(Getty Images)I came to the environmental movement young, with big ideas about "saving the planet." My eighth grade science teacher, Ms. Davis, taught us about the environmental impact of putting meat on our tables, so I became a vegetarian.
In the '80s, I signed on with the Ban the Box campaign. Surely a few of you remember those long cardboard boxes CDs used to come in-wasteful and impossible to open from any corner?
(For those of you who don't remember well, activism works!) Consumers saw all that absurdly wasteful packaging and we said, "No way. We want our Cyndi Lauper without killing a whole forest."
It was an amazing feeling: We were changing the world, one long CD box at a time. I was so excited about the movement, I decided I'd ramp up my activism. Yes, I'd join PETA in a protest against animal testing by a big cosmetics company! The spokesperson for the company was a famous actress, and we were protesting outside her house — with a man in a bloody bunny suit. As you can imagine, this didn't go over too well. Thanks for forgiving me, Cybill.
I settled into less radical tactics and got involved with more low-key causes. I became a vegan and committed to buying organic whenever possible. I fought against global warming and tried to save the seals. But as the years rolled by and life got busier, sometimes it just seemed like there were too many catastrophes to deal with. My dreams of saving the planet ended up on the back burner.
Then I became a parent, and I started thinking about the future in a new way. What kind of world would my children grown up in? What about my children's children? When I found out that the flame retardants in my son's mattress, pillows, and pajamas were actually toxic to the brain, I went into a mild panic.
My son's bed was literally killing him? How had I gotten too busy to save the planet? And if I couldn't save the planet, surely I could save my own kids. The same toxic choices that are killing the planet are making our homes unlivable and our bodies sick. I had to do something, but what?
(Courtesy of Ballentine Books)A friend gave me a book on the environmental intricacies of laundry, but it was 300 pages long.
Would I need a PhD to figure out my laundry? If I felt overwhelmed, I figured a lot of other people did, too. We had to make "being green" easier.
Eighty percent of the world's forests are already gone. Air pollution has gotten so bad that those of us who live in major cities live on average two to three years less than people who live in cities with cleaner air.
Thinking you'll just stay inside? Because of common household cleaners, pollutant levels in the average American home are actually two to five times higher than they are outdoors.
I decided to put together a book of my own, but not just a book on laundry — a book on all of it — the least you need to know on everything from increasing personal health and happiness to reducing deforestation and global warming. No nagging, no perfectionism, just the simplest things we can all do to start cleaning up the mess we've made.
As I did the research for The Imperfect Environmentalist: A Clean Plan to Clear Your Body, Detox Your Home, and Save the Earth (Without Losing Your Mind) and started implementing more and more green habits into my life, I found that most times, doing one small thing did affect a lot of other things. Weatherizing my windows, for example, saved me money, saved energy for all of us, and reduced greenhouse emissions for the planet. One seemingly minor nontoxic choice can make a difference. Small changes to our daily routine can add up to real progress.
1. Go vegan. Giving up meat and meat products is one of the easiest way to reduce your environmental impact. Not ready to go, well, cold-turkey? Start with selecting just one day a week-vegan Fridays, say. Doesn't that sound festive?
2. Switch to non-toxic nail polish. Nail salon workers suffer from a host of health issues caused by inhaling chemicals all day. Even if you're just wearing the stuff, you're getting a dose of poison with every manicure. Water-based and eco-friendly polishes are the answer. And most cost less than $8 a bottle.
3. Skip the petting zoo. Petting zoos are disgusting-cruel, often unlicensed, and literally crawling with E. coli and other infectious diseases. Take your kids for a hike around the block or to a state park instead.
See, it's not so hard. One thing at a time. No perfectionism or big ideas required.
Sara Gilbert is a national talk show host (The Talk), actress, producer and mother. Her new book, The Imperfect Environmentalist: A Practical Guide to Clear Your Body, Detox Your Home, and Save the Earth (Without Losing Your Mind), is on sale August 13.