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


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


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


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


What No One's Telling You About Paint and VOCs

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We've shared plenty of information about paint, from how to choose the perfect color to why you'd want to look for paints with lower VOCs, but here's something not many homeowners are aware of: even paints labeled as "low-VOC" can cause significant damage to your health and the environment. Let's break it down. 

First of all, let's be clear. Opting for lower VOC count in paint is definitely healthier than just grabbing whatever color you like without checking the label. But as with many sustainable and eco-friendly options, lowering VOC levels in paint doesn't necessarily make it completely healthy. Though they do contain fewer volatile organic compounds, paints labeled as low- or zero-VOC do contain VOCs. What's more, the number used to classify these paints as healthier is measured before the addition of pigments and certain additives, which can contain additional VOCs. And some of the dangerous chemicals added to paints aren't considered to be VOCs, so they're not taken into account when determining the safety of the paint. 

Even when the paint you've chosen has the lowest possible levels of VOCs, those compounds will still off-gas into your internal environment. Though this small amount of toxicity may not show up immediately, this is another situation similar to that metaphor we use when talking about the commanding position and clutter. Even if you don't notice, like a stone that has water dripping on it for years, it will eventually begin to affect you in a negative way.  

And, as Joel Hirshberg notes in his article, The Truth About Paintreducing the level of VOCs in paint only does so much for the environment. It is not the most ideal solution. He mentions that when we reduce the use of VOCs, we only slow down the process of contaminating our environment, since our atmosphere can only completely absorb waste if it is healthy and biodegradable. As many of these chemicals are not, even in small amounts, they ultimately return to the atmosphere where they remain forever. 

With this information in mind, most experts agree that seeking out the healthiest possible paint option is worth the effort and cost. In most cases, this option consists of natural paints and finishes. These paints are composed only of natural ingredients, like water, plant oils and natural minerals. In these paints, manufacturers use 100% natural materials for each of the primary components, which would usually be chemicals. For instance, The Real Milk Paint, a popular option, contains casein, hydrated lime and plant-derived fillers, all of which are natural and non-toxic.

There are a number of companies who produce natural paint for healthier environments. This list from eartheasy is a great start, but as always, do your own research before choosing the best paint for your needs. In fact, if you're handy enough, you can even make your own natural paint! What better way to KNOW your indoor air quality is safe?

by Anjie Cho