Episode 141: Green Blogger Series: Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat and Inhabitots

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GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks with green blogger, publisher and supermom Jill Fehrenbacher, founder of green design blog Inhabitat.com and its new eco-parenting sister site Inhabitots.com.

Transcript

Green Talk Radio Interview with Jill Fehrenbacher

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Sean Dailey:  Hey, everybody.  This is Sean Dailey, host of Green Talk Radio. If you haven't already, I want to encourage you to subscribe to greenliving-ideas.com's, Green Ideas, monthly newsletter.  Every issue of the newsletter is packed full of tips and information that help you live a greener, more sustainable life.  Including topics like renewable energy, alternative fuel vehicles and trans- portation, simple living, natural foods and health, eco-fashion, and seasonal and holiday tips.  Signing up for the newsletter is quick and easy and only takes a few seconds.  Just visit greenlivingideas.com/newsletter.

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Sean Dailey:  Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from greenliving-ideas. com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly life-styles 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.

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Sean Dailey:  Hey everybody.  Welcome to Green Talk radio.  This is Sean Dailey.
Very excited about today's episode.  I know I say that a lot, but I really am excited about today's episode.  My guest today is Jill Fehrenbacher, who is the founder and publisher of Inhabitat as well as Inhabitots.com.  They are Internet blogs devoted to tracking innovations in future-forward sustainable design.  The Inhabitat site, started in 2005, is actually now the largest independently owned green blog on the Internet, as well as the largest design and architecture site.  That site's mission is summed up in the statement, "Green design is good design, and good design is green design." Though many of you will know Jill best for her work at Inhabitat, she's also recently launched a sister site called Inhabitots.com this past summer.  She says that she was inspired to create Inhabitots in preparation for the arrival of her first baby, which just arrived, I understand, six weeks ago.  And the site focuses on products for kids, babies and parents.  In addition to being a mom to a six-week-old baby, she's a small business owner running the two blogs and she's also a free-lance designer and green design consultant.  She was educated at Brown, where she received a BA in Art-Semiotics.  Central Saint Martin's where she received her MA in Design Studies, and Columbia University where she studied Architecture. 

Sean Dailey:  Wow!  Well welcome to the program, first of all, Jill.

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Thank you.

Sean Dailey:  Your life exhausts me.  Even reading about your life, It's like...you blow me away with what you've done. so, first of all, congratulations on all the success of both the sites and certainly last but not least with the new baby.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Thank you so much.

Sean Dailey:  Well, Jill, I can only imagine that this is a very exciting and perhaps exhausting time for you.  Does that about sum it up?

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Yes.  But it's very fulfilling.  I love working on this stuff.  It's, it brings purpose to my life.  So I'm enjoying it, immensely.

 

Sean Dailey:  So I knew that Inhabitots was inspired by your becoming pregnant with your first child.  Would you mind sharing that story with us?

 

Jill Fehrenbacher: Yeah, In fact, it actually started even a little before then. 
Because one of our writers, one of our best, longer-standing writers, Abigail, actually got pregnant with twins.  And I had, sort of, been planning, or thinking, in the back of my mind, that I was moving down that path too.  But, when she got pregnant we started doing more and more posts on Inhabitat about baby products.  In fact, we actually had been covering baby products, sort of from the get-go.  The site has always had a good proportion of female writers.

 

Sean Dailey:  What is your percentage breakdown? If you don't mind sharing. I'm kind of curious about that.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Writers or reader? 

 

Sean Dailey:  With readers.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  With readers it's pretty 50-50 actually.

 

Sean Dailey:  And on the writer side?

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  At this point, on the writer side, there's still more women than men.  But now we've got, I'd say, I guess we have, like three, we've got three guys, on a team of, like, 20 people.  For quite a while we had no guys on a team of 6 or 7 people.  

 

Sean Dailey:  That's actually pretty good.  I was just talking to Sarah Ost of EcoSalon, and she said, 'we have one, he's our token guy'.  Our token writer on staff.  So I think at three you're doing well.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Well, I think, I don't know if it's a personal thing, just a coincidence.  I know a lot of green sites actually have more male writers than female writers. But, for whatever reason, we were always very female oriented.  And I think even though none of us had kids at the beginning, we were still writing about kids clothes, and baby toys and things like that.  And then once one of my writers got pregnant and we started to beef up the coverage on that, and we started a column on Inhabitat called Inhabitots.  And, I kind of knew, and then I became pregnant, it was sort of like I knew it was only a matter of time where I really wanted to turn that into a separate site.  Because I look at the demographics of our readers, we have, it's very, it's pretty wide, demographics especially in terms of the age-range.  We've got a lot of 18-19 year old guy readers.  And I figured there's definitely a big contingent for whom the kid and parenting stuff was of interest. But, even more so, there was probably a large audience that probably wasn't that interested in Inhabitat.  So I thought it was important to break it out
into it's own site, and create a special niche audience for parents and kids.  And allow the regular readers of Inhabitat not to be inundated with that stuff.

 

Sean Dailey:  Sure, so how long did it take for the blog to go from inception to actually going live.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Not very long.  I'd been thinking about it for quite a while.  We'd been producing content for it five or six months.  But I designed the site in June or July and then launched it in August.  It was pretty quick turn around once I said, okay, I'm doing this.  I had this looming deadline which was the birth of my child.  It was like, I've got to get this up.  And you know, I actually launched Inhabitots on August 6th, and I had my baby the day after.

 

Sean Dailey:  Oh, wow.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher: I went into labor after I launched the site.

 

Sean Dailey:  You really take your deadlines seriously.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  I really did.  I think there was some kind of psychological component to that.  I don't know what it was, but I just felt, okay, my job is done now.

 

Sean Dailey:  Wow, that's amazing, that's amazing.  Yeah, there's got to be something to that.  And so I'm curious, if you don't mind, one of the questions that I like to ask all of my guests, and especially bloggers and experts and writers and so forth.  Is to share tips with our audience.  And in this case, I'd love it if you could share some tips for expectant moms who are thinking about going down a greener path in their own lives.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Well, I think one big tip is that there's definitely a big industry around pregnancy and giving birth.  And of course there are a lot of things that you do need for having a new baby but then there's a lot of stuff that you probably don't need.  So I guess one tip would be to not be overwhelmed by the long, extensive lists of things you need and just try to take it as it comes and buy things as you need them.  And also to try to seek out second-hand sources for things like baby clothes, toys, books, things like that.  Car seats.  There's a lot you can get second-hand.  And try to not get overwhelmed with the pressure of over-consumption on the baby stuff.

 

Sean Dailey:  What are you finding, personally, to be the biggest challenge in making green choices as a new mom yourself.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  I think it's really just not getting overwhelmed by things.  There's so much.  With baby stuff, with the sustainability issue in baby stuff, a lot of it comes down to the health issue.  And that's just one component of sustainability, obviously.  But I think that's the big one in terms of what moms are thinking about.  In terms of what their baby's toys and bedding and clothing is made out of.  What's in the food, what's in bottles, that sort of thing.  And if you really start analyzing everything you can get really neurotic or overwhelmed with things. 

 

Sean Dailey:  Yeah.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  I think a big challenge is to try to be an informed consumer while also still enjoying yourself and not going crazy about things.  So, I think it's trying to find a good balance.

 

Sean Dailey:  I'm talking with Jill Fehrenbacher.  She's the founder and publisher of
Inhabitats and Inhabitots, and we'll be right back on Green Talk Radio.  Thanks everybody.

[commercial]  9:23 - EcoBrain.com

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Sean Dailey:  Okay, and we're back on Green Talk Radio.  This is Sean Dailey talking with Jill Fehrenbacher the founder and editor-in-chief of the very popular green blogs Inhabitat and Inhabitots.  So, Inhabitat no 's' and Inhabitots with an 's'.  I just want to make sure everybody knows that out there.  If you're typing it in and going into your browser.  She's also a New York City based green designer.  Jill, we were talking before the break about the reasons for, your reasons for founding Inhabitots and some of your experience in being a new mom.  I wanted to ask you about specific recommendations that you might have with the experience and research you have with green baby products.  And maybe you can give us a 'why', on each of them.

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Okay. Well one thing I can definitely talk about since it's been on my mind a lot recently is the whole diaper issue.  That's a big one, I think probably, for most new parents.  There's a big debate between disposables versus cloth.  I, actually, recently started using gDiapers, which are a flushable diaper, so they're somewhat, they're kind of, not really cloth or disposable, they're kind of in between.  They're basically, they have the same sort of eco-friendliness of cloth diapers but they are more convenient and more disposable.

Sean Dailey:  And a past guest of this program I should add, as well, for anybody listening who wants to check that episode out.
 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Oh, yeah, yeah.  Anyway, I love them.  I think they're great.  I highly recommend them.  So, i feel like in terms of the diapering that's by big recommendation. I also really love Under the Nile products.  They're, it's a company that does organic bedding for babies, they also do organic cotton teething toys, towels, clothing, and ones-ies, a lot of different organic cotton type products for babies.  And the stuff that they make is really, really cute and for me that's an important consideration in all this.  Obviously the sustainability is a big factor, and that's kind of the number one factor when I make some of my decisions about products, but I also think it's very important to find things that are aesthetically pleasing and bring you joy when you buy them, and when you use them, and when you interact with them.  So that's part of the reason why I love Under the Nile so much, because I actually just love, love using some of the toys with my baby, they're so cute. Another company I'll recommend is Oeuf, they make really beautiful sustainable furniture for babies and children.   
Sean Dailey:  How's that spelled.

Jill Fehrenbacher:  It's spelled like the French word.  It's spelled... 

 

Sean Dailey:  Like eggs.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Yeah, O-E-U-F, I believe.  I'm a big fan of the Adiri bottle.  Which is an anthropomorphic bottle.  It's a kind of boob, boob-like, in its form. The whole idea is, its meant to avoid nipple confusion if you're trying to bottle-feed a child.  Have them give up breast-feeding.  They're beautifully designed, beautiful to look at, for parents.  They're also ergonomic and more natural for babies to suck on and of course the materials that they are made out of are environmentally friendly and free from toxins.  So it's a good one.

 

Sean Dailey:  That must have been quite something for you to go from being exposed to these products and knowing about them from a research stand-point and blogger stand-point, to actually being a mom who's employing them and really finding out, first-hand, about them.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Yeah.  Yeah.  I mean, I think, it's been great in a way, because I think I have, maybe, an extra level of, maybe, interrogation for products I'm seeking out for my baby.  Really, everything I've started, when you start to look at something for yourself you approach it in a different sort of way than just a generic overview for an editorial.

 

Sean Dailey:  Yeah.  That's exactly what I was wondering.  So, I'm curious now, you talk about on both the Inhabitat as well as the Inhabitots site, there's this mantra that you guys have had all along about green design being good design and good design being green design.  I'm curious, what really, for you, constitutes good green design.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  I think it's when sustainability is just part of the whole design concept.  When sustainability is holistically already in the thought process behind the product design.  So there's products out there where you can tell that sustainability is sort of tacked on at the end.  And, you know, the product may have some environmental options but the aesthetics don't necessarily match or the aesthetics aren't very nice.  Or, sometimes the reverse situation is that you have a really sleek looking product that is not very sustainable or, the claims of sustainability just, kind of, sound like green-wash.  So I think what really is my ideal design is when issues of health and sustainability are issues that are thought about from the get-go and they're manifested in the form of the product 

 

Sean Dailey:  Yeah.  Well certainly, and anybody who might question the potential importance of design in products in consumer use need only look to Apple for an emphasis of the importance there.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Right.

 

Sean Dailey:  As well as a major success story.  And also, you mentioned gDiapers.  A great company.  I definitely want for Green Talk listeners to take a listen to that.  It's also a very inspiring business story.  Because Jason Graham-Nye, he and his wife, I believe they are from Australia, if I remember correctly.  It's just a very inspiring story of how they took, just as a couple, this business, and made it what it is today.  So, very inspiring from that stand-point as well.

We're going to take a break.  Our last break.  And we'll be right back on Green Talk Radio.  We're talking today with Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat and Inhabitots.  And we'll be right back after this short break.  Thanks everybody.
 

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[commercial] 16:18  Carlyle Flooring

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Sean Dailey:  Okay.  And we're back on Green Talk Radio.  Talking with Jill Fehrenbacher, she's the founder and editor-in-chief of the very popular green blogs Inhabitat.com and the new Inhabitots.com.  And, Jill, we were talking before the break just about some of the specifics about making these kinds of choices, as parents and as families.  And I'm just curious, do you see these kind of choices and changes being easily accessible for most parents?

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  I think so.  There's definitely a little bit of a hurdle.  People complain a lot, and rightly so, that environmentally friendly products and design tend to be more expensive.  And it's true, they often are.  Mostly the reason behind that is because when things are new and introduced to the market there's not a wide demand for them, of course the cost is usually higher, and usually it requires mass adoption and a lot of demand, and mass production for these types of products to go down in price.  So there's a little bit of that, but I think that we've seen that people are willing to pay a premium for environmentally friendly products.  And I think, certainly, design is a big component in terms of the accessibility as well. So I do think they're accessible and I think they're becoming more and more so as the demand is increasing for them.

 

Sean Dailey:  Yeah.  That is a huge area of debate right now. A huge topic of debate is, 'Should going green cost more green?'  We're seeing that a lot.  We get a lot on the greenlivingideas.com site.  We get a lot of email and reader comments along those lines.  And I've found that it sort of depends.  It seems to be very product and industry specific as to whether or not it does actually cost more, because you have mitigating factors, like when you start to involve re-use and recycling, there's a lower cost of sourcing components in some cases, not to generalize it but there are things that can mitigate it.  So I think you're right.  That there's a certain contingent of people, maybe the deeper greens that are willing to pay the premium, but there's also a contingent of people that say, 'Well, you know, especially with the economy the way it is, that, gee, they'd like too, but they can't afford it.  So I don't know if you're seeing that.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Yeah.  We definitely see that sort of push-back.  People complain about prices a lot in the comments section on Inhabitat.  The main thing I can say to them is to try to look at things from a longer term perspective.  Often, products will cost you a little more up-front eco-friendly products will cost you more up-front, but you'll save money in the long term.  Looking at things like solar power technology, or even consumer goods, like furniture, things that you have to pay a bit more for up-front, but they last a lot longer, or they bring you cost savings in form of energy for years and years.  It's like light as well, I suppose, you look at LEDS, actually LED light bulbs are quite expensive, but they last for 50 years, so they're really quite expensive if you compare them to a CFL or an incandescent bulb, but when you're looking at not having to change a light bulb for 50 years, that ends up becoming a better value in the long run.

 

Sean Dailey:  So it should be in a house you're planning on being in for a while.  Or, I guess you bring the bulbs with you too.
     

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Right, right.

 

Sean Dailey:  And you had mentioned solar panels.  There are companies, that's a very classically expensive proposition for people.  But we're seeing technologies and companies that are coming out with things like solar rentals, where to sort of mitigate those costs.  It's a very exciting time in the industry, just because there is such demand, that we are starting to see a lot of innovation to service that demand.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  You know, I can think of one more example, I suppose, but it may get a bit more personal.  I have this crib from Oeuf, that eco-baby-furniture company, and you  know, as far as cribs go it's probably on the expensive side of things, but there's a couple factors, one, it's convertible so it has these convertible features.  It's not just a crib.  You can use it as a changing table, and then it also converts to a toddler bed and you can use it for your kid until he's, like, 5 years old.  So, there's that. So basically, something you get a lot more use-value of than something that can only have a a kid in for a year or two and you can't do anything with it other than have it as a bed.  And then, of course, there's the materials that go into it.  You know, you think about the health issues.  Bedding is quite an important issue, I believe, in terms of health with your baby, because bedding is something that your infant is on a for a large portion of the time, because they spend so much time sleeping.  Of course you don't want any BOC's or toxic chemicals or anything like that near your baby's face while he's breathing when he's sleeping.  So that's again where I think the long term implications really make a higher price worth while.  I don't know if you can really measure the cost of health problems for your baby, but...

 

Sean Dailey:  Yeah.  It's one of those sort of priceless areas that there's zero tolerance...

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:   I actually think it's like a Mastercard commercial here.  That we are making.  Your baby's health: priceless.
   

Sean Dailey:  Yes it is.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  The point that I was trying to make is, it's not just about energy.  When you invest in something that's really high quality it's a good long term investment.

 

Sean Dailey:  Absolutely.  Well, so Jill with the existing success you've enjoyed, and you and your staff have enjoyed, with both Inhabitat and the new Inhabitots site, I wanted to ask, what's next for Jill Fehrenbacher?

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Well, I think I'm going to just try to enjoy doing Inhabitots and Inhabitat for a while and not try to go too crazy.  But at some point we're probably going to, maybe, try to roll out more specific sites the way we did with Inhabitots.  So possibly a fashion site.  That's another kind of more specific niche that I don't think all of our writers really want to read about, but I there's definitely a big contingent who do, so I think that would be a good sub-site to break out and possibly an architecture site as well.

 

Sean Dailey:  Great. We're, very much, excited to see any of that coming out, and we very much wish you continued success with the existing two sites, as well as with new motherhood.  And, my guest today has been Jill Fehrenbacher, she is a new mom, founder and editor-in-chief of the very popular green blogs Inhabitat and Inhabitots.  Jill, thank you again, so much, for being with us and taking the time. I know you have, you literally have your baby in the backgound.  Your husband is taking care of him.  And he was great today.  He didn't, we didn't hear a peep. We just really appreciate you taking the time.

 

Jill Fehrenbacher:  Thanks, so much, Sean.   

 

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Sean Dailey:  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 web site at www.greenlivingideas.com.  We'd also love hearing you comments, feedback and questions.  Send us an email at [email protected]