Sprig: Your Green Style Guide

Jeanie Pyun and Kelly LaPlante
Sprig Editor, Organic Interior Designer
Thursday, July 31, 2008; 1:00 PM

Looking to make your wardrobe or home a little greener? The experts from Sprig offer advice on how to live a life that is both stylish AND eco-friendly. You'll find tips on shopping, fashion, entertaining, decorating and more.

Sprig's editor Jeanie Pyun and eco-interior designer Kelly LaPlante were online Thursday, July 31 to take your questions and suggestions about green style.

Jeanie Pyun is founding editor of Sprig. She was the editor of Organic Style magazine back when "organic style" was considered an oxymoron, and co-editor of InStyle Home magazine, where celebrity and style unquestionably and always go together. She thinks that shopping and doing good can be uttered in the same sentence. Kelly LaPlante has long demonstrated that "green" is a standard, not a style. Her many projects include her Venice Beach, Calif. furniture showroom, hosting Brilliant Green on Ovation TV and the release of her first book, ecologique.

A transcript follows.

For all the latest on environmental science, policy and living, visit washingtonpost.com's Green Section.


Jeanie Pyun: Hi, everyone!

Jeanie here. Really excited to chat with you about green style and green living!


Kelly LaPlante: Hello everyone, I'm Kelly LaPlante. I've been an eco-interior designer for 10 years and look forward to taking your questions today.


Food!: Does your site cover cooking and wine? I have to admit my furniture and clothes are not all that green, but I am making an effort to buy more organic foods, farmers market produce, etc. Any tips for me?

Jeanie Pyun: Hi, we do cover food and wine. There are lots of organic and biodynamic wines you can get that are available for under $25 at most wine stores, like Fetzer and Bonterra. Here are some other suggestions in this newsletter we did recently. The writer is Michael Green, who does a lot of wine consulting for major companies and for Gourmet magazine: http://www.sprig.com/eco-friendly_and_organic_wines_available_everywhere_for_under_25_a_bottle

I am not shy to admit that I am a fan of organic wine -- while I'm not exactly allergic to sulfites, I do feel like organic wines are kinder on the head. Also, the thought of drinking wine made from grapes that have been heavily sprayed with chemical pesticides...never mind that all that stuff goes into the soil, traces of that go into your body! I'd rather have save the room for the wine itself!

As for organic foods, if you want to check out all the locations near you that sell it, check out localharvest.org and put in your zip code to find all kinds of farmers' markets and grocery stores, even the farms themselves sell produce and other great, fresh food. Those make really great trips, especially if you have kids. The other thing to know is that not everything you buy has to be organic. Here's one list I like: http://www.deliciousorganics.com/Controversies/toptobuyorg.htm

It's good to buy organic and local as much as possible -- for freshness (hasn't been trucked in 1,000 miles if local), for flavor (nothing like an organic piece of fruit), and if you start eating less meat and more produce, you will also end up eating healthier AND save money. A win- win!


New York, NY: I find a lot of antique furniture that I love but often the pattern on the fabric or the paint doesn't go with my aesthetic. Is it just as bad to refurbish antique furniture with new fixings as it is to buy new furniture?

I always wonder about the impact of re-upholstery or paint on the environment.

Kelly LaPlante: Not at all-- I do this all the time! Re-using antiques and vintage pieces is one of the first steps in going green. AND... there are a ton of gorgeous fabrics (Organic Cotton, Recycled Polyester and Bamboo fibers, to name a few) and finishes (look for non-toxic, water-based) out there now that are good for your indoor air quality and the environment!


Fairfax, Va.: Why is it so difficult to find products that are not made with toxic chemicals?

I recently had "100% wool" carpet installed only to find out afterwards that it's made with a polypropylene adhesive and has been treated with some other chemicals to repel insects (and is now offgassing into my bedroom). I searched unsuccessfully for months to find an innerspring mattress that wasn't doused in flame retardant chemicals (none of the major mattress stores sell mattresses with a natural flame retardant such as wool). Only recently has Home Depot started to carry a zero-VOC paint.

It seems like people would buy these products if they were available (and people like me are definitely asking for them) but they are either not available at all, are extremely difficult to find, and/or cost 2-3 times what the "normal" products cost. Why is this not getting better? Aren't people becoming more aware of the toxic chemicals in the everyday products that they purchase, and aren't companies making any efforts to come out with better alternatives?


Kelly LaPlante: I think that companies are starting to jump on the bandwagon, but it is just that... a start. There are some fantastic companies out there who are really doing it right, and have been for awhile, but for every one of those companies, there are a whole lot more who are "green-washing" (using a few buzz words to sell a non-eco product to the eco-conscious consumer.) Its very frustrating but it is getting better. Next month I am launching a website called thegreengrades.com which will provide expert reviews and evaluations of all these companies (in the furnishing world only, for now) that are providing "green" on any level. This will help consumers to know what they are really getting. Jeanie's site, sprig.com is also a really helpful place to look for companies who are doing the real thing. Hang in there and thank you for making the effort. Believe it or not, the fact that you purchased a wool fiber carpet at all makes a big difference, that's one less nylon fiber carpet out there (even if the backing and adhesives weren't so great.)


Kelly's name: Is LaPlante your real last name?? It's almost too perfect for an environmentalist!

Kelly LaPlante: I know! And Kelly is a shade of green. I've had a bunch of people ask me if I made it all up but nope! That's my real name.



New York, N.Y.: I'm a single working mom with two young children. I want to be green but don't have much extra time or money. What are some green habits that I can adopt?

Kelly LaPlante: When it comes to decor, I always tell my clients (no matter how big or small their budget is) that it is important to re-use what they already have. As much as possible, we re-upholster and re-finish old pieces to make them like new. I know fashion designers who adopt the same kind of philosophy in their work as well and would imagine that this could apply to all kinds of things. Being green doesn't only mean going out and buying products that are sustainable, it is also about conservation and re-use. I think that is a great way to save the planet and your pocket-book!

Jeanie Pyun: Just adding that it's also fun to share green habits with your kids -- and you can also save money. Here are some ideas, including planting a garden together on weekends, going on walks and noting what you see in homemade field guides, talking about household garbage (which doesn't sound exciting at first read, I must admit) and where it goes and why it's fun and important to recycle...and reuse what you might have thrown out and make them into fun projects. This article says all that better:


Also, you can make money by recycling some of your electronics, like at cellforcash.com, or saving money by using reusable clothes and household ingredients to clean green. There are tons of other ideas to save green by being green here: http://www.sprig.com/50_Ways_to_Save_Green_and_Live_Green

Food wise, moving your family toward eating more veggies and less meat is greener and will save you money on your grocery bill. Buying non-perishables in bulk, making your own coffee (you may already be doing that -- but it really adds up!) and choosing what you buy organic (more nutrients for young growing minds and bodies) all help the bottom line. All conventional produce is not created equal-with equal amounts of pesticide, that is. While you should always spring for spinach, strawberries, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, potatoes, cherries, red raspberries and imported grapes, there are others you can skimp on, organically speaking. This group includes bananas, kiwi, onions, papaya, sweet peas, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, pineapples and avocados. Their thick skins or growing practices leave these crops with relatively fewer pesticide residues.

One last thought: Phasing in compact fluorescent lightbulbs can eventually save you maybe a third of the lighting portion of your utility bill. Mine have lasted years without changing. They're slightly pricier, but they last forever, and who wants to be pulling out a stepladder to change bulbs when your little ones are running around below?


Project Runway: This is kind of a silly question but last week on Project Runway the theme was "green" fabrics, but it was a little bit of a letdown. The designers didn't get to choose their own fabrics and so instead of being excited about the green options, they complained about not getting what they wanted. I wish it had been a better showcase for green clothing. What kinds of green fabrics do you like?

Kelly LaPlante: I love organic cottons, recycled polyesters (which are very resilient!) and wools, as my standards for interior design but there are always new fibers being introduced and I think that it is really exciting to see what fabric designers are coming out with in this arena. I've seen everything from milk and soy based fabrics to fabric made of recycle paper. Its too bad that they didn't get the designers on Project Runway more excited by showing them a big room full of all the amazing possibilities that are available and letting them choose their own. Maybe next season...


Washington, D.C.: I have heard of "no VOC" paints but I don't know what that means - what makes them more environmental? where do you get them? are they different from regular paints?

Kelly LaPlante: VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound and, basically, that is what causes the "new paint smell" that people always talk about. It is quite toxic and very bad for your indoor air quality (and is now being linked to asthma, cancer and a whole host of other fun things...)

Most paint companies now offer a no or low-VOC option and they can match any color from their regular line, so you are not limited to muted tones or neutrals.

You will be amazed when you start using a lower VOC option. The moment the paint dries you can no longer smell it (some of the paints are so good that they don't even smell bad while they are still wet!)


Jeanie Pyun: Hi, I just have to add to the Project Runway question because I'm such a fan of the show. I am really glad that Leanne Marshall, the green designer from Seattle, came back from the brink. I was anxious about that, must admit. And I totally agree with Kelly -- it would have been much, much better to show the whole, exciting, glamorous range of fabrics. Bamboo knits are really super soft, and I like this silky, shiny organic cotton woven fabric that feels more like silk than anything from a designer named John Patrick.


Alexandria, Va.: Since being Green is such a chic thing these days - how can we tell if a product is really organic, or environmentally-friendly, and it's not just some marketing ploy from the maker?

Jeanie Pyun: Hi, Alexandria,

Kelly might have more to add to this on the home front, but there are definitely levels of organic to food and beauty products. Look for the USDA Certified Organic label -- that means 95% of the ingredients are actually organic. 75% or above means the manufacturers can say it's made from or with organic ingredients. Below that, the ingredients in the listing can say individually that they're organic. Sometimes labels say things like "organically grown" and that would mean that there are fewer than 75%. There are other certifications: Ecocert, oekotex, that you can look for, as well.


Bethesda, Md.: I'm looking to redecorate my living room - do you have any specific recommendations for furniture, carpet, accessories? Or stores (online or brick-n-mortar) I can check out?

Kelly LaPlante: Cisco Home, Furnature and Lee all have eco-lines that they sell to retail stores and you can go on their websites to see who sells their wares. (Make sure with Cisco and Lee that you are specific because they also sell non-eco furniture.) Also, since you are in Bethesda, I recommend going to bluehouse in Baltimore-- one of my favorite places and my saving grace when I was working on a project in DC last year and couldn't find green furnishings to save my life! It is a fantastic store that sells only sustainable furnishings (and has a great organic coffee bar, too!)

And, of course, check the database at sprig.com (Jeanie's site!)


Re: Project Runway: I have to note -- because this has been bothering me for the entire run of the show -- that they actually used cloth bags when they shopped for the fabric. Every other time, they have used plastic bags (I didn't notice on this week's episode if they went back to plastic).

Kelly LaPlante: That is super annoying with the plastic bags! I hope that they kept using the cloth bags, now that they have them!


green baby: It was good to read on your site about eco options for diapers. My sister just had a baby and she is very concerned about this. I will send her the article.

washingtonpost.com: Your Baby's Diapers and Skincare (sprig.com)

Jeanie Pyun: Hi, green baby! There's another option, in addition to gDiapers and such, called SwaddleBee's. Check 'em out! This week is Kids Week at Sprig.com -- we did baby clothing (I like the tip of only doing organic underthings if it seems like it will get too pricey to do everything organic), baby nursery (same with a crib mattress pad or cover) and baby food. We have a story devoted to brands of baby bottles that don't contain the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA: http://www.sprig.com/Safer_Baby_Bottles_Without_the_BPA

I feel like most people knew about brands like Born Free, but the writer uncovered others, including one that's pretty cheap available at Target. Maybe a little gift for your sister? :-)


New York, NY: I am just getting into the green movement and I've become increasingly concerned about the indoor air quality in my house. I plan to someday do a green redecoration, but don't have the money now.

Do you have any suggestions on how to clear up the air in my home of toxins while I'm biding my time before the redecorating begins?

Kelly LaPlante: A good way to start is to change out all of your cleaning products, if you haven't already. Buy them from a company like Seventh Generation or Ecover. This will make a big difference.

There is something else that I sometimes do with clients, called "baking the house." The clients leave for a few days and, before they go, the close up all of their windows and turn up their heat as high as it will go. When they return, the heat has helped to "bake" the toxins out of their furnishings, then they open up their windows for a day and let in a bunch of fresh air, sending all of the baked air out. This is NOT an energy conserving procedure by any stretch of the imagination and should only be done if you are experiencing a lot of off-gassing from your carpets, furniture and/or paint.

Just letting in fresh air from the windows is often enough to make for a healthier home environment.


Green roof: My church is having roof work done and there is a lot of talk about making it a green roof (which likely won't happen this year but is on the wish list for when we have a little more money available). What is a green roof and what are its benefits?

Kelly LaPlante: They could be referring to several different things.

1)A green roof that is a "living roof" meaning that a water-barrier is installed and that, literally, plants and grasses are planted on the roof. This is an amazing and beautiful thing. It helps keep the building insulated and provides habitats for birds and better air quality for the church grounds, much like planting trees would.

2)A roof that looks like a normal roof but is made of sustainable materials. This is good because the materials will either be recyclable, bio-degradable or made of recycled or sustainable materials. Just good stewardship for the planet, there.

3)A solar paneled roof, which provides the church with electricity that you can also send back to the grid if you are not using it all (which can result in credits and money back from the electric company.)

Good luck with your project!


Arlington, Va.: I think the most eco way to decorate is to buy used furniture as much as possible. Any tips on finding great - and cheap - pre-owned items?

Kelly LaPlante: I agree with you!

I go to thrift stores a lot. There is a lot of digging around that has to be done there but if you are willing to dig, it will save you a lot of money, verses going into an antique or vintage store where they generally know what they have. Craigslist and eBay are also really good resources.


Budget green.: I recently found out that H and M is doing a line of eco-friendly clothing. But coming from that retail giant is the carbon footprint really that much smaller than their regular clothes?

Where can I find inexpensive and chic eco-clothing?

Jeanie Pyun: Hi, Budget Green! H and M have been doing organic clothes for a few seasons now - hosannahs to them! It's a good question. A few years ago, people really questioned WalMart and its stated commitment to organic food products and reduced packaging, but now it seems they're among the biggest (if not THE biggest) buyer of organic foods, which means they're a big supporter and driver of the industry and are invested in its growth. The thing is, we just have to monitor what they do and make sure that they don't then use that economic investment to change the standards of organic to suit them. I have faith that the community is vocal and strong enough to raise an effective outcry.

Target has supported organic clothing, with their Rogan collection, Forever 21 has produced clothes that reuse overstock and recycle fabrics. Here's a tip: For any inexpensive retailers, go online and search for "modal," "lyocell," and "tencel" (in addition to organic and recycled). The use of eco-friendly fabrics made from sustainable fibers, like wood cellulose (but don't worry, it's soft, not scratchy) has become much more predominant. Check it out! It's fun to discover "hidden eco" clothing available at most major brands.


New York, N.Y.: A lot of eco-friendly clothing and furniture says that it is fully compost-able. I am always stumped by this because my organic cotton shirts don't biodegrade in the washing machine. What does that "compost-able" tag really mean? And is it helpful to buy things that boast that quality?

Also, will those things break down faster in my home or my wardrobe? Is something that is compost-able going to last as long as something that isn't?

Jeanie Pyun: Composting means that with access to air, sunlight and moisture, the item in question will break down. That's part of the problem with landfills -- the most compostable, biodegradable items don't actually break down because they're packed into anaerobic layers that never see the sun or get rain. That said, what compostable means is that if you take that garment and throw it on a pile of dirt outdoors, it will break down because it doesn't contain anything that will prevent it from breaking down, i.e., plastics (plastics are forever! microbes haven't evolved to break that stuff down since its invention) or petroleum-derived fibers. One thing I know: the things you think are more biodegradable than others (say, a shower gel versus a shirt) are really not. Body washes that contain petrolatum or mineral oil stick around for 300 years! Incredible.


Re: Cleaning indoor air: There are also some plants that supposedly absorb some harmful chemicals from the air. I can't remember now which ones -- some kind of fern, some kind of lily -- but probably if you google you can find them.

Kelly LaPlante: Here is a link for anyone who might be interested in plants that specifically do that job-- thanks for the tip!


In general, plants are great for indoor air quality, I completely forgot to mention that in my earlier answer.



Jeanie Pyun: We also did a video on which plants clean air best: http://www.sprig.com/videos/boost-your-mood-clear-air-plants


Kelly LaPlante: Thanks for having me today-- this was a lot of fun! I look forward to doing this again sometime and hope that you'll check in with me on my website kellylaplante.com to see what I am up to in the meantime.

Please check out my new book, ecologique, which just came out-- 100% of proceeds benefit Global Green USA and The Blank Theatre Company.

I want to plug sprig.com one last time. It is an amazing site and Jeanie and her staff are doing fantastic work to inform everyone of what's new and hot in the eco-world. I was honored to be on this chat with her today.

Thanks again!


Jeanie Pyun: Bye, everyone! This was fun. Thanks so much for your questions. Please come back again -- give us some stumpers! No, just kidding...sorta! Sprig will be back here again on Thursdays at 1 pm EST, answering questions having to do with green style, green living, budget green, DIY green. Let us know what you want to know more about and we'll rope in experts, like the fabulous Ms. Kelly LaPlante. Email us on this page and we'll get it for sure: http://www.sprig.com/ContactUs/


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