Thursday, August 30, 2012

Green Back to School: #HolisticMoms Twitter Party

We had a busy and informative #HolisticMoms Twitter Party last night with special guest Green Child Magazine @GreenChldMg on Greening Back to School. So many great links for information and resources got passed around that it was impossible to catalog all of them and chat at the same time. So we’re sharing our list of all the articles that were posted during the party. Get a cup of tea and maybe a square (or two) of chocolate and do some reading! Not the same old back-to-school information, we have ideas on how to form a walk to school bus, how to clean up the air quality at your child’s school, fundraisers that you can actually get excited about and a whole lot more!

Enjoy the links and join us each week at #HolisticMoms on Twitter, Tuesdays 10 pm ET for fun, information-packed parties about holistic living!

Green Child Magazine’s Green Back to School Issue

Eco-Friendly School Fundraising

Helping Kids to Make Friends

Getting Into School Routines

Holistic Tips for Back to School

School Supplies Pose Toxic Threats

Quelling Back to School Anxiety

Seeds of the Month for School

Bringing Green Values Back to School

Non-Toxic School Supplies

Safe Lunch Gear

Cleaning Up School Air Pollution

National Walk to School Day

Homemade Hand Sanitizer

Toxins in School Supplies

Encouraging Kindness in Kids

Eco Back to School Picks

Tips for Starting School

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Brand Behind the Brand

Natural products advocates and consumers are up in arms this week as they discover that many of their favorite brands are spending money to defeat Proposition 37 in the State of California. Prop 37 is a ballot initiative that would require labeling of products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Calls for boycotts and protests are on the rise against many popular natural brands. But the issue is not so simple, as Marc Gunther points out on The problem lies in the fact that these popular natural product companies, such as Naked Juice, Honest Tea, and Cascadian Farms are owned by food giants (Pepsico, Coca-Cola, and General Mills, respectively) who are fighting hard to block Prop 37. Collectively, these agricultural behemoths have spent more than $20 million to date to defeat the initiative.

This does not mean that the natural brands are on board with their parent companies. Many of these brands, from Cascadian Farms to Larabar, are speaking out to defend their commitment to organic, non-GMO products. But the power of "Big Food" makes the small voices of these operating divisions far less compelling. The take-away from all of this, as Gunther points out, is that "consumers who purchase natural and organic food should be aware that they are supporting big food companies that want to deny them the right to know about GMOs in their food."

Many independent, mission-driven natural products brands are quickly gobbled up by massive corporate giants who want a piece of the green market, but who lack the commitment or passion for true sustainability. Whether in the food world or the personal care industry (i.e. Burt's Bees is owned by Clorox, Tom's of Maine by Colgate-Palmolive), preserving small business is essential for consumers who have a passion for safe, non-toxic, and organic products.

The beauty of technology is that more and more of this information is coming to light via the internet. Social media has driven a remarkable information age for consumers and is making corporate transparency even more essential. As the natural products industry is flooded with companies seeking to capitalize on consumer demand, consumers are starting to decipher a specific set of criteria for their buying habits. The "natural" label is no longer compelling enough. Consumers - and particularly Holistic Moms - want to know more than the quality of ingredients (i.e. certified organic, GMO-free), but the social and corporate responsibility of the brand behind the product. As consumers begin to shop with new standards and recognize that their dollars are feeding food giants even when buying from their "organic" divisions, this becomes a driving force for those with a passion for natural living. Prop 37 might be overrun by "Big Food" but consumers wield a new power that these brands are going to have to pay attention to, sooner or later.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

No More Tears for J&J: Baby Steps are not Enough

Cosmetic industry giant, Johnson & Johnson, announced last week that they would take action to remove cancer-causing chemicals in its products by the end of 2015. The product reformulation will include reducing the quantity of carcinogen 1,4 dioxane in adult products; phasing out formaldehyde-releasers; limiting parabens to methyl-, ethyl- and propyl-; and phasing out the use of triclosan, Diethyl Phthalate (DEP), polycyclic musks, animal derived ingredients, tagates, rose crystal and diacetyl from fragrances from all products.

Many in the green community are applauding these efforts and calling on other major cosmetic brands to take the lead. “Today’s action by Johnson and Johnson is another example of a company responding to their customers and the public interest community,” said Nneka Leiba, senior analyst with Environmental Working Group. While these may indeed be positive baby steps, the holistic-minded parents we have spoken to are not crying any more tears for Johnson & Johnson. In fact, they're flat out disgusted. Looming questions about the brand's integrity, transparency, and trustworthiness remain. And even with these baby steps, parents are wondering why even small amounts of 1,4 dioxane will remain in the products and why parabens will continue to be used in the reformulations.

Trust in corporate America has indeed imploded. Scandal after scandal, combined with access to resources, information, and social media, have raised the level of distrust among consumers to new levels. Corporate financial strength and stability are no longer the fodder of consumer trust. According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, "engagement-oriented behaviors that are more societal in nature, such as treating employees well, putting consumers ahead of profits, and transparency, are vital to building future trust."

This is most powerfully evident in the natural products industry. Holistic Moms are not interested in brands who do not have a sincere commitment to health, wellness, and sustainability. Nor do they want to support brands pumping out "greener" versions of highly toxic products for our families. Instead, they want integrity and transparency to a degree many brands are not willing to provide.

Fortunately for Holistic Moms, there are companies and products who will meet their standards. Among them are our select Sponsors, including Earth Mama Angel Baby whose Angel Baby Shampoo was recently ranked "Best for Baby" by ecosalon. Not only are the ingredients natural and non-toxic, but the brand itself is dedicated to using "the highest-quality, certified-organic or organically grown herbs and oils for our teas, bath herbs, gentle handmade soaps, salves, lotions
and massage oils. Our products are 100% free of toxins, cruelty-free, gluten-free, vegan, and free from all artificial preservatives, fragrances and dyes."

When industry giants face this tidal shift, it will indeed be overwhelming. But those companies who have built their foundation on a truly natural, organic platform and positioned to gain trust in a way that much of traditional corporate American can no longer attain.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Too Tired to Be Green

There are days when you’re just too tired. Too tired to walk out to the compost pile. Too tired to wash the cloth diapers that are piling up. Too tired to pull the weeds from your organic garden. Too tired to be green.

Why? Because you’re a parent. Parenting is some seriously exhausting work. And there are days where whipping up a healthy, sustainable meal seems unachievable. When you forgo the farmer’s market for convenience food. When you just want to have it easy.

Does that preclude you from making positive change? Of course not! We are all entitled to our lapses and reality checks. Being a parent provides more than enough challenges. For holistic-minded parents, it can be a double-edge sword. The health and well-being of our families is exactly the incentive and motivation we need to live greener and more sustainably. But the sheer volume of energy that parenting demands leaves us with fewer and fewer resources to achieve our goals. What’s a tired holistic-minded mom or dad to do?

First, take baby steps. Whatever changes you are trying to make to live healthier or greener, take them one step at a time. The more radical the change, the slower you may have to go. When you are juggling too many new tasks or habit it’s like a house of cards – just one more and then entire effort can come falling down. Commit to one change until it feels routine and then take the next step.

Be prepared. Stock your home with things that will make green living easier, even when life seems overwhelming. Match up a few batches of non-toxic cleaners and stock them in your cabinet for little spills and big messes. Keep organic versions of convenience foods on hand for those times when things get crazy. Or better yet, cook extra whenever you have the time and freeze or store accordingly, for future use.

Lose the guilt. Feel guilty about not living up to our own ideals is not only self-defeating but often creates a downward spiral. Once you feel bad, you simply start throwing in the towel (and paper towels at that!). Acknowledge that you are always doing the best you can in the moment with the resources that you have. When calm returns, think about what you can pre-plan or prep to keep you on track for achieving your goals, even when stress or unexpected events come your way.

Fill your own cup. When you have down time, sleep, eat well, or make time for exercise, it’s easier to handle all of life’s challenges. And it’s easier to take on the prospect of making positive changes. Connect with friends or a local support network to help stay on track and to address your own needs. Social connection can make a world of difference!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lightning Strikes vs. Natural Health Products

Curious about natural health? Intrigued by herbal and nutritional supplements? Or perhaps you have already embraced natural living. You take vitamins, food supplements, even herbal remedies. But your conventionally-minded friends and family gasp "Is it safe?"

It's fascinating what we perceive as safe and trustworthy and what we don't. In American culture, lab-manufactured products, particularly by doctors and scientists, seem to garner far more trust that those created by Mother Nature. Interestingly, there is in fact a much greater risk of death associated with the use of pharmaceutical drugs than there is in using natural food supplements. Although the WHO "estimates that about 60% of the world’s people uses herbal medicine for treating their sicknesses," those in Western culture still tend to perceive natural supplements as risky.

A new study released by the Alliance for Natural Health gathered data on potential risk assessments of death from a wide range of causes, from lightning strikes and motorcycle accidents, to smoking and asbestos exposure for individuals in the UK. The data should put the fears of your friends and family members to rest. For example, UK individuals were "797,940 times more likely to die from smoking than from taking a food supplement." Winding up in a UK hospital posed a similar death risk as a tour of active military service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Individuals were 36,625 more likely to die from preventable medical injuries than from taking an herbal medicine. Overall, residents of the UK were "about as likely to be hit by lightning" as they were to "die from taking herbal remedies or dietary supplements."

Interesting as well is a 2008 report that shows that just 35% of those surveyed on behalf of the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had ever used herbal remedies, with the largest participating group being women. Although 6 in 10 respondents felt that herbal remedies were safe, only 40% believed that they were safe because they were "natural".

Perhaps the new risk assessment report will help alleviate some of the safety concerns for holistic remedies and empower more people - and particularly women, who spend 2/3 of healthcare dollars - to embrace alternative remedies. Researchers are working on expanding their data results across the European Union to assess individual risk further. In the meantime, it's safe to say that herbal and food supplements pose minimal risk for most of us.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Breastfeeding in the US

This week we are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week at the Holistic Moms Network. We kicked off the week with an amazing Breastfeeding Twitter Party to show support to the tune of 20 million impressions! There are indeed reasons to be optimistic about breastfeeding in America. And yet, some of the current statistics are more than a little disappointing - and challenge us to come together to build new solutions.

According to the CDC's Breastfeeding Report Card for 2011, 74.6% of babies are ever breastfed here in the United States. By 6 months of age, the percentage breastfed drops to 44.3%, by one year it's just 23.8%. Although the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, just 14.8% of American babies reach that goal. States with the lowest percentage of babies ever breastfed include Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Those with the highest percentages of ever breastfed babies are California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, each with percentages over 85%.

What other factors seem to correlate with these "ever breastfed" rates? The CDC report does not offer as clear an answer as we might hope. Among the top four states for ever breastfeeding, the percent of live births occurring at Baby Friendly Facilities ranges from a low of 3.22% (VT) to a high of 14.49% (CA). The number of IBCLCs per 1,000 live births also varies from 11.13 (VT) to 2.73 (CA). California, however, has an outstanding number of FTE's (Full-Time Equivalents) or "professionals dedicated to the protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding." In each of the top four states, the percentage of breastfed infants receiving formula before 2 days of age remains below 25%, with Vermont at the lowest level with just 8.5% receiving formula. Sadly, the percentage of live births occurring at Baby Friendly Facilities is 0 (yes, zero) for 20 states, according to the CDC: AL, AZ, AR, DE, DC, GA, IA, KS, LA, MD, MI, MS, NV, NJ, NM, ND, OK, SC, SD, and WV.

Of course, the CDC report does not tell the whole picture. Cultural and social obstacles to breastfeeding, workplace policies and legislation, and statistics among home-birthing parents are not addressed in these figures. What the CDC report does show, however, is that an effective strategy for promoting breastfeeding must tackle issues on several fronts, including mother-to-mother support, health department and government policies and action, access to professional lactation consultants, exposure to breastmilk substitutes and more.

This week, it is important for all of us to engage our strategies, share our passions, and brainstorm together to help achieve our sharing objective of protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding - for now and for the future. There are many fronts to address the challenges, but the rewards will last many lifetimes.