Going Green in Your Home

by Meryl Davids Landau

Going Green in Your Home

Low-VOC paint, hybrid cars, organic fruits and vegetables: Learn what’s worth it for going green, and what’s not

It’s never been easier—or, in some cases, cheaper—to green your family Toting a stainless-steel water bottle is practically a playground requirement. But because there are so many opportunities, it’s hard not to feel like a sustainability slacker. Here’s the thing: You don’t have to. “It’s important to protect your family but some measures are still very costly and others may not be justified,” says pediatrician Lawrence Rosen, M.D., founder of the Whole Child Center, in Oradell, NJ. So we asked experts to help us produce a sanity-saving guide to the best eco buys.

In the Kitchen: Organic Fruits and Vegetables

“Ninety percent of a child’s pesticide risk comes from fresh produce and fruit juices, so it makes sense to make organic a priority here,” says Chuck Benbrook, Ph.D., chief scientist at the Organic Center, a nonprofit research and education group. What’s more: Research suggests that organic produce is actually more nutritious, too. So mind your stickers next time you’re in the produce aisle.


In the Bathroom: Nontoxic Household Cleaners

Traditional cleaners are loaded with ingredients linked to childhood asthma, rashes, developmental delays, and even some cancers, says Maida Galvez, M.D., director of the pediatric environmental health specialty unit at New York City’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. And because kids touch all kinds of surfaces, opting for nontoxic cleaners is worth it.

In the Bedroom: Organic Mattresses

There are no standards for mattresses claiming to be “natural” or “organic,” since all fibers are doused with fire retardants, says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group. Even wool (naturally fireproof) goes through pretty caustic processes to make it safe. Lunder suggests buying a regular mattress, then airing it out for a week. For crib mattresses, skip those with vinyl covers, which emit more chemicals.

In the Living Room: Low-/No-VOC Paints

With regular paints, your family breathes in fumes known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “The VOCs can irritate the throat and lungs and cause headaches, especially in kids with asthma or allergies,” Dr. Galvez says. Fortunately most major manufacturers offer low- and no-VOC paints, but if you can’t cover the extra cost (up to 30 percent more), keep the area well ventilated.

In the Garage: Hybrid SUVs

Larger ones can get less than 20 MPG, so spending the extra bucks doesn’t gain you much. “The best hybrids have an electric motor that allows for a smaller gas engine, which saves fuel. But the heavier ones keep the same-size engine,” says Jim Kliesch, a research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Kliesch’s greener pick: a gas-sipping sedan or a lighter, conventional SUV.