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Earth Promise “21 in 21″ Interview Series: Stefani Newman, eco-writer and Founder of teensygreen

Stefani Newman, eco-writer and Founder of teensygreen

Stefani is a daughter, wife, mom, sister, freelance copywriter, art teacher and green educator (for anyone who will listen)! A native New Yorker, Stefani started in July of 2007 while living in the beautiful country of Panama, where she lived by the Pacific Ocean for the first time. She now resides in South Florida with her wonderful husband and two beautiful, talented, curious, life-loving daughters, who help her with shell collecting, messy cooking, and library adventures. Stefani hopes to help like-minded parents make economical, educational and safe eco-choices for families - whatever shade of green families choose to be!

Earth Promise: What changes, or Earth Promises as we call them, have you made in your lifestyle to be more green? Changes in home, travel, work, with your kids and community?

Stefani Newman: I hope my Earth Promises are well rounded! I do simple things like only run my dishwasher when it’s bursting, washing clothes in cold water, using glass storage containers for food instead of plastic, etc. Last year, my husband and I invested in an electric composter, which turned out to be a great investment. Our plants are thriving on our compost, we don’t buy fertilizer, and we feel a sense of accomplishment by not throwing our food waste down the disposal.

We also buy carbon offsets for our home and travel. I have a long commute each day and don’t want to neglect the fact that I’m on the road a lot. With my kids, we try and teach them about conservation and recycling. This has worked a little too well - my older daughter finds ways to keep every box and container for art projects, and is constantly watching our water use. Nothing escapes the little ones!

EP: What was your first, ah ha! Green moment?

SN: My ‘grownup’ ah ha moment was in 2007, when my family was relocating to the country of Panama. We had a fairly new (and large) home, but packing it up to move ended up being a nightmare. We only wanted to take “the essentials,” but I became overwhelmed with cleaning out our house, especially my two daughter’s toys and junk. We ended up giving a lot away, and putting more into storage. I started teensygreen in Panama, after thinking about how we could make our home more efficient.

Now that we’re back in the US, we’re very conscious about, well, everything! This includes the size of our home, and what goes into it, so that we don’t go overboard with stuff. You can’t have more than you have room for, right? Well, I guess you can, but that’s the whole point. We’re very aware of the space we need, and we’re trying to stay within our boundaries.

EP: What are some of the things that anger you or drive you crazy that you see people do that hurts the environment?

SN: Excuses drive me crazy more than anything. I don’t preach being green, but when people tell me they can’t do something because of x, y or z, I start rethinking my approach! Birthday party excess also drives me nuts, and I’ve worked hard to make changes with something like that as well. Anything is possible, even with cake and presents!

EP: Tell me about some of the sites you write for now or in the past related to the environment?

SN: My first eco-writing gig, and where I think I really caught the eco-bug, was for Ecorazzi. I was living in Panama, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had just toured the site where Frank Gehry’s Museum of Biodiversity is being built. All of a sudden, celebs were all over South America, and it was a great time to be writing about it. My husband found Ecorazzi and thought I should write for them - I emailed them, and soon became part of a great team of pop culture-obsessed environmentalists. I loved combing the news for green (or, even better, not so green) celebs! It was a great starting point for me and gave me great research and writing experience.

Now I write for Brita’s Filter For Good campaign, which promotes using filtered water in reusable bottles instead of bottled water. This blog gives me a lot of freedom to write about personal experiences. I did a month-long composting adventure series, which was really fun to write, and I give my opinion about more social issues there as well. I’m also the “Green Genius” for a great new site called Working Moms Lifeline, which I’m so proud to be a part of. It’s probably the biggest writing challenge for me - I really try to intersect going green with being a working mom, without talking too much about products for kids or adults.

EP: What would you ask the readers of this interview and the visitors to your site to do to help the environment?

SN: I guess I would ask people to really look at their lives - their habits, patterns, needs and wants - and be honest about what they can do (and do without)! It’s not all about recycling and buying organic - as we know, the economy these days doesn’t allow many people to be free with money, and organic foods and products may not be within people’s budgets.

Helping the environment also includes doing things like using your kid’s artwork as wrapping paper instead of throwing it away, or setting up a rain barrel to water your plants instead of using a garden hose. It may take some thinking outside the box, but changes are possible if you want them.

EP: Speaking about teensygreen and other sites focused on children and parents, how should we be teaching our children about this issue? What are some good sources of information that you or others you know use to inform them about it?

SN: There are so many issues to bring to children! It can be anything from animals to sending shoes to children who can’t afford them. This is the best time to teach kids compassion, which is the ultimate lesson for the environment, right?

Finding a good cause that you or children are interested in is pretty easy to find. If you’re looking for a cause to support, Charity Navigator is a great place to start. They feature reputable charities from all over the world, and it’s worth looking through as a springboard to speaking with your kids about giving back. Your own community always needs help as well, so check out local magazines and newspapers for volunteering opportunities.

EP: Which green blogs are you reading now? Who do you think is being innovative in eco-living?

SN: I read way too many blogs! Mainstream blogs like Treehugger are good for news, but I love what other people are doing as well - you can always depend on someone coming up with a new twist on an old topic. My favorite blogs right now for going green with kids are Green and Clean Mom, Eco Child’s Play, Petite Planet, and for a great design and overall eco-”stuff” site, Inhabitots.

EP: Were you “green” as a child?

SN: I guess at heart I was always a ‘green’ kid, in my own way. I grew up in an apartment in a large city - my playgrounds were mostly concrete! But, I was always outside, even in the winter, and I was fortunate to go to a wonderful sleepaway camp at a young age that was tucked in the Pocono Mountains. I’ve always had a huge interest in nature and animals, and loved going to museums. I was fortunate to have a wonderful nature center nearby, and lots of family to take me there!

When recycling became all the rage, I was definitely the recycling drill sergeant! And I became involved with Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund in high school, both whom I still support.

EP: What about in school. If you could get all the teachers, principals, and administrators in a room, what steps would you ask them to take regarding helping the environment?

SN: You want to yell, “Do anything you can!” We all know about budget and time constraints, however, as well as lack of assistance from parents. Jill Buck and her organization, called the Go Green Initiative, works with schools around the world to help schools work more efficiently, as well as sets up eco-education programs that are smart and helpful in the classroom. There’s a ton of free info out there, and I think if teachers and administrators just took the time to do research, they can make a lot happen.

EP: Whether through what you see in the viewership of your site, on TV, or just by looking around, are you seeing an uptick in the number of eco-conscious people? Not simply in the number of readers or viewers, but in the level in how people are making changes in their lifestyles?

SN: That’s a tough one. I think it’s very trendy to be green, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! We as bloggers and environmentalists have a responsibility to make sure what we write about doesn’t go in one ear and out the other - it’s not about preaching, but about educating and informing. Allowing people to make their own choices may be the hardest part, but I feel great for trying!

On a personal note, I unfortunately don’t see a lot of my neighbors take a big interest in being green, but again, it’s not for me to judge. I’m learning that as people become part of a larger community, it’s a larger effort needed for motivation. People think recycling is good enough, because they have the bins and trucks that pick up the waste. It takes a lot more commitment to help people understand that going further is what really counts.

EP: There are lots of people who fit into two eco groups - “think green”, meaning they know there is an environmental issue and they are concerned, but do not take any steps to help. Then there is the “act green” group who takes action and makes changes to help the environment. Getting people to move from the “think green” group to the “act green” group is key. What steps can be taken to make this transfer happen?

SN: Like I always say, you have to do what you can. If you have a “think green” interest, such as green education, than find a way to incorporate it into your life. That could be from volunteering at an Earth Day event to helping a school develop a green initiative. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing - it’s all about baby steps to following a passion you may have!

Just by reading blogs and sites, and taking a deeper interest in a cause is a great first step to acting green.

EP: How do you think we can make being green in the lives of kids more of a common practice?

SN: If you make it a point to live simply and compassionately, your kids will definitely follow. Kids lead by example - if you make it a point to incorporate clean, green living into your day, don’t think your kids aren’t paying attention!

EP: When it does become commonplace for them, what is our best avenue to prevent our children from going backward and being lazy about environmental issues?

SN: With kids, I think it all depends on age. Young children can be constantly reminded about doing things like turning off lights and water, helping to keep the Earth clean, etc. Speaking to them about global warming can be a little scary, so we have to adjust our language for different age groups. Teens and young adults are the groups that need to be challenged the most. They can understand the more dire issues, and are left with the responsibility of keeping environmental issues in the forefront. Like anything with kids, keeping open conversations and voicing concerns, (and a little luck that they’re listening, I guess) is key!

EP: Is there a way to teach children that being green is fun? What tips do you have for making the education of going green fun?

SN: Kids are like sponges, and are curious beyond belief. I love finding new projects to try together. We garden; we’ve recycled old, worn down crayons; I love to get books about animals and go on websites with them. Right now, the grosser the animal, the better, so we read a lot about insects. The questions kids ask are amazing! I find myself explaining why ants and dung beetles are meant to live on this planet, and it opens my eyes to whole new worlds. Pick a topic to research with your kids, and I guarantee you’ll learn something new as well!

The message of being green is somewhat being taught to children via the movies. For example, WALL-E. What is your opinion about the use of video games as an educational tool?

I’m a product of Atari and Nintendo, and I can say for sure that video games are pretty much a huge time waster. Videos and movies are a bit different - I got the message from WALL-E, but for my kids, (who are 6 and 4) it was a little too abstract. We love taking out videos about animals and nature - so much easier to relate to! But never underestimate the power of books…

EP: What is the one Earth Promise you are going to make in the future that you have not done yet?

SN: There are so many! I love Earth Promise for finding new ways to go green. There’s a new “eco-dry cleaners” in my area, so I’m going to try some investigative journalism and see if it’s really green. I would love to help organize an Earth Day event next year for my daughter’s school, or set up a recycling center for a specific organization. For my kids, getting out on our bikes more is something I’d like to make a habit - sneaking in exercise with outdoor time is great for everyone. The best part of making promises is, the possibilities are endless!

EP: Thank you. This has been great.

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