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