Few people know more about keeping your home clean and green than Annie B. Bond, author of several bestselling books on the subject—including Clean and Green, The Green Kitchen Handbook, Better Basics for the Home, and Home Enlightenment—and executive producer of Care2.com's Green Living channel.
We had a chat with Bond about how her concerns over her personal health led to 20 years of environmental advocacy, how the Internet has changed the environmental movement, and, of course, what constitutes a healthy, green home.
TreeHugger: You have been doing this for around two decades. How did you get started in environmental advocacy? Annie Bond: I know. I feel really old. I was poisoned in 1980. I worked at a restaurant that had a gas leak and I got permanent central nervous system damage at that time. Back then I didn't really know it, it was difficult to get it properly diagnosed. I had the onset of a classic case of MCS, or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Then our apartment building was exterminated with a pesticide that's been taken off the market.
That was a real, genuine blow to my body after having already had this opening of central nervous system damage. I became extremely sick. I was in the hospital for three months, and I ended up sort of like a bubble case. It took me, I would say, eight years to figure out how to live in our world without toxic chemicals, which is really hard in our society. To do that, I had to really figure it out, or I never would have been able to figure out how to live a normal life.
Way back then, I finally found a doctor who practiced environmental medicine. That was very hard to find back then. These days, people are more quick to understand that there are a lot of options available in terms of dealing with that kind of problem, but that wasn't the case back then. Everybody sort of thought I was a nut. I had to figure out how not to use toxic chemicals. I figured it all out and learned how to feel well.
I got well enough to have a baby. After she was born in 1988, I really...my interest in the environment, in particularly, environmental health, really broadened to include not only myself, but also the greater world, where she was going. I have been writing about this ever since, basically.
TH: Your focus seems to be directed more at family and home, rather than larger political and socio-economic angles. Was this deliberate?
AB: It's actually both, because my original book probably was incredibly radical, but I figured if it's very, very political and very radical nobody would know it, because it was focused on kitchen cupboard ingredients.
It's been very easy for people to misunderstand me because they think that I'm just sort of a housewife-type thing, but actually it's an extremely political statement, my work. Do you see what I mean?
TH: And what is that statement?
AB: I am a deeply profound believer in the precautionary principle. You shouldn't put products on the market until they're proven safe for both health and the environment, but we are doing it the opposite way. So I'm giving tools for people to at least be able to do that, even though mass society isn't.
TH: Do you worry that there might be a backlash to all this green talk these days?
AB: Well, I think that there was a huge backlash in the 90's because there was a lot of guilt given, too, in the 90's. Does it help to have some perspective on this that goes back to that? Because you couldn't even use the word "green" in 1999, because everyone was, "Oh my god". But in 1990, there was this multi-million dollar selling book called 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth.
That, it just made everyone feel guilty, like if they weren't doing this, they were guilty; they were guilty if they weren't doing that. So, everyone just completely backed off from the whole thing. This is a little different now, because we have the whole global warming thing hanging over us more obviously than we had necessarily back then. We had ozone-hole worries, and Alar in apples, and things were beginning to happen, but I think we're in a different crossroads. I think people are sort of in their hearts getting that we have to make a change, and it's less about a trend.
TH: You're also the executive producer of Care2.com's Green Living channel. How has the Internet impacted environmental advocacy?
AB: It's so much easier with the Internet. That's the thing. I know that on Care2, for example, we can put up a petition and have in two days have 17,000 people signed. Can you imagine getting 17,000 signatures if you were walking on feet? So it's a beautiful thing. The other thing that I love about it is that it connects people to their... ironically it's more... you can develop more of a community quickly because even though they may be virtual, it's a community that you can build.
People are heart-to-heart, people are on the same page about the same issue, so it builds up faster, I think. Anyway I think it's just been a wonderful addition. So if someone wants to do, someone wants to clean their bathtub with nontoxic cleaning, they go to Google and put it in there and wham. They've got presumably some decent solutions suggested.
Or if they're upset and they hear about FDA challenging some organic standard, you can immediately start your own petition and get a large number of people supporting. So you can band together more quickly and that kind of thing.
TH: In your opinion, are women generally easier to get through about the environment and about their homes rather than men?
AB: It's not that they are easier to get them it's that they are more interested. So then, yes, that would be the answer. Young mothers have been at the top of the list of my readers for years because they are really concerned about having a healthy pregnancy and making sure their homes are healthy homes for their children.
TH: That's the gateway drug.
AB: It really is. Absolutely. Total gateway in. Then the other people that some into it tend to come in because there's an issue of a family member, in terms of health. I clearly come down as green equals health. It's not just energy and stuff out there. That's a differentiator for me. That's one of my biggest submission is trying to help people understand that green is about our personal health too and if we don't have enlightenment. We are the environment and the environment is not out there, that kind of thing.
TH: Going back to one of your books, what do you think the key elements of an enlightened home?
AB: You are connected to the environment. You and the environment are not separated. That's really the key. The more integrated you are with what's healthy for your health and helping what's healthy for the environment, the more enlightened the home is. Then the whole thing becomes healthier. It's probably the concept of sustainability. It's like conscious harmlessness. In the book, I talk about the elements quite a lot.
The earth, water, fire, air in the home. The issues of energy, water, and all of the resources. The earth's resources. It's really important that we work hard to preserve those as much as we can and to insure a healthy home for the people that live there. But it's a balance and harmony. One of the things I really understood for the first time in a clear way when I wrote that book was that I didn't quite understand how the beauty of natural materials and how they work with us, whereas so many of the synthetic materials work against you.
A perfect example would be wearing wool versus wearing polyester, or on a hot summer day wearing linen versus wearing polyester. The linen will work with you, it will wick moisture off your body, it will breathe, it will do all those things. Whereas polyester will wrap you up in a plastic bag and can potentially really cause health problems.
TH: A lot of people we know tell us they know about climate change, they want to go green, but they don't have the time or money. It's just too much trouble. What is your advice to them?
AB: That they're probably bearing under some sort of myths. I think really people are really well intentioned. It's that they think it's too expensive, they need more education. I think probably the best thing they could do is to something like read... well that's probably too complicated for this. Start thinking about their health. That seems to be a very successful way in for some people. Start reading labels, start thinking about what effect something they buy that says "fatal if swallowed" could actually be hazard to their health and the air they're breathing.
You just need one starting place. You need to come in one way. You know what I mean? It seems to me that people that come in for health reasons tend to scatter faster and stick with it. Because it doesn't take long, like they clean the bathtub with a natural, homemade soft scrub, like one of my formulas. That's one of my best all time formulas. I'll never forget receiving an email from somebody who said to me that it just started her on the whole path.
The next thing she knew she was doing the compost thing, she realized her kids could be there with her, she didn't get a headache cleaning the tub. Just a beautiful way in and it all started fitting together for her.