It's Not Easy Being Green

Does your vinyl shower curtain contribute to global warming? Will using a plastic razor doom the polar bears? How many bike trips does it take to offset your environmental sins? For well-meaning but utterly confused consumers, the editors of, an environmental Web site, have published "Wake Up and Smell the Planet," a (biodegradable, of course) handbook with tips for greening your life. NEWSWEEK'S Karen Breslau spoke with Grist founder Chip Giller:

How do consumers know that something is really green and not just 'greenwashed,' as fake marketing tactics are known?
There's an eco-chic thing going on that's really just more rampant consumption—SUV hybrids, green designer jeans. You cannot simply shop your way to a greener future. If something is labeled as "green" and comes in a wad of packaging, it's not. The book talks about smart, smaller choices. Once people begin to make smaller choices, they begin to think about the bigger issues.

When people read that their choice of shaving cream is causing environmental degradation, won't they just feel guilty?
The goal isn't to make people feel guilty. No one's perfect. Even Al Gore lives in a large home.

And George Bush collects rainwater on the roof of his ranch house.
He and Laura do well in this area.

What habits could the harried modern consumer change?
The first is transportation. Take the bus when you can. Carpool. When you are shopping, try to do fewer trips. But don't berate yourself when you can't take mass transit. We're not expecting people to live off the grid. The second is shopping. Buy local, organic produce if you can afford it. The third is voting. Choose candidates who [promote] responsible policies to counter global warming. And don't leave the water?running when you shave.

If someone says "I've got five minutes today to green my life," what should they do?
How about turning off your computer when you leave it? Shower instead of bathe. Think of needs versus wants. You don't need a second home, even if it is green-built. The energy that goes into a plasma TV is massive. And in the great debate over paper versus plastic, the answer is a cloth bag.