Episode 128: Sustainable Materials in Interior Design with Storm Interiors
Host Sean Daily talks about eco-friendly interior decorating and integrating sustainable materials into a home setting with Lara Fishman, Principal and Founder of Storm Interiors.
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Sean Daily: Hi, and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from GreenLivingIdeas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors, and experts, from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today, as well as the technologies, products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.
Sean Daily: Hey everybody. Thanks for listening into Green Talk Radio. This is Sean Daily. We’re going to be talking about Eco-Interior Design today, and we’re going to be talking with Lara Fishman, who is the principal and founder of Storm Interiors, which is www.storminteriors.com.
Storm Interiors is a Santa Monika, California, based firm that provides custom interior design services for commercial and residential products. They specialize in eco-design and the use of sustainable materials in building projects.
Lara, welcome to the program.
Lara Fishman: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Sean Daily: Well, we’re happy to have you. I am always interested to here people’s stories in business, and I know this is your firm and you founded it. Tell us how you got into eco-design and a little bit about your background.
Laura Fishman: OK. I had probably two main professions in my past life that I shouldn’t probably go into.
Sean Daily: Oh no, by all means please do.
Laura Fishman: No, no. Just because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do and I didn’t really find my driving passion immediately out of college. But, I went to a program after I had been out of school for a while, Ecology at UCLA, and they had a School of Interior and Environmental Design. I didn’t really even know at that point that there was such an actual profession, per se, in interior design versus interior decorating.
I went to this program in order to get a solid foundation of design and being able to read architectural drawings and for myself to be able to draw, and so forth. To just learn more about materials in design, in general. So, after I pursued my degree there, I worked for an architect during school actually, and then after school I worked for a well-known firm here in Los Angeles. And then my founding partner and I left, we were working at the same company, and we left and decided to do this on our own. That was in about 2000, so we’ve been around for about eight years.
When I started doing eco-design I really didn’t know that I was doing eco-design, initially. However naïve that sounds, but one of my passions is refurbishing vintage pieces. Taking things that you have and giving them a fresh coat, whether it’s, you know, doing it, and now of course we’d want to use low VOC lacquers, paints, etc. But, I was doing this sort of on my own, and even outside of my career, for a long time.
My mother would reuse old pieces, and we inherited some nice pieces from our family. So I realized more recently, ok, this is actually important to do and the process is so sentimental for a lot of people. And, many of our clients have items that they need to hold onto, they want to hold onto, they’ve inherited but they don’t really know how to incorporate it in their space. So, we’ve kind of created a niche for ourselves in that. We pride ourselves in taking what you have and giving it a new twist.
Like for example, we have a vintage changing table that we designed for a client. She didn’t want to necessarily buy a changing table, she wasn’t really that thrilled with many that were on the market, and her house is an older home. She’s more of a traditional; she has more of a traditional esthetic. So we found an old changing table, I’m sorry, an old dresser and we converted it with one of our craftspeople into a changing table, and put MDF partitions inside of the changing table and the drawers to make it really compartmentalized and organized. When you’re in ergonomics, or when you’re a new mom or dad, you need to reach for things. And we just put a little lip around the edge and we painted it and it became a changing table. So, that’s a product that we’ve developed and we use with many of our clients.
Sean Daily: Now when you say a product, do you mean that the concept of the reuse and the re-purposing?
Laura Fishman: Yes, the concept of the reuse and many of our products that we design are from FSU certified woods. The eco-friendly synthetic materials that you put in upholstery and we’ve really moved in that direction of being very conscientious of how we build our new pieces. When we do build new pieces, many pieces we do build, you know, that are new, versus refurbishing, like I’ve mentioned. We make a real concerted effort to make sure the materials are reused materials, are not toxic, paints for example, are the low VOC C paints, all of that.
With many of our clients we’ve developed a subspecialty in children’s playrooms and nurseries. So in that instance we have to be really, very careful about any sort of hazardous toxins and it’s all very eco-friendly because kids and babies tend to be more sensitive and that’s actually, we had a situation where the client’s child had horrendous, I mean awful, eczema and he seemed to be allergic to everything and anything. No one really could identify what he was allergic to but we knew, as this family’s designer, and from the parent’s perspective, we created a playroom for him, and it’s completely eco-friendly. And, that was inspired by this little child that was suffering from the onset of his life. So, we put wallpaper on the ceiling just for effect, and it’s a paper made by a company out of Great Britain called Crinson, Dominic Crinson. And, it’s all water-based inks and the papers are all recycled papers and all of it. We did a rug on the floor which is what we call one of our products is called the re-rug, and what we do is we take remnants of carpet that would otherwise be unused from a large carpet installer here in Los Angeles, and we design patterns. We use these unused remnants and create what we call the Re-rug.
Sean Daily: [chuckle] That’s clever. I like that. Re-rug.
Laura Fishman: Yea and their fun and whimsical and they’re really custom. But every item in that particular playroom is very environmentally friendly.
Sean Daily: Now in the re-rug product, I’m curious, does that incorporate in your average installation remnants from previous rugs, from the family or is it usually…
Laura Fishman: No, It’s actually, I mean, well we have taken existing rugs and expanded them, because sometimes the family will have a rug and it doesn’t fit into their new space, so we add a border to it. That’s one way, but that’s not what we consider the re-rug. The re-rug is, there’s a big warehouse company that does large commercial installation here in Los Angeles, and we have a good relationship with them. And they have lots of, what they refer to as remnant carpets that just are left over from installations that they’ve done, and they’re unused, mind you. When I introduced this concept to some of my clients, they think, well I don’t really want to have like a dirty, soiled rug, in my baby’s room. But, please keep in mind these are unused remnants.
Sean Daily: OK.
Laura Fishman: So we basically take something that would otherwise not be used and we create a specific design for that environment and that is what we call our re-rugs.
Sean Daily: OK. I’m curious to. It’s interesting this came up because I was just talking the other day to somebody about deep pile versus Berber. We were talking about putting a carpet in a space, and I’m like, well of course we would want that to be, it was actually in our children’s home school cooperative that we put together, and we were talking about short pile versus deep pile. I don’t know if that’s the right terminology, but….
Laura Fishman: Yes, short pile or long pile.
Sean Daily: And so are you finding that most, in order to be, and obviously, I think you went to the, probably with this, the nursery you were talking about, it was the extreme of creating this sort of almost like, hypoallergenic environment.
Laura Fishman: Yea, absolutely.
Sean Daily: For the chemically sensitive child or the allergic child. But, in general are you seeing it being the shorter pile rugs? I mean, do you recommend that?
Laura Fishman: In terms of allergies?
Sean Daily: In terms of really just maintaining a healthy home.
Laura Fishman: I think it depends on the rug. I mean, in some instances, it depends on the functionality of the space. And some clients prefer a wool rug, and t they’re actually more easily cleanable, because of the natural lanolin that are in the rugs. And, it’s also dependent upon the price point, but I’m getting more and more requests of making sure that the rugs are not allergen provoking. There are certain rugs, just like you can choose your pillows for your home, on your bed, that are allergen free. There are certain companies, like a Dupont, that make a particular type of rug that are specific to helping those with allergies, but also that don’t use harsh chemicals in the dying process. Some of these actual rugs are vegetable dyed.
So, we just like to offer our clients, our first and foremost thing that we look at when we design is what the client’s needs are, the esthetic functionality, but we also like to put in the two-cents of the environment and offer from our end if we’re not getting it from the client. And often it’s really a two-way street, and most often I think our clientele, we’re lucky and fortunate that they are proactive about pursuing, make sure this product doesn’t have, does this product been, is it, you know, eco-friendly, etc, etc. There’s so many choice, there’s just a plethora of choices we have now in our market place and interiors of fabrics, how, what you put something in, what materials you put inside products. The upholstery, the framing, there’s so many options. There’s great companies that are coming up that actually have reclaimed materials that they’ve turned in, like a wine barrel into a great chandelier. So there’s so many options to explore, that clients are open to.
Sean Daily: Interesting, so, and when you are forced to go outside of existing materials that are natural materials, whether we’re talking about, you know, well you just mentioned like a chandelier or a set of drawers or carpet, or what have you, are you strictly going with the natural materials, and the non-synthetic, the non-petroleum based products, and things like that? Or are you sort of letting the client drive and trying to encourage them, sort of in the greener direction, as it were.
Lara Fishman: Again, yea, we’re trying to drive it and often we’re in the situation, I guess in the past year or so, we’re finding that the clients are so practiced in pursuing that alternative as well. But often we use, we approach being environmentally sensitive, in the way that you’re speaking about, in terms of only offering or looking for the products that are eco-friendly from the get go. Or are we, what we kind of call, I don’t know a better term for it, but we kind of up green, or my friend just used a really good name for it, where when you have an existing product and otherwise it would be thrown away or put in a dump, or who knows, that we’re actually utilizing, like the example of the re-rug. It works for both directions.
Sean Daily: Well I really love that idea, and whenever I encounter ideas like that I think they’re really cool because you know, there’s the sentimental values of reusable materials so you don’t loose them. I don’t consider myself an overly sentimental person but my son has a little football, ceramic football player that was my fathers in his nursery, and was mine in my nursery, and was his in his nursery. It unfortunately suffered a fall, like Humpty-Dumpty, and broke into several pieces. Here I was the other day bringing it back to the ceramic restoration shop, which I didn’t even know existed, next to my favorite Mexican restaurant. [laugh]
Lara Fishman: Oh yea they exist. You just can’t find them. You never notice them, but there are these people that can do amazing work.
Sean Daily: Yea.
Lara Fishman: And, just basically rebuild something that is sentimental. You find yourself, especially with children, I think, and I’m a mother of two, just really sentimental about certain items and being so much more conscientious about our environment and what we’re going to be leaving behind for them. And again, you model for them, and they, my kids at such an early age know about so many elements and they’re reinforcing it at their school. And if we show up at the lunch, in my child’s lunch box at her kindergarten with a plastic bag, we’re almost shunned. I mean, it’s very serious, and they take it very seriously, which I think is a very good thing.
Sean Daily: Yea well, things have changed. I mean this is a place where, in terms of the incorporation of these materials in furniture and things like that, it’s really form meeting function. You know, it’s something I always feel very tentative about purchasing brand new materials regardless of their sourcing, just basically from I’m incorporating this into my home, and there’s a lot of concern about, you know, the artistic feel, and there’s a lot of ownership about it. But if it’s something that is sort of already familiar to you, there’s more warmth. There’s a coldness to purchasing something that’s just completely foreign, that’s going to be a center piece in a room or home, especially if it’s in like a nursery, certainly, or a living room.
Lara Fishman: Exactly.
Sean Daily: But when the end table is from a wine barrel that you made your own wine in, or something like that.
Lara Fishman: Yea, you can’t get more personable then that.
Sean Daily: Yea, so I’m really fascinated. I had no idea going into this interview that that was actually one of your specialties. It hadn’t come up in my research.
Lara Fishman: What’s interesting to, is that I didn’t realize, having done this for so many years, even working with my previous employer, I didn’t know that it was really a green approach. When now we realize that as responsible people and as designers that there’s no alternative but to design this way. Refurbishing old, and also going forward and designing something new, is to be as conscientious as you can about being eco-conscious. It was something that kind of, I was passionate about and I enjoyed it, and didn’t really know that we were actually doing good. So, I’m happy to know that there’s a nice symbiosis between my passion of what I was doing and actually doing something that’s sensitive to the environment.
Sean Daily: Yea, absolutely. Well I want to talk more on that when we come back. We’re going to take a quick commercial break and then we will be right back. We’re talking about eco-friendly interior design concepts with Lara Fishman, who’s the principal and founder of Storm Interiors, and we will be right back.
Sean Daily: Ok, hi everybody. We’re back with Lara Fishman from Storm Interiors. She’s the principal and founder, and we’re talking about ego-friendly design concepts and before the break, Lara, you were talking about the idea, well just really just about the materials and incorporating old materials, and things like that. And the fact that your passion sort of dovetailed with environmentally friendly, I don’t want to call it trends, because hopefully it’s here to stay, but environmentally concerned times, I’ll say that. And that is nice, when sort of that updraft sort of catches you, or that opportunity meets reality like that. How have you seen in the eight years that you’ve had this business, how has that changed or grown, or has it? Are we at some explosive peak right now for you? Can you give us a tell-back of the last few years?
Lara Fishman: In terms of how this evolved?
Sean Daily: In terms of trends and the volume of the number that are doing this.
Lara Fishman: Initially just getting the information. When you do what you do, you read all the trade books and you see more and more issues dedicated, initially and whether it’s going to be a green issue or green segment of say “Domino Magazine”. They have a minimum of once a year an actual section dedicated to green interior design, or green living. Many publications now have it every month; they have something included. Oh, “At Home”, has a whole segment, “Coastal Living”, you have to. There’s blogs, as you know dedicated to eco.
Sean Daily: Everything.
Lara Fishman: Eco-design blogs that are just, you know, just. So it’s been initially just getting products that were eco-friendly and then seeing that basically every company that we work with has an eco line, and moving more in that direction. And then you see it in the media, like I mentioned. So it’s just been growing, and I don’t think that it’s peaked, I don’t think that it’s a trend. Again, I know that’s not what you were saying but just for lack of a better expression. It’s just a direction that we are all needing to be in. And any designer that hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon, and I mean that in a good way, will have to. For someone in my position, it’s just a real creative challenge to keep something, in designing, interior design, oh pretty, lovely, well keeping into a certain esthetic that’s appropriate for whom ever your designing but also have it be eco-balanced. It’s that balance, and that’s what the challenge is.
We’re doing a project now, that I don’t think I would have done a couple of years ago. I have a friend and she’s gutting a bathroom in her home, and she’s very conscientious of our environment and wanted to kind of look to me in terms of what can I do in a remodel of a bathroom to make sure it’s more eco-friendly, etc, etc.
So we’re doing certain things, like radiant heat. In the heating element of it to tiling and preventing mold so that if you do, and this isn’t something that I really realized, but this is something that I learned, that tiling as much as you can in a bathroom and hopefully it’s eco-friendly tile or recycled glass tile, if you put tile in it will help prevent that kind of mold that then is toxic to the environment and then you have to actually tear everything down and then redo so it’s using new materials all over again. So it’s really good to approach this design a new or remodeled bath, even a used in good shape bath fixture, a faucet today, to find a certain fit. The more people that reproach design the more the inventory will be available.
So it’s been an education for me in doing this because I’ve gone online. I’ve gone to my inventors and resources finding what do you have that been rejected from a job or that you don’t know what to do with and you want to get off your shelf, you want to move inventory, that’s unused, anywhere from my bathroom, my plumbing fixture specialist to my cabinet guy, like I mentioned, right straight into my own garage.
We’re putting some lights in her bathroom, a pendant fixture that I actually got off of Ebay, and it’s a Japanese filigree pendant globe that we’re just going to paint up and put it on the ceiling. So we can have the experience and knowledge of what will it take in terms of the furnishings to keep it environmentally friendly, but also from everywhere, in terms of how we how did we approach the heating, the natural lightening. She has a window, we’re increasing that window size right now to help get in some more natural light, since obviously she wouldn’t need to use her electricity as much. So there’s all kinds of things, there’s obviously certain, even toilets that are available right now, that are more eco-conscious so all of these things are an education for me. And all the products that are so much more available now then they would have been.
So I see this, back to your question, I know I go far off from the direction you were going initially.
Sean Daily: That’s Ok.
Lara Fishman: This wouldn’t have been a thought in my brain years back, and the products that are available to us were not even on the market.
Sean Daily: Right. Things have changed quite a bit. You mentioned with like toilets for example, and you’re talking about things like dual flush and composting toilets, and products like that. Is that accurate?
Lara Fishman: Yes, dual flush.
Sean Daily: Dual flush, yea. Which is default in Europe and here it’s like a specialty toilet. “Wow you have a dual flush, how cool!” [chuckle] Unfortunately.
Lara Fishman: Yea, exactly.
Sean Daily: One of the aspects of this that fascinates me the most is one of the questions that I typically end up asking on behalf of interested listeners is about costs, because you know, it’s like, “ok, well it’s going to cost me to go green” in whatever the topic is. And that’s always a fair question. It’s not to say that that’s the most important question, but it’s something that people need to budget for. Right? And understand.
Lara Fishman: Yes.
Sean Daily: But what’s really interesting about this, the reuse concept or getting extra materials, and things like that, is it would seem to me, correct me if I’m wrong, that that’s going to mitigate some of those costs, where it’s not a premium, as premium of a purchase as it is to go back and say to somebody, you know your using extra inventory or things like that. Is that accurate?
Lara Fishman: It is accurate, because many of those products that we…. I’ve just developed a warehouse of items that I’ve just become sort of a vintage shopper online and offline and an auctioneer fanatic for better or for worse. So I’ve collected items that would have maybe been sitting in somebody else’s garage had they not sold them, but I have products that I sell to my clients, that I actually refurbish and reuse for myself in our home, or for my office. They’re incredibly inexpensive compared to say the same light fixture that I mentioned, that filigreed pendant globe that I mentioned, if we were to have that made or buy it somewhere it would be exorbitant, I know, I see these items that are for sale in certain showrooms and they are. So it does offset it. I think that’s a really good approach, and I think our clients appreciate that, they see that. Many clients urge you, can we find it a vintage one, can we find vintage one, because they know that often that can be less costly, it’s not always the case. You know like the real McCoy vintage say a Paul McCobb dresser, then that’s going to be more expensive but depending on the client and their budget and their desire. But often that’s a very good point that your making, it does offset the costs because we do know that often the greener approach that you take in designing a house will be more costly, but I think that that margin comparing that cost, with say this designing in a traditional way, in a non-eco way, is that margin’s narrowing.
Sean Daily: Yea, that’s good.
Lara Fishman: Because the fact that more considers in the supply/demand issue. More consumers are doing this. The same thing, as I’m sure you know, you’ve probably mentioned this analogy with flat screen TVs when they first came out, really expensive, now they’re becoming less so because there’s more of a demand.
Sean Daily: That’s right. As these things become more mainstream it certainly can drive the price down.
Lara Fishman: Exactly.
Sean Daily: So that is a good thing for all. Of course it also comes with a negative side which is you end up with companies and providers that are sort of freight training on the green marketing or the ability to appear green and aren’t really. Don’t have the sort of wholesome commitment to it that maybe the pioneers did. But that just goes with the territory.
Lara Fishman: It does, just as with any business. You know, in bringing that up, I get a digest, a daily digest from the American Society of Interior Designers, it’s called “Design Daily”, and they have a section on it dedicated specifically to sustainable design, and I think it was, even today’s, that there’s a little, yea today, a little article about, what they do is they take information from all over the country, or the world, and they just make it more sustained. And the daily journal, its to publish articles that they then republish in this journal, and I guess in the Palm Beach Post, they decided among the Palm Beach County School Board members that all future school designs, all the construction will be green, and that even with the added construction costs of the green, it’s only about two percent over standard costs.
Sean Daily: Wow.
Lara Fishman: So, I thought that was really interesting, this speaking to your point that that first of all that the school community in Florida is making this commitment and that the added construction costs are a very, very nominal two percent.
Sean Daily: Well that’s good to hear, because I think a lot of, unfortunately, I think a lot of individuals and organizations probably tend not to implement their green building projects, not for lack of enlightenment as it were, but for maybe an irrational or unfounded fear of costs overages.
Lara Fishman: Right.
Sean Daily: That may not exist.
Lara Fishman: That may not exist so they just have to be better educated about the fact that it, and it’s obviously how much your saving in the future, not just financially, with less energy bills, etc., but, how it’s impacting the environment less so.
Sean Daily: Yea, well we’re going to take one more quick break and then we’re going to be back and I have some questions for you Lara about hopefully giving some other, both for those who are residential homeowners and commercial building owners, as well as maybe designers who are budding to be more eco-friendly designers out there, more tips from you about materials in the home, and things like that, if we can leave people on that note. So we’ll be right back talking about eco-friendly design with Lara Fishman, who is the principal and founder at Storm Interiors, at StormInteriors.com. We’ll be right back.
Sean Daily: Ok and we are back. We’re talking about eco-friendly interior design. My guest today is Lara Fishman, principal and founder at Storm Interiors, in Santa Monica California.
Lara I just was curious, if you can maybe share, really one of the things I really like to do with the web site as well as on this program, and certainly that’s been happening in this interview, you delivered a lot of good information and tips to people. I’m wondering if you might have any others? Again, both for homeowners and commercial building owners that are potential clients of yours or other designers, as well as designers out there. Do you have tips for things like, other things to watch out? You picked the bathroom, we’ve also talked about nurseries, are there other areas of a home or a business, in terms of the types of materials that you would recommend, and other tips you might leave people with?
Lara Fishman: Well I think the obvious thing that we talked about the dual flush toilet and plumbing, how you approach your air conditioning and heating your home, insulation, preventing mold. So there’s these certain construction tips that we’ve kind of talked about. But you know, one example I can give or tip is, that something you may have or own that, or that you see, that maybe finished with, it’s just kind of keeping in mind and being somewhat creative, and well how can we take this and give it a different spirit, or re-purpose it. Like I mentioned the vintage changer, many parents and such may have some dressers that they may want to change into a changing table.
Also, just when your shopping and any particular product that you like, find out what are their eco, being more forth coming yourself and aggressive about finding the products from your manufacturers or what have you, that are eco-friendly. And promoting those particular companies, buy from those companies, and not so much from the ones that haven’t gone in that direction. You know, if you have items laying around, I recently know someone who created a really beautiful bookcase from lumber and old piping, and they needed just a bookcase, or storage in their garage and they took this old scrap lumber and piping and its amazing what you start, how your brain starts to open up when you sort of look to see around you what’s available, what’s available that you have within reach.
I think that it’s a matter of reaching out to people that have a share in the common interests that you have, like we had to with our bathroom situation, with this friend that I mentioned, where I reached out to my cabinet person and others. Everyone was so receptive and happy to be a part of it, that was what was so, I think, exciting about this project, is that others are just as interested and committed, more then you would expect. So I think it’s about the person who’s driving the design but homeowners really thinking about “Oh that’s my grandmother’s Victorian cabinet, I’m really not into Victorian, you know I’m more of a modernist”. Well, you know, give it a different life. Paint it a color. Put in some old leaded glass in it that may appear a little bit off or keep it, that’s what makes pieces interesting. That’s what gives a space it’s personality and that’s what makes it belong to the owner. That’s what I would really encourage people to do.
Sean Daily: Ok, and when to reiterate one thing you said earlier to, which I really resonated, was about choosing where you need to choose new materials, choose durable ones, because as a former guest on this show once said “There’s nothing really greener then things that last forever”. [chuckle]
Sean Daily: Well great. Well I really appreciate you coming on the program and sharing all the information.
Lara: It’s my pleasure.
Sean Daily: It’s very informative and it reminds me a lot of, there was a recycled clothing company, Karen Craven from Burning Torch, I don’t know if you know the company.
Lara Fishman: Yes I do.
Sean Daily: Oh, Ok.
Lara Fishman: Burning Torch.
Sean Daily: Yea. They’re very similar in terms of the clothing industry of this idea of reusing vintage items and re-purposing them.
Lara Fishman: Yes and it’s amazing. I mean, and in terms of fashion, obviously interiors and fashion are very closely related and they inspire one another. I mean, Barneys, is sort of the Crème de le Crème of fashion, has his own eco line that Stella McCartney has designed for them. She’s collaborating with Adidas, she’s creating T’s out of bamboo and polyester and organic cotton. It’s just the direction that many of the fashionistas and manufacturers are going in and that’s spilling into interiors, and vice versa.
Sean Daily: Yea. Well design leads any industry whether it’s fashion or home building or what have you. In L.A. it’s certainly the L.A. area is certainly a hot bed as is Paris. So it’s good to see that it’s starting there, because I only expect that that trend will continue and spread to other parts of the world. Well great.
Well my guest again today has been Lara Fishman who is the principal and founder of Storm Interiors. You can find them online at www. StormInteriors.com. Lara, thanks again.
Lara Fishman: Thank you so much.
Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today. Remember for more free on demand podcasts, articles, videos, and other information related to living a greener lifestyle, visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com. We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions. Send us an email at [email protected].
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