern Book of Feng Shui - Steven Post

108 Ways to Create Holistic Spaces - Anjie Cho

ALL BTB feng shui books

I, of course, more deeply recommend the BTB Masters program, which currently offers a few online courses and is expanding further, and fengshuistoryboard.com, which is currently online. Each of these programs is taught by BTB feng shui masters, including some of my mentors and fellow feng shui students. 

If you are genuinely interested in incorporating the philosophy of feng shui into your sustainable design, I highly recommend finding a mentor or teacher and practicing hands-on learning and certification, as this will help you bring meaningful adjustments to your design work. Good luck in your studies! 

by Anjie Cho


Thanks for reading our "Q&A Sunday".  We will be answering questions submitted by our readers. Click here to submit any Feng Shui or Green Design questions!


The Ins and Outs of Sick Building Syndrome

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Much of my work pertains to homes, apartments and other personal spaces, but the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) relates to your working environment as well. In modern times, we spend a little less than 1/3 of our time at work on average. That's a lot of time in the same space! Unfortunately, these spaces are often poorly ventilated and filled with a host of other issues that lead to sick building syndrome, which is as gross as it sounds. 

Sick building syndrome is a collection of symptoms that seem to be caused directly by spending time in a certain building, often an office. These symptoms can include anything from headaches, dizziness and sensitivity to smell to asthma attacks, flu-like symptoms and even personality changes! Long term, they can even lead to cancer, pregnancy difficulties and other more serious issues. Not only do these issues cause us to feel poorly, they can also result in higher incidents of missing work and difficulty being productive when we do make it in. 

These effects can be caused by many factors, including:

  • external pollution (think car exhaust, radon, asbestos, lead paint) that leaks indoors through ventilation
  • VOCs off gassed by a number of office supplies like manufactured wood furniture, carpet, printers and more
  • Off gassing from clothing, fragrances and personal products
  • Insect or vermin droppings 
  • Mold and mildew
  • EMFs from small appliances like microwaves
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Ventilation issues

The good news is that there are ways to avoid sick building syndrome, and while many of them are reserved as actions for landlords and building owners, some of them we can do at our desks! If you own a building you suspect of making people sick, take care to use proper ventilation, remove and replace water stained carpet, upholstery and ceiling tiles, aim to use materials that do not off gas as much, and educate yourself as well as possible to help prevent sick building syndrome in your space. Changing out your air filters regularly with HEPA filters can be very effective as well! 

If you're an employee in a sick building, be sure to bring the problem to the attention of someone who can make changes, but you can also consider bringing in a small air purifier for your office and adding plants to your desk and office space that can help to absorb harmful VOCs. Check out our favorite options

Generally the symptoms of sick building syndrome are relieved when you leave the building, but if you leave one place and head to another polluted place, you're not doing much good! So work to make your home as holistic and green as possible to give yourself a safe place to rejuvenate and heal from a long day at the office!

by Anjie Cho


6 Trees to Plant Indoors for Earth Day

Earth Day is Saturday, and as always, we're excited to celebrate the greatness that is our planet and express gratitude to the universe and Mother Earth for supporting us. One of the most popular ways to honor the Earth and help counter environmental damage is to plant trees. If you own your property or have a yard, planting a tree is easy. Just be sure to care for it after planting! If you're in a New York City apartment, planting a tree yourself may be a bit more difficult. In honor of Earth Day, you can donate to Trees for the Earth or the Canopy Project, or you can choose an indoor tree for your holistic space! We've got a few suggestions. 

Fiddle Leaf Fig

The Fiddle Leaf Fig is enjoying plenty of time in the spotlight right now and for good reason. They're easy to care for, bright and look fantastic in practically any space. The Fiddle Leaf Fig enjoys bright light, isn't so fond of drafts and needs water when its soil feels dry. It's also a good idea to keep an eye out for whiteflies or aphids! Our friends at The Sill have beautiful figs for delivery in NYC. 

Fishtail Palm

If you're craving a tropical touch, the Fishtail Palm is the perfect addition to your holistic space! These trees grow best in bright, indoor light and warmer temperatures (like the temp inside your home), which makes them ideal houseplants. Just be sure to keep a spray bottle nearby for misting, because these tropical trees need lots of humidity!

Madagascar Dragon Tree

The Madagascar Dragon tree gets extra points for being a well-known air-purifying plant. So not only does it brighten your space, it helps remove some of the harmful chemicals we bring into our homes. Like the Fishtail Palm, the Madagascar Dragon tree thrives in average home temperatures and enjoys bright, filtered light. You'll want to keep the soil slightly moist and keep pets away, since the Madagascar Dragon Tree is poisonous! 

Money Tree

This indoor plant gets extra points too, since it is associated with wealth and prosperity in feng shui! Take a look at your bagua and find your Abundance gua, then add your Money Tree to let the universe know you'd appreciate some prosperity! Keep your tree watered regularly, give it bright light and avoid placing it in the bathroom (as water can drain the wealth), the Relationships gua or the Knowledge gua. 

Norfolk Pine

The Norfolk Pine tree is another popular indoor tree with the flexibility to add nature and the Wood element to any room. Like most indoor plants, the Norfolk Pine just wants medium to bright light and water, enough to keep it moist but not soggy. Easy enough!

Rubber Tree

Add some glossy dark green to your space with a rubber tree. These trees grow quickly, especially with bright, filtered light, regular water and well-drained soil, so it may be necessary to repot your Rubber Tree on a yearly basis until it's the perfect size for your holistic space. It's also a good idea to slip your Rubber Tree some weak liquid fertilizer during growing season. 

There are so many more than six trees that make amazing additions to our indoor spaces, and adding a tree anywhere is a great way to thank Mother Earth for keeping us alive all these years! Not to mention, many trees, like other indoor plants, are excellent absorbers of excess carbon dioxide and harmful chemicals that start in our homes and often make their way outside. If you're looking for easy-to-love trees and all-star air purifiers, also check out the Parlor Palm, Ponytail Palm and the Dracaena anita. Then send us pics of your new Earth Day trees!

by Anjie Cho