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Axil Comras on Creating a Green Home
As president of Greenhome.com, Lawrence “Axil” Comras has heard every conceivable question about what it means to create a green home. His web site is the oldest retailer of eco-conscious goods on the internet, and Comras also leads Heal Your Home workshops that focus on simple, day-to-day changes for your personal spaces. Prior to founding Greenhome.com, he worked as a business consultant to Interval Research Corporation, Storyopolis and Vulcan Ventures, where he focused on bringing themes of sustainability to their various projects. Knowledgeable about all things green, Comras shared with us ways to make sure your home is safe. (Hint: Check the labels on your cleaning supplies.) He, also, shares his top tips for practical, affordable changes you can begin making today.
What are the immediate things you can do to make your home more environmentally friendly?
On a practical level, you can make a full pass through your house and get rid of any pesticides or cleansers with a bunch of ingredients you can’t pronounce. Get rid of all the poisons under the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and in the garage. The other thing you can do is to make a decision to be conscious of what you’re bringing into your life. Think about the fact that everything that comes into your home has to go back out somehow. So make an effort to choose things with fewer packaging materials. Bring your own bag to the store. Just be conscious of the trash you’re creating. By doing these two things—conserving resources and reducing toxins—you are creating a green home.
Is creating a green home an “all or nothing” proposition?
No, not at all. The whole idea about going green is that it’s a process with no end, so you might as well just enjoy it.
So where do you begin with a green-home plan?
The approach we recommend is to take it room by room. For instance, if it’s your bedroom, then you might just want to start with a drawer and say “everything in this drawer is going to be organic.” In the first 30 days, you can think about it in terms of participating in a new way of being a consumer and participating in a new pattern of consumption. You can expect to bring consciousness to the things you buy, and review the things you have in your home and get rid of things that don’t live up to your new awareness.
What are some common misconceptions about creating a green home?
People try to mystify it so they can sell their version of what they want to sell to you. The biggest misconception is that calling it green doesn’t make it green. There is very little oversight of the [green] industry. People assume just because [a green product] is sold that it has passed some kind of inspection or review process, and that’s not true.
[People often] put too much faith in the product. Given the way products in our country are marketed as cure-alls for our ills, you can hardly blame them. But, the way someone uses a product is just as important. A poorly placed, environmentally friendly, double-paned glass window still may not truly be green if it isn’t taking proper advantage of the light. Overusing even eco-friendly laundry detergent and washing everything in hot water all the time isn’t green. Green is much more about the how than the what.
What should you be looking for on a product label?
It depends on what category you’re in. With cleaning products, look for the strongest possible claim about how organic the ingredients are. What percentage does the label say is organic? One hundred percent would be the strongest claim someone could make, but that’s rare. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen [a 100%-organic] cleaning product on the shelves.
Look for any kind of certification mark that a trade association for that category gives. For instance, if you buy a carpet, look for Rugmark, which lets you know that the carpet has been made with sustainable materials and fair labor. Green Guard is a new label that deals with [products that affect] indoor air quality. And, paint products and related products can carry the Green Seal label.
What are some of your favorite products for the home that people might not know about?
The cool new green products for the home are enzyme-based cleaners [like the ones offered by Naturally Clean]. Rather than encapsulate dirt, the way detergents do, enzymes actually eat the dirt, digest it and keep on working even after you’re done cleaning. [They’re an] amazing value, and the enzymes aren’t dangerous to your health.
Does creating a green home have to be expensive?
Remember that you save money overall because you’re being more conscious about what you’re using, using a lot less throwaway stuff and reusing a lot more. And, there are significant energy savings with going green. You save lots of money down the line, but sometimes you have to buy a more expensive bulb [at the start].
You have to be incredibly shortsighted not to see the benefits, money-wise. For example, if you swap out an incandescent bulb that costs a dollar, uses 100 watts of energy per hour and lasts 1000 hours for an LED bulb that costs 50 dollars but lasts 20 years and uses 1 watt per hour, after a year you’ve paid for the bulb and the next 19 years are super cheap, if not free.
You can also do simple things like get a power strip and plug your appliances in and then turn the strip off at night. You can wrap your water heater in a blanket or insulate your windows. Little changes can save a lot of money. You can also put a drain screen that costs about 89 cents on your sink to protect your pipes, so that you don’t have to clear clogs with toxic substances or pay a plumber to come fix them down the line. A small act leads to a healthier home environment and environment at large.
In terms of lifestyle products, organic cotton sheets and beeswax candles will cost more [initially], but will also last much longer and are made in such a way that they use and produce fewer toxins. You really have to look at these things and consider the long-term benefits.
What are some fun ways to get kids involved in making the home more environmentally sound?
You can get kids involved in the idea that your home is a magical construct they can help manage. Kids are inherently very conserving. They learn to be wasteful. Kids love to put stuff away. They love to take care of things and protect things. Specifically, you can involve them in the idea that your home, collectively, has a carbon footprint. If you can make a game out of reducing the carbon footprint of your home, they’re in.
For the parents out there, are there convenient alternatives to cloth diapers or other ways to minimize impact while still using disposable diapers?
There are pluses and minuses from both sides. It’s similar to the paper-versus-plastic idea at the grocery store. The main thing you want to do is remember that each bag is a resource, and it’s better if you can bring your own. In terms of diapers, in the end, you do have the choice to buy organic or green disposable diapers now. You can balance buying disposable diapers with buying organic clothes and laundry detergent for your baby. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do what you can and start somewhere.
What is the belief that you personally go to in times of change?
We’re all making it up as we go along, and the nature of reality itself is change.
The best thing about change is…
…it gives hope.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Going green. Waking up to the idea that I am part of reality and connected to the world.
For more information on Lawrence "Axil" Comras, visit www.greenhome.com.