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Greening America: One Household at a Time - Talking with Susan Agate and Mike Slutsky, Part Two

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Welcome back for the second half of my interview with environmentally aware Susan Agate and Mike Slutsky. You two have done quite a lot over the years. How do you pass on your mission without being preachy?

Susan: I have tried to raise the consciousness of others. During my years as a Montessori teacher, I learned that acting as a role model was a better way to get people to follow my lead than trying to bully people into changing their behavior. So what do I do? When I give gifts to people I try to give them Fair Trade items that are not harmful to the environment. Some examples: trivets and place mats made of recycled newspaper (rolled tightly and tied in circles, if you can picture that) purchased at 10,000 Villages, jewelry from Bead for Life (made from recycled magazines) an organization that supports poor women in Uganda, Endangered Species chocolate bars that are fair trade, organic, kosher and the company donates a percentage of the profit to endangered species, organic cotton baby gifts, memberships to organizations that I think are worth supporting. I'll try to bring up environmental concerns in the course of a conversation, without forcing my views on someone.

When we go out to dinner with friends, Mike and I often order fish. One of us will pull out our sustainable seafood guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to find out what the best choice is, environmentally speaking. If someone comes to our house and comments on something "green," I'll give the relevant details about the object. When we have guests for dinner, I'll usually announce which ingredients come from "our" farm, and then talk about how a CSA works. Whenever I can introduce the environmental aspect of an activity into a conversation, I do. For instance, when someone asked what I was doing the other day, and I was going with my daughter and granddaughter to a second-hand children's clothing store, (Once Upon a Child, which is now in several cities) I mentioned that it was better for the environment to reuse items rather than purchase them new (they understood the economic reason for shopping there, but hadn't thought of the environmental reason).

When I was in college, I was an ardent and vocal feminist at a time when people weren't all buying into feminist rhetoric. I learned that people were tired of listening to us and didn't want to talk with us about feminist ideas. If I had just lived the life rather than yelling about it, I might have drawn in some people.

How successfully have you infected your four kids with your green philosophy?

My oldest daughter, Rachel, is more knowledgeable about cleaning and personal care products that don't harm the environment than I am. She and her husband made the decision to wash their own diapers, which is better environmentally than using a diaper service or disposables. She has done a lot of research about green baby goods. She buys clothes second-hand when possible. Devorah's crib is made of sustainable wood (our recent wood furniture purchases are too) and has an organic mattress. Rachel tries to find organic baby clothes when buying new items. They joined a CSA this year and Will regularly shops at the farmer's market downtown. They rarely use their car - using public transportation or walking to places. They gave us a good idea in the kitchen - they cut up old rags into small pieces and keep them handy for small spills and messes. Since I started doing this, I almost never use paper towels.

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Our son, Jacob, who is a technology buff, is aware of which aspects of new computers are green, and advises everyone about their purchases. He's very aware of and concerned about recycling. Lora tries to buy green products - toiletries for example. She tries to buy second hand clothes. She air dries her clothes when she does laundry. She brings paper home from [overnight] camp as there is no paper recycling there. Both of them unplug electronics when not in use and turn off lights when they leave the room. Elana wanted and received for her birthday a seltzer making machine for her birthday, because she enjoys seltzer but doesn't like using so many plastic bottles.

It sounds like your environmental activism has rubbed off on your kids. Are you where you want to be now, or do you have other green goals?

I've got lots of goals, some attainable some not.

- year round composting (currently only warm months)

- solar energy for our house (not economically feasible at this time)

-learning more about lots of topics: native plants, endangered plants species, sustainability

- doing more education related to environmental concerns and sustainable practices

- producing less waste

- consuming less

There are probably more, but it's the end of a long week - I'm back at work [Susan teaches 5th grade] and thinking about school a lot right now. Mike thinks I should tell you about Co-op America, now called Green America, and the Green Festival.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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