Sustainable Living In Saratoga Springs

June 2010 Archives

In my last blog I talked about the importance of indoor air quality when building or remodeling green.  Poor indoor air quality can lead to short-term symptoms and long-term illnesses if exposure is prolonged.  Children are especially vulnerable to toxins in general because the exposure is greater due to their smaller size.  Consider the following offenders of indoor air quality:

1. Out gassing in the form of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) Found in:
  • building materials
  • indoor furnishings -furniture, bedding
  • cleaning supplies
  • hobbies
  •  interior renovations
  • pesticide applications
Choose finishes and products with low or no VOCs or added formaldehyde.  Look for Greenguard Certification.

2. Biological Toxins:
  • Mold
  • Fungi
  • dust mites
  • viruses
Control moisture levels, leaks, flooding and replace old carpeting,textiles, wall board etc that are moldy
3.Combustion by-products from wood, gas, or coal burning

Have regular inspections and ensure proper ventilation

4. Radon
Test for radon regularly or have a home monitor that detects radon

Your nose can be a good detector but remember some are odorless. Please let me know if you have any questions. 
One would assume that if you build a "green" home, it would automatically ensure high indoor air quality - especially if it is a LEED certified home. Surprisingly, a LEED certification does not guarantee that criterion for indoor air quality are met.  The US Green Building Council defines the LEED program as "an internationally recognized green building certification system, which provides third-party verification that a building or community was designed, and built, using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts". The program and certification are based on a point system.  A project can earn points in 5 different categories, including: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, material & resources, and lastly indoor environmental quality.  One can presumably earn enough points in all the other categories and none in the category of  indoor environmental quality  - which is the one that addresses indoor air among other things, such as acoustics and daylight.
It is enticing to invest more money into energy efficiency as there are so many benefits to doing so, such as reducing our dependency on fossil fuel, and lowering your energy bill. However it should be balanced with decisions that impact indoor air quality.  According to the EPA, our indoor air is 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. We also spend about 90% of our time indoors.
Later this week I will talk about what contributes to poor indoor air and share steps you can take to make improvements.

Ahh, the sun is shining and my lawn and garden are looking beautiful despite the weeds!  With all this rain last week, my rain barrel is full.  Harvesting rain may not seem like a pressing issue here in the northeast with the plentiful water supplies we enjoy, but there are a lot of benefits to harvesting rainwater even if you have more than enough coming from your hose. 

Benefits of using water from your roof are the following:

1.      Reduce the runoff from your house

a.     Runoff  from buildings and paved surfaces pick up pollutants such as oil, chemicals, and trash and deposits them into ponds, streams, lakes and rivers

2.      Your plants and gardens will love the unchlorinated ambient water

3.      Save money on your water bill or conserve well water


Harvesting rain is simple.  You can hook up a barrel to a down spout or under a drip line in your roof.  I've had several workshops where we build rain barrels using 55 gallon food grade barrels.  It doesn't cost much and reuses the barrels.  Don't worry about the mosquitoes either.  Simply place one-quarter mosquito dunk in a stocking and tie it to the top of the barrel.  It will rise and fall with the water and safely prevent mosquitoes.  Keep an eye out for upcoming rain barrel workshops and visit here to learn how to reduce stormwater pollution in other ways.

Day 58 of the oil spill and I fluctuate between feeling sick and hopeless, or having feeling of anger and frustration.  I am sure I am no different than anyone else, but when I am stewing about BP there's this little voice in the back of my head that whispers "You want to blame BP, but what about you?  They are drilling oil for your car, your house, your life".  The cold, hard truth is that while BP showed negligence and should be held responsible, we all should think about our own culpability in perpetuating this culture of oil addiction, myself included. 

Sustainable Saratoga, a grass roots organization whose mission is "to make the City of Saratoga Springs and the surrounding communities better places to live now and for future generations by promoting economic and environmentally sustainable practices in all aspects of the local economy", has a Biggest Loser Challenge that encourages energy conservation.  Buildings account for almost 40% of all energy use in this country.   You will find a downloadable PDF of energy savings steps that you can take to reduce the amount of energy your home uses.

So when I have that terrible feeling of helplessness that occurs when watching the news about the Gulf Oil Spill, I can take control and responsibility of my own actions and reduce the amount of energy I use. Perhaps that pesky little voice will go away too. 




New York State has taken some bold moves when it comes to promoting organic lawn care and reducing the amount of pesticides used on lawn and landscapes.  On May 18th Governor Paterson signed the Safe School Grounds bill that ban's the use of chemical pesticides on the grounds of schools and daycare centers. To me this is a no brainer.  Why would we use pesticides where large groups of kids are playing and coming in contact with the grass.  However, it is a significant accomplishment considering the lobbying power of the chemical companies and in many ways the lawn and landscape industry that still largely supports the use of pesticides.
Just recently, the DEC launched Be Green-Organic Yards NY.  The program is designed to help both lawn/landscape businesses and homeowners use organic landscape practices.  First, landscape businesses that are interested in learning and marketing organic land practices to their clients can find training through the DEC.

As per the DEC website "Be Green businesses sign an agreement with DEC for the right to use the Be Green service mark (logo). In return, businesses agree that, when they provide Be Green services, they will avoid the synthetic pesticides and other materials prohibited by the organic conditions in the agreement. The businesses also take a Be Green training course, before signing the agreement."
Although there isn't any listings yet, homeowners will be able to search for businesses who have completed the course and signed the agreement on the Be Green website.This is very significant because every week I get asked who can I call for organic lawn services. 
Unfortunately, providers are far and few between.  The program will hopefully help turn the tide on the supply and demand for organic lawn and landscape services.
Have you been looking for an organic lawn care service? Any luck?
Several townships in New York, Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut have banned the use of pesticides on public property.  What do  you think?  Should your municipality ban the use of pesticides on public property?

Visit to educate yourself on the hazards of pesticides used outside and inside our buildings and homes.

Now that "Going Green" is all the rage (which I am so happy about), how do you know something is really green?  Companies are figuring out that green sells so there is a lot of green-washing out going on.  I recently came across a website  about the 7 Sins of Green-washing that I thought would be helpful to share:

1. Sin of the hidden trade off

  • A claim suggesting that a product is "green" based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
2. Sin of No Proof
  • An environmental claim that cannot be substaniated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.
3. Sin of Vagueness
  • A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.
4. Sin of Worshiping False Labels
  • A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists.
5. Sin of Irrelevance
  • An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. 
6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
  • A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.
7. Sin of Fibbing
  • Environmental claims that are simply false
The idea is to be as educated as you can about what you are purchasing.  There are shades of green and not everyone can afford to always make the greenest possible choice.  That being said you should know the difference and decide for yourself.

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Karen Totino, owner of Green Conscience in Saratoga Springs, has a history of caring about environmental issues starting with her own family and neighborhood. Beginning with her already successful organic lawn care business, Karen became actively involved in community efforts supporting work on cleanups and conservation through Friends of Kayaderosseras, a not- for -profit organization focused on conserving the creek. As an energetic entrepreneur, Karen wants to effect change in a greater way through offering green alternatives to consumers who seek better choices for their families and for the environment.