Happy Green Holidays – Top 10 List

December 3, 2010

Yes, I’ve been away from my blog for a while.  I hope you haven’t given up on me completely.  Today I want to focus on having an Eco-Friendly, Green Holiday – whether that’s Christmas or Hanukkah or anything else.

Today I want to focus on having an Eco-Friendly, Green Holiday – whether that’s Christmas or Hanukkah or anything else.

In many cultures, the holiday season seems to be as much a time for consumerism as for celebrating the “reason for the season!” (Remember Miracle on 34th Street?)

Of course, one of the best ways to have a Green holiday is to minimize your purchases altogether. That may not be practical or even possible for some, however. The next best thing is to make smart choices in your gifts, decorations, wrapping paper, and other holiday purchases.

Below are my TOP TEN favorite tips for respecting the environment while truly enjoying the holidays.

1. If you put up a Christmas tree, purchase a live tree with its roots intact, and plant it in your yard after putting the decorations away. To properly care for your tree after the snow is gone, use a sprinkler timer, a rain gauge, and soil moisture probe.

2. Make ornaments and other decorations from items you have around your house, and live greenery from your yard. This can be a great family project if you have kids! There are many eco-friendly, non-toxic kids’ craft items available, like modeling dough, glue, soy crayons, markers, and paint.

3. If you are in the market for new lights, choose LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights, widely available at hardware and home improvement stores, as well as bargain stores. They are even available as Solar Powered for outdoor use! (I really need to get my hands on some of these!) LED lights are more costly at first but pay off in the long run. And they last a REALLY long time so you don’t have to fight with the frustration of dead bulbs every year. Curious to know just how much energy you can save? A Kill-A-Watt meter will tell you!

4. Recycle your Christmas cards. One of my favorite cards ever was sent to me by my parents a couple of years ago. It was a card I had sent THEM a few years earlier. It has a picture of two beautiful golden retrievers on the front, along with the text “Merry Christmas to two wonderful parents.” I loved the card because it was a creative way to recycle, AND it was very appropriate, with our menagerie of 4-legged “kids.” I STILL have this one stuck on my refrigerator and it makes me smile year-round. While this may not be for everyone, it may spark some creativity. Another way of recycling your cards is to turn them into gift tags. One reader sent me another tip.  Cut up old cards and turn them into bookmarks to give as gifts.  Use those fancy craft scissors to give them pretty edges.  How clever is that?! Make sure the cards you do buy are made from recycled paper.

5. Why buy gift wrap when you have so many creative options that don’t cost much or that you can make from things you may already have? An age-old strategy is using the colorful Sunday comics from the newspaper. You can also use brown paper bags or craft paper and decorate them with pretty ribbons, stamps, etc. Many people make small boxes out of their old Christmas cards. Or maybe you have a stash of colorful fabric from old sewing projects, or maybe you can even wrap the gift in a beautiful scarf?  How about getting a reusable shopping bag and using it like a gift basket? The Green Irene Eco-Tote comes in many colors and two sizes so you can use it for a variety of gifts: small or large. Then the recipient has 2 gifts in one!

6. As for gifts, you can find some wonderful things at the thrift store. Give an old item a new life with someone who will love and appreciate (and USE) it!  Clothing is a popular gift item, too. Buy organic and sweatshop-free clothes when possible.

8. Give live plants as gifts. Along with the beauty of live, green plants, you give a bit of fresh air. Plants process Carbon Dioxide and give off fresh Oxygen. Many also are great for removing toxins from the air. Just be sure to do your homework, especially if the person has pets, as many plants can be harmful or even deadly to animals. Speaking of air quality, here are some more great gift ideas to help your friends breathe easier.

8. Sometimes the best gift isn’t an actual gift.  Most people have some cause they support – animal welfare, environment, health issues, etc  – so give a donation in their name.  They will love knowing that their favorite organization has received a generous donation, and they didn’t receive more stuff to find a place for in their homes.

9. Give the people you care about products that will help them live a greener, more sustainable life. Give a Green Home Makeover where a Green Irene Consultant (Me, in Northern Arizona) visits the person and goes through their home, making suggestions for ways they can decrease their carbon footprint. Another great gift idea for the conservation-minded is a pre-made gift bag filled with all sorts of products to help the recipient go green.

10. Fair Trade and Sustainability go hand in hand. Help struggling artisans around the world by purchasing beautiful gifts and jewelry for your friends and family – and maybe something for yourself! http://bit.ly/hZw9Cf Click the green button on the left that says “Online Catalog.”

For more great ideas for advice, products, and sales, visit: http://conta.cc/efFI7p

Of course, these tips are just the start! Use your creativity and keep the earth in mind this year. Feel free to send me your great ideas, too!


Jo Starr
Green Starr Makeovers
Twitter: @jostarr13
Email: GreenStarr@dishmail.net
Phone: (928) 607-1331

The Organic Consumers’ Association and Fair Trade

December 3, 2010

The Organic Consumers’ Association (OCA – www.organicconsumers.org) is one of my favorite resources for info about organic foods and other products.  They are also a supporter of Fair Trade, which ensures that the farmers and artisans around the world receive a fair price for their products, contributing to much needed community development, family security, and environmental stewardship.  Here is one recent article from the OCA:

Fair World Project: New Voice for Fair Trade Movement in Organic Sector and Beyond

* Organic Consumers Association, September 10, 2010

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) launched the Fair World Project (FWP) today to promote fair trade in commerce, especially in organic production systems in developing countries as well as at home, and to protect the term “fair trade” from dilution and misuse for mere PR purposes. The OCA’s new project fills the critical need for a watchdog of misleading fair trade claims, and a cheerleader for dedicated fair trade mission-driven companies. Through FWP, OCA will focus on promoting projects that connect the environmental and health benefits of organic agriculture with the social benefits derived from fair trade.

The Fair World Project’s inaugural publication of For a Better World will debut at the Fair Trade Futures Conference, September 10-12 at the Boston Marriott Hotel-Quincy. Fifty thousand copies will be distributed to fair trade outlets such as co-ops and organic markets nationwide. The publication features candid articles on the fair trade movement, including different approaches to fair trade certification, exceptional fair trade projects abroad and at home in the West, as well as how to reintegrate fair trade back into the organic movement.

“As demand from conscious consumers expands the market for fairly traded products we must ensure that claims made by companies hold up to fair trade standards and that marketing and labeling of these products are accurate,” says Dana Geffner, Executive Director of the Fair World Project. “With new fair trade certifiers joining the movement, seasoned certifiers enabling questionable opportunistic fair trade claims and “fairwashing” practices more common, the Fair World Project aims to discuss and dissect,” adds Geffner.

The FWP intends to encourage critical thinking rather than blind faith regarding fair trade claims and certification schemes. Through publications, events, and targeted campaigns the group articulates and advances the issues involved in fair trade, with the goal of helping consumers, business owners, employees and activists make informed decisions about where and on what to spend their money and resources – to build a better and more just world. The FWP’s new website provides a space and forum where consumers can discuss issues within the Fair Trade movement, ask tough questions and share information.

“We will celebrate corporations that are adopting fair trade into their business models, but at the same time hold ‘fair-washers’ accountable and insist on keeping fair trade’s integrity. We will make sure fair trade certifiers and membership organizations maintain high standards to keep fair trade meaningful, not just in the wording of their standards but also in their inspection and certification processes. We will pressure our schools, employers and other institutions to adopt fair trade purchasing practices with regard to food and other consumer products.

“We will confront corporations, especially those already dealing in certified organic products, and government agencies everywhere to compel them to implement fair trade practices in their supply chains. We look forward to a day when all trade is fair,” adds Geffner.

To learn more about Fair Trade, visit these sites:
OCA: www.organicconsumers.org/fairtrade.cfm
Fair Trade Federation: www.fairtradefederation.org/
Jolica Fair Trade Jewelry and Accessories: www.jolica.com/jo.starr

Jo Starr
Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/greenstarrfacebook
My Blog: http://tinyurl.com/greenstarrblog

Living Off-Grid (part 2)

September 7, 2010

Living off-grid is an awesome way to reduce your impact on the environment – if somewhat “challenging” (to put it mildly!). Our property is located in “county islands” in the Coconino National Forest, and there are no services at all – no powerlines, no water, no phone, and no road maintenance!

First, a primer on renewable energy (RE) systems. Renewable energy is any energy that is derived from resources that aren’t going to run out or regenerate themselves relatively quickly. Coal and oil are non-renewable resources: once it’s gone, it’s gone. Renewable energy sources includes solar, wind, hydro-power, and geothermal. In Arizona, solar is the most popular, with our 300+ days a year of sunshine. In some areas (like my place), wind power is also feasible, but generally, Arizona is not the best wind state.

For a complete RE system, you need a way to generate the electricity (in our case, solar or photovoltaic (PV) panels which collect the sun’s energy), a battery bank (special deep-cycle batteries are required) for storage of the electricity, a charge controller to protect your batteries from overcharging, and (unless you run all DC appliances) an inverter, which turns the DC electricity stored in the batteries to AC for use by standard household appliances. The solar challenge is that on cloudy or rainy days, you don’t get much energy. So that’s what the batteries are for – storage – and the bigger your battery bank, the better. Other components may include a backup generator for when you need extra power, or a Wind Generator for creating energy from the wind on those windy days. There are also ways to feed excess power back into the utility grid but this is something I don’t have much experience with, as we don’t have powerlines at all at our home.

Our home had four 80-watt solar panels, four deep-cycle “L16” batteries, and an aging inverter. When we moved into our solar-powered home on Christmas Day, it was snowing, which meant there wasn’t much sun. We knew that in order to live this lifestyle, we would have to learn to conserve energy – a lot of it. The first things we did were to install compact fluorescent lightbulbs in all rooms, and to put all our electronic equipment on power strips. I’ve been telling people for years to put all computer & entertainment equipment on power strips to save energy! I didn’t realize until moving into a home where I produce all my own power just how important that advice was. We kept gadgets with digital clocks unplugged except when we needed them. “Are you done with the lights in that room?” was the most often asked question in our house.

We had to run the backup generator a lot those first few months. Gradually we realized that even when it was sunny, our battery bank was not getting a full charge. We were “testing” the system to find out just what we could do with it. It turned out that making coffee, being on the computer, running a load of laundry, and having a couple of lamps on, all at the same time, just didn’t work. We felt like we were really spoiled when we could do all that! We lost power due to overloading the system countless times.

That’s when we realized the batteries were very old and not functioning to capacity. Out came the Visa card, and in went eight new deep-cycle (golf-cart type, which are very popular due to their relative low cost) batteries. About the same time, we also purchased two new 130-watt solar panels, which would allow us to take better advantage of the sun’s energy.

Several months later, I was browsing on Craig’s List and found a fellow who was connecting his house to the grid and decided to get rid of his solar equipment. It turned out that his solar panels were the same as the ones we had bought, and the price was right. So up went three more panels.

We had been in the house almost a year when the inverter blew out over Thanksgiving. Four days without any electricity! We only had oil lamps and candles for light, and no other “luxuries.” For the most part, we went to bed when it got dark, and got up only after the sun came up. We started to think about what it was like in the “old days” before electricity was wide-spread. As soon as the local solar supply store opened up after the long holiday weekend, out came Visa card and in went a new inverter.

Currently, our home is powered by five 130-watt solar panels, 8 deep-cycle batteries, and a 2000 watt inverter. Our system is still a little small for what we do with it (we have an AC electric refrigerator – most off-gridders go for a propane or DC fridge). We have to run the backup generator to vacuum or run the clothes dryer, but we hope to add a small wind turbine to our system within a couple of years to boost the system.

We also have a “mini-system” set up for pumping water. Two of the original solar panels, one of the original batteries, and a small inverter are dedicated to the water pump. Did I mention we haul our own water? There are a lot of stories associated with that too, so next time I’ll write about water challenges.

Living Off-Grid (part 1)

September 4, 2010

With everyone jumping on the eco-bandwagon these days, people ask me why I’m qualified to be a local Green Irene Eco-Consultant and an expert in this field. I tell them that living lightly on Earth is not just a job or business for me. Living sustainably is truly my passion, and my life.

I majored in Environmental Studies in college, and have worked for several environmental companies – most recently Southwest Windpower, a major manufacturer of small wind turbines (residential sized and smaller). The home I bought 3 years ago just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, is entirely off-grid (solar power). My family (consisting of my husband, 3 dogs, 3 cats, and me) lives by the sun and hope to soon add a wind generator to supplement our system during the winter when the days are shorter. We cook outside most of the time, using our solar oven whenever possible.

This is the solar oven we use to cook on in the summer.

Buying a Solar Home

Life in Flagstaff, AZ isn’t easy. Wages are low, jobs are scarce, and products and services (particularly housing) are overpriced. When my husband and I moved to Flagstaff four years ago, we felt lucky to find an apartment complex that would accept us with our two cats and one large dog. After a year of being badly cramped and crowded, our dog, Houdini, couldn’t take it any more… he is the one who convinced us to look for a house. An actual house. With a yard.

The house search was challenging. We looked at a dozen homes, and the only ones even remotely close to what we could afford were complete dumps. One night I was online doing yet another home search and by chance I checked the “other area” box instead of just in-Flagstaff areas. We were excited to see that the one home that came up that we hadn’t already seen, was off-grid. No power lines, all solar power, more than an acre of land. I immediately called up our realtor and asked her to get us an appointment to see this house.

It was perfect for us – with my education in Environmental Studies, I had always wanted to have solar power. This place had it already, and remarkably, was within our price range. There was even a kennel for Houdini and a spare room for the office! It was very clean with new white carpet in the living room and bedrooms. There were neighbors, but not so close everyone knows everyone else’s business. These private properties were completely surrounded by the Coconino National Forest, very secluded and quiet, yet only 5 miles to the grocery store and gas station. It wasn’t that large, and it was a manufactured home, but we decided that was okay. The power system was old and outdated, with only four 80-watt solar panels, four deep cycle batteries, and an old inverter. We had no clue what we were getting ourselves into, but the dream of living off-grid convinced us we could handle anything.

Just when we were getting ready to make an offer on the house, the seller dropped the price by $30,000, making it a more comfortable buy for us. We made our offer a bit lower than originally planned, and were thrilled when we were told that the seller had accepted.

Closing was difficult as the seller was out of state and traveling. Getting the paperwork back and forth was a nightmare. We finally got to move in on Christmas Day, 2006. This was also the day it started snowing. It snowed. And snowed. And snowed….. Our first taste of living a secluded life on an unmaintained, 4-wheel drive Forest Service Road.


There's a road here somewhere!

Keeping that new white carpet clean and white while we moved in … well, that was another challenge. What were they thinking when they put in WHITE carpet? We actually began to wonder why we started our house search so late in the year, but realized we would not have gotten the deal we got if we had started in the spring or summer. We survived our first challenge – the road – next came learning how to live off-grid! Stay tuned to learn how two folks relatively new to renewable energy survived our first year in our home!

(Part 2 coming soon)

What If….

July 18, 2008

What If…

…a party could make a difference?

What an amazing concept. My new business venture is a home party plan company that has handmade goods from around the world. They purchase the products from artisans in developing countries. At a fair price! And then when you make a purchase, a portion of the sales goes back to those people. The company is Jolica. The products are beautiful. The plan is incredible. I am saving up towards my start-up package and will officially launch in August. I am so excited to share the products with you!

Now you can make a real difference in the lives of others just by having a party!

Jolica… a Fair Trade company that offers unique products that are handmade by artisans in developing countries around the world. Beautiful jewelry…amazing scarves…practical bags…wonderful gifts and accessories. Everyone will want to know where you got it!

The goods are purchased at a fair price from the artisans. Then when you make a purchase, 5% of each sale goes back to the artisans as well! Help make a difference in their lives.

BE THE FIRST IN ARIZONA TO SEE JOLICA!!  Now booking parties in northern Arizona for August and September.

Learn more at www.jolica.com or contact me. Leave a comment on my blog to request information or a date.

Jo Starr

Naturally Fashionable ~ Helping Women Look & Feel Fabulous…Naturally!

Loving All Things Green & Sustainable

July 5, 2008

Hi!  My name is Jo and I am a Green-Living Fanatic.  Everyone I know tells me that I tend to overbook myself, take on too much, try to do too many things. Maybe so, but it’s hard for me to resist taking on a new project that is closely related to my passion: living green and sustainable. To give you an idea about what I’m all about, here are just a few of the things I’m involved in!

  • Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources & Environmental Studies (1996)
  • Customer Service Representative at Southwest Windpower (www.windenergy.com
  • Secretary of the Flagstaff Chapter of the Electric Auto Association (www.flagstaffeaa.org)
  • Former Commissioner on Flagstaff Sustainability Commission (until I moved outside city limits!)
  • Green Thinking Green Drinks @ the Green Room in Flagstaff (www.greendrinks.org)
  • Practicing what I preach – living off-grid, entirely Solar with the intent of adding Wind Power in the future
  • Using non-toxic, natural, organic products when possible (food, skin care, cleaning products, you name it)
  • Active Member of the Green Team at Southwest Windpower, promoting sustainability, waste reduction, etc., from within
  • Organic gardening

And if that’s not enough to keep me busy, I plan to use my Fashion background to offer Lifestyle Consulting Services – Helping Women Look & Feel Fabulous…Naturally! In the coming months you will be able to get non-toxic, green, good-for-you products for you and your home, all from one source: ME! I will offer the gamut from natural cosmetics and personal care to organic cotton clothing, from non-toxic, safe cleaning supplies to fair-trade gifts and accessories.

Stay tuned for more details…. I have to save up enough of the other kind of “green” to get going, but I hope you will be as excited as I am to see these products!