The Rising Power of Eco Moms

Yes! Prop 23—a proposal in California, underwritten by Texas oil companies, to repeal the strongest clean energy law in the nation—was resoundingly defeated on Election Day. But apart from that victory, media pundits seem to believe that around the country, environmentalists and their concerns were soundly trounced. I think they are reading the wrong tea leaves.

Eco Moms express simple values: cherish natural resources; keep the world clean.

The Tea Party may be full of science Luddites, but there’s another important activist group in the U.S. and it is growing fast. It isn’t run by anyone, and has no political candidates—yet. I’m calling it the Green Tea Party, and it is made up of millions of women I think of as Eco Moms. It is going to be–it is already–a game changer.

I count myself among these women. EcoFocus Worldwide, a marketing research consultant, estimates that “the EcoAware Moms market includes more than 50 million women, 69% of [all] moms, and has more than $1.45 trillion in buying power.” Best of all, consumer power can translate to political clout.

Most of us wouldn’t say we’re out to save the planet. And we don’t walk around numb with fear, gloomy about the future. Raising children is anxiety-provoking enough. But we want change. We want global warming addressed. We want to protect our homes from toxic chemicals. We want the government to which we pay our taxes to keep our families safe.

By the Numbers: Eco Moms vs. ChemicalsEco Moms teach our children not to keep the water running while they brush their teeth, to switch off the lights when they leave the room, to walk or bike to a friend’s house, to unplug chargers and shut off computers at night, not to let the engine idle at the mall. We’re about small actions that, within a family, express simple values: cherish natural resources; keep the world clean.

“Our children are growing up differently than we did,” says Lori Yanes, an Eco Mom from West Orange, N.J., who has three sons. “If I forget to recycle something, my kids are all over me. Being green is a way of life for them.”

These days, the news is full of reports that our lives are awash in toxic chemicals. They are hidden in plastics, in detergents, in beauty products, in foods—things no one worried about a generation ago. While there is only so much we can do, as individuals, about climate change, there is a great deal we can do about day to day pollution—especially exposure to toxic chemicals, whether they’re in baby shampoo, or in a child’s bracelet.

When I read a recent blog post by Richard Denison, EDF’s senior scientist, about a new study linking the chemical bisphenol-A to low sperm counts, the first thing I did was send the post to every young man I know, beginning with my sons and nephews. No mom wants her children to be used as guinea pigs by the chemical industry; we want regulations that ensure chemicals are safe before they get under our babies’ skin. But make no mistake: right now, we’re all guinea pigs.

Video: Chemicals in Your Home

Learn about toxic chemicals in consumer products and what you can do at I am Not a Guinea Pig.

I had spent the summer ridding my own house of plastics with BPA (including those microwave popcorn bags with plastic liners), explaining to my sons the damage this chemical, an endocrine disrupter, can cause and how it can leach into food from plastic that is heated. BPA has even been found in some of the thermal paper used for cash register receipts—and it rubs off on our hands.

BPA is only one of many toxins we’re bringing into our homes. Every day, Eco Moms are learning about problems with chemicals, networking for advice and information about safe products. New websites and new support communities are springing up to keep us informed about the latest findings.

Judy Shils qualifies as one of the world’s most devoted and influential Eco Moms, and her work provides a model of how values are transmitted to the next generation. In 2005, while she was setting up the Marin Cancer Project to investigate why cancer rates there were soaring, she began working with a group of teenagers who were interested in what toxins were lurking in their beauty products. Teens for Safe Cosmetics played a key role in the passage of the California Safe Cosmetics Act in October 2005, and the Toxic Toys Bill in 2007.

To take on broader issues, Shils also founded Teens Turning Green which engages young people from 12 years old through college age. The student-led movement started around her kitchen table in the Bay Area and now has a presence in schools across the country.

Video: Eco Mom Judy Shils

Teens Turning Green founder Judy Shils on youth enthusiasm for safe, green products. (via Natural Products Expo)

“There is a tremendous surge of green energy coming from Moms these days—and now it is coming from their girls, too,” says Shils. “We have an opportunity to mentor and support a new generation of change makers, and wow, are these young women ever powerful! When they see an injustice, they want to fix it. They will heal the world.”

The power of Eco Moms extends beyond idealism. We also have enormous purchasing power, especially when it comes to deciding what products we allow in the house. Increasingly, we are demanding stuff that is safe and respectful of our values. The result? So-called “green” product lines are proliferating.

Ten years ago, there was usually one choice: go to a health food store and look for Seventh Generation. Today some of the biggest brands in household products have started green, natural lines. Gerber introduced Gerber Organic Baby Food. White Cloud has Green Earth bathroom tissue, and even Scott tissue is up to 40% recycled in their “Naturals” line. A couple of years ago Clorox launched its Greenworks line (the company also bought Burt’s Bees).

But there’s also been a tsunami of bogus or misleading green claims to go with this shift, and it can be hard to sort out the truth. It’s instructive, then, to see how clear Clorox has made its Greenworks labels. (I learned that the secret cleaning ingredient in their products, alkyl polyglucoside, is extracted from coconuts.) And the Greenworks website is a model of communication; it is upbeat, even humorous, and offers easy tips for keeping unnecessary chemicals out of the house.

Manufacturers are going to the trouble of appealing to Eco Moms for a reason: they are influential early adopters of products. If we buy what you’re selling, you are likely to profit from the connection. The lesson for Eco Moms is that our everyday decisions are important. They give us a sense of control over our environment, a way to feel we are making smart choices, doing something good for ourselves and our planet. But these decisions also acquire critical mass in the commercial world.

Yes, rampant consumerism is part of the problem. Too much of what we buy is disposable or just wasteful. But the rising power of Eco Moms gives me hope for a change in values. We are asking, in hundreds of different ways, for healthier, more sustainable choices. And we are getting answers. But with the counterproductive regulations in place now, we cannot know the full extent of harmful chemical exposure from the products we use daily.

Now it is time to leverage consumer power into legislative clout. We have to make our voices heard in Congress. Let the new 112th Congress know that Eco Moms want immediate reform of our scandalously inadequate chemical safety laws. It is up to us to make sure that the laws that are supposed to protect us from toxic chemicals actually do. We can get this done in 2011: Never underestimate the power of mothers of nature!

Help Protect Your Family from Dangerous Toxic Chemicals

Please stand up for the health of your family by joining thousands of concerned moms, dads and others in signing this pledge and telling Congress to strengthen our toxic chemicals standards. We will deliver your pledge along with the thousands of others to the new Congress when it's sworn in next year.

As a constituent and a concerned...





I am deeply troubled by the exposure of my...




...to dangerous toxic chemicals, which are in everything from computers to carpets to clothing to couches.

These chemicals are so ubiquitous that every American alive today has hundreds of them flowing in our blood stream. And yet, America's main chemical safety law has never been significantly amended since it was adopted 34 years ago. As it is currently designed, this law does almost as much to ensure we are exposed to toxic chemicals as it does to protect us.

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Personal Nature

21 Responses

Pingback from | Practically Green
November 17th, 2010 at 6:45 pm

[…] in buying clout? Dominique Browning’s writes about “The Rising Power of Eco Moms” in new “Personal Nature” post at the Environmental Defense Fund. She’s identified an “Important activist group… that’s […]

Comment from Gail
November 18th, 2010 at 9:59 am

The most urgent toxin of all is background tropospheric ozone. Ozone causes cancer, emphysema, asthma, and diabetes. Ozone reduces annual crop yields by billions of dollars by stunting growth and seed production, and is killing trees that are damaged by cumulative exposure year after year. http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/p/basic-premise.html has a more complete explanation of this existential threat.

I would love to see mothers become a powerful force in the debate about climate change. But no matter how many eco-products we buy, we all share the same atmosphere. We are filling it with poison by burning fuel. We should ration dirty energy and restrict its use to only the most essential purposes while we transition to clean sources. A habitable climate for our children is at risk.

Comment from El Jibaro De Lytle Creek
November 18th, 2010 at 10:10 am

Lytle Creek is a watershed for the San Bernardino Inland Empire. In 1988 The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board found over 100,000 time the permissible levels of lead contamination at the surface. In July 2010 the SB Sun a local newspaper published that SB ranks 5th highest in lead poisoning.Even though an abatement notice was issues to the governmental agency responsible, there claim of categorical exemption still stand and all local city managers refuse to move forward on this critical issue, In fact I possess a letter from Congress Joe Baca that asserts no problem,yet every rainfall more lead finds its way into the populations water intakes as evidenced by PB violations at the tap. Sice neither Barbara Boxer nor Joe BAca will help what can the poor urban monority population do? In over 20 years attempting to have this contamination eliminated I have failed miserably.
Please help the ignorant of San Bernardino California some of us are good citizens. Robert Torres El Jibaro De Lytle Creek

Comment from Steve Kunz
November 18th, 2010 at 10:57 am

I would strongly urge all Eco Moms (and Eco Dads, Eco Teens) to join with the Million Letter March – an effort to get millions of us to send a personal message (via snail-mail letter) to our Congressional representatives to let them know that we want them to get serious about real Climate Change legislation – now, before it is too late. They are already hearing from all of the powerful lobbyists from the coal/oil/gas industries – but there are more of US (the citizens of this great land) than there are of them, so we need to get OUR voices heard. Find out more at http://www.millionlettermarch.org/

Comment from Melissa @ HerGreenLife
November 18th, 2010 at 11:26 am

At the end of college, my friends voted me “most likely to be a soccer mom.” My immediate reaction was, “No way will I be driving my kids all over town in a minivan, they can ride their bikes.”

I had not heard of the term “ecomom,” and I’m not a mom yet, but that’s a much better descriptor of what I hope to be.

Way before it was trendy, my mom (and dad) set a good example of being ecologically conscious, partly due to frugality, which contributed to my development into a highly eco-conscious adult.

Comment from Ralph Perez
November 18th, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Didn’t know if you’d seen this.

Solar plant powers factory

http://www.cleanfleetreport.com/renewables/ford-focus-electric-car-plugin-hybrid/

http://solarchargeddriving.com/news/solar-carports/427-solar-carport-revolution-is-underway-in-us.html

It would be great to see which manufacturers are using renewable energy to create their products. This also shows their commitment level to a greener ecosystem.

The average citizen and small business should be able to receive their own “clean power” directly from the sun -not from a utility company.

FIT decision FERC
http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/ferc-decision-boosts-renewables/

Thank you,

Comment from samtparry
November 18th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

First of all — Go Eco-Moms, Eco-Dads, Eco-Americans! You rock!

Secondly, we are facing a huge challenge when the new Congress is sworn in. The GOP is planning dozens of hearings to put the EPA and Obama administration on defense when it comes to promoting clean air, clean water, and clean energy.

If we want a safer, healthier, greener planet, we have to vote with our wallets, but also with our voices and we have to make it as uncomfortable as possible for those who would weaken our environmental protections.

Comment from Joan Bintlliff
November 18th, 2010 at 4:08 pm

RIGHT ON. I AM NOT A MOTHER OR A TEEN BUT AM DOING MY BEST TO GO GREEN. JUST HAD SOLAR ELECTRIC INSTALLED, RECYLE, TRY TO BE A LOCOVORE, ETC. CONGRATULATIONS

Comment from Rhett
November 18th, 2010 at 4:11 pm

In an effort to give dads credit where credit is due, perhaps we should avoid the stereotypical titles given only to mothers, and appropriately use a more-inclusive term such as Eco Parents.

Comment from Jean M. Berg
November 18th, 2010 at 5:05 pm

I don’t believe in the global warming idea, but I am gravely concerned about all the chemicals in our environment. As a mother, I want all products to be safe for my children. Thank you!

Comment from Freida
November 18th, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I hate to break it to you, but you really don’t have a story here, because the Tea Party and Ecology aren’t inherently oppositional to each other. At their best, both groups advocate for a return to self-sufficiency, local influence, and local choice.

There are TONS of people, including myself, who consider themselves advocates for both civil rights and safety of the environment. The Tea Party doesn’t fully represent me, but certainly neither does the status quo “Eco-Mom” label. Both have strengths and weaknesses of philosophy.

The Tea Party is my hope for a return to civil rights in America based on our Constitution and localized government where everyone has a voice. The Ecological movement is my hope for a world where we return to greater self-sufficiency, buy local, and take responsibility for our trash. They really aren’t that different at the core and it’s simplistic to assume everyone is one or the other.

Comment from John
November 18th, 2010 at 5:25 pm

See http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/drosenberg/urgent_call_now–ban_on_bpa_in.html#comments. URGENT: Call your Senators now – Ban on BPA in baby products back in play. November 18, 2010.

Comment from Freida
November 18th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Re: Samtperry

You should be aware that the Obama administration is doing a good enough job on it’s own of threatening the environment – it doesn’t require any help to accomplish this from the GOP. Please do your research the next time before assuming campaign speeches will translate to actions.

Obama has put a record number of Monsanto cronies into the Dept. of Ag., under his leadership S510 just passed, which will make it virtually impossible for small farmers to operate. Some are calling this bill a death threat to the small farmer. Monsanto is the leading producer of agricultural pesticides and pollutants and is very tight with Vilsack, Obama’s pick for Ag Czar. I am from Iowa and know that Vilsack used to fly around the state on planes provided by Monsanto when he was governor. Obama has picked for his Science Czar a man who wrote a book which advocated population control by poisoning public water. Not kidding, it is on Amazon. Obama has bailed out the auto industry at the expense of the rest of the economy, which threatens innovation as it makes it more difficult for green autos manufacturers to arise and compete with these gov’t. supported old dogs like Chrysler. Obama also chose to turn down the help of 14 nations to help clean up the oil spill, including the Dutch, who have developed the best oil spill containment technology around, leading to the massive death toll of aquatic life in the gulf.

I vote independent and voted for Cynthia McKinley. But whoever you vote for, please do a little research before assuming anyone is or will walk their talk. Both the Democrat and Republican sides are virtually identical when it comes to putting big business first. Please don’t be naive.

Comment from Nancy
November 18th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Aloha and great article!Love the term ‘green tea party”!Count me as one more eco mama!

Comment from Kathy
November 18th, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I follow Dominique Browning’s column and have been a long time supporter of EDF, NRDC, Union of Concerned Scientists and more. That involvement began for me in 1975. So when Dominique says, “Ten years ago, there was usually one choice: go to a health food store and look for Seventh Generation,” I need to add some information. Actually, 50 years ago there was a company whose mission was, and still is, “In Harmony With Nature.” Their all-purpose cleaning product is concentrated and non-toxic, as are all of their Get Clean household products. This all purpose product has been available for 50 years… not 10 or 5 or 2… but 50 years. We’ve used it for 35 years and now our adult children are using it in their homes. The company is Shaklee and the product is Basic-H. Their Get Clean household product line is safe, non-toxic, and works wonders. I’m sorry, I just had to have this company, whose founder was way ahead of his time, acknowledged for the good they continue to do. They were the first Climate Neutral Certified company in the world – back in the year 2000. Now THAT was 10 years ago. They have walked the walk from the beginning.

Thank you for all of your efforts. United we can do much.

Comment from Pauline
November 19th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Unfortunately, schools don’t always accommodate our desire to raise our kids “green” — they forbid you to send your child to school with a metal spoon or Pyrex container, forcing you to use plastics. They require us to purchase plastic baggies and wet wipes among the “school supplies” children are required to bring to the classroom. We are embedded in a culture of waste; our individual efforts to stem the tide get lost in the universal expectation that everything should be instant, disposable, and individually wrapped.

Pingback from Eco Moms
November 22nd, 2010 at 12:51 pm

[…] Interesting article on the rising power of eco moms. […]

Comment from Joy Ross
November 22nd, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Women have power. One of the original eco-moms, Julia Platt, established the first marine reserve in the United States – and it is responsible for turning a devastated dump of a coastline into one of the U.S.’s healthiest bays. You can read her story for a role model, including how she tore down a fence with her bare hands, at http://deathandlifemontereybay.stanford.edu/index.htm

Comment from chezsven
November 22nd, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Hey, ho. Dominique. You forgot eco-grandmothers. My granddaughter is why I started to fight against toxic chemicals in the environment. I love the concept of eco-moms and the Green Tea Party. You are right. We have power. Together, hopefully we can make a difference.

Pingback from Rising power of the Eco Mum
November 22nd, 2010 at 11:31 pm

[…] a family, express simple values: cherish natural resources; keep the world clean." read more here DADDYO, MUMMA, SIR SURLY & SCREECH …the world really is beautiful Reply With Quote […]

Comment from Lola
November 23rd, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I love this! Oh the power of a woman, let alone many women!
I agree with Gail about hoping that more eco-mom’s get together about Climate Change. It’s terrifying to think of what might happen to our grandchildren. Just wrote this funny Black Friday VS. Green Friday showdown if anyone’s interested in a giggle. http://morethanjusttalk.wordpress.com/

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