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


Common Sources of VOCs in the Home

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that easily convert to gases and enter the air we breathe, whether indoor or out. Many studies have linked excessive VOC intake to diseases and disorders ranging from headaches to respiratory issues to certain cancers and everything in between. It shouldn't be difficult to conclude that these chemicals have no place in our homes, but surprisingly, that's where they are found more often than not.

An average household, not one that is highly organic or raw, can be a veritable plethora of substances emitting VOCs. The most obvious of these is the paint with which we decorate. The VOCs released from traditional paint are of the class that humans can smell, which is evident in how offensive paint fumes are to most individuals. In this case, the VOCs are easy to identify, and the non-appealing smell often motivates homeowners to turn toward healthier options.

Paint, however, is not the only substance in the home that gives off VOCs, and it isn't even the most common. The list of chemicals and items in an average home that contain harmful VOCs includes new carpet and furnishings, many types of pressed wood and/or boards, new electronics and plastics. On a more alarming note, many personal care and hygiene products also produce VOCs including, but certainly not limited to, many kinds of makeup, shampoos, deodorants, etc. Harmful VOCs are even present in most cleaning materials found in an average home. 

With the number of sources of volatile organic compounds in today's society, it comes as no surprise that most humans have a number of chemicals in their bodies ranging into the hundreds and risk developing any number of health problems as a result. Take a moment and research how to reduce these chemicals in your home and keep your family as healthy as possible

See more articles on VOCs

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


Power Houseplants: Peace Lily

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So far, we've gotten to know the Golden Pothos and the Dracaena, also known as Janet Craig, both of which are incredible additions to any holistic space. But what if you prefer flowering plants? Good news! Fourteen of the 50 top plants for homes and indoor spaces include flowers! The most helpful of these options is the Peace Lily, part of the Top 10 list of purifying plants. 

The Peace Lily is one of my favorite plants and is actually something of a superstar in the world of indoor plants. Only a few plants meet or exceed the Peace Lily's ability to remove VOCs from indoor air and improve air quality through transpiration, and it is noted as one of the only plants that will reliably bloom indoors. In fact, Dr. B.C. Wolverton touts the Peace Lily as a plant that "should always be included when seeking a variety of indoor plants." 

The Peace Lily features sturdy stalks and white flowers which can even be trimmed to avoid pollen, if allergies are an issue. As with many houseplants, there are a number of varieties, including the Cleavelandii and the Mauna Loa, which can reach two and three feet, respectively. It is worth noting that the Peace Lily is poisonous to humans and animals if ingested, so it's important to take care if you have pets or children! If you can place the plant out of reach, do so. If you are not confident your pets will leave the Peace Lily alone, take a look at some of our other favorites here

This plant is relatively easy to care for and resistant to insects, so as long as you can commit to regular watering and a little light, a Peace Lily is the way to go! 

To Grow Successfully:

- Place your plant in semi-sun or semi-shade. Not too much of either!
- Maintain a daytime temperature of 60 - 75 degrees and a night temperature of 55 - 68. 
- Keep the soil evenly moist and wash leaves occasionally to ward off insects. 
- Hold off a bit on the watering during winter!

Is there somewhere in your home or office you can add a Peace Lily for a little Wood element, healing and fresh air?

by Anjie Cho