Episode 150: TreeHugger's Green Gift Guide

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GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks about the history of TreeHugger.com, green holiday tips, and going green to save green with Meghan O'Neill, Editor of the popular websites TreeHugger.com and PlanetGreen.com.

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Sean Daily:  He everybody, this is Sean Daily, host of Green Talk Radio.  If you haven’t already, I want to encourage you to subscribe to GreenLivingIdeas.com’s “Green Ideas” monthly newsletter.  Every issue of the newsletter is packed full of tips and information to help you live a greener more sustainable life, including topics like renewable energy, alternative fuel vehicles and transportation, 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.

Sean Daily:  Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from GreenLivingIdeas.com.  Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to live 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 everyone, welcome to Green Talk Radio.  This is your host Sean Daily.  We have another installment today in our green blogger series.  You know you can’t really even talk about the green blogosphere without a mention of the site TreeHugger.com, which since its launch in 2004 has been one of the leading green sites on the internet, and I’m very honored today to have a guest on the program which is Meagan O’Neill.  She’s the editor at TreeHugger and PlanetGreen.com which are both part of Discovery Communications, home of the Discovery Channel.

ThreeHugger is the web’s leading website for cutting edge news and ideas about everything green.  PlannetGreen.com is the online arm of Discovery Communication multi platform network which launched a 24 hour green lifestyle programming last June.  Both sites are dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream.  In addition to helping launch TreeHugger in 2004, Megan has contributed to publications as diverse as Men’s Journal, Teen Vouge, and Slate.com.  She’s also the co-author of the book “Ready Set Green:  Eight Weeks to Modern Eco Living,” and says the igloo home chicken coop topped her Christmas list.  I want to talk to you about that a little later Megan, but first I want to welcome you to Green Talk Radio.

Meghan O’Neill:  Well Thank you so much.  Thank you for that kind introduction.

Sean Daily:  Well my pleasure, it’s an honor to have you on the program.  Clearly, I mean, TreeHugger was a real inspiration for me with GreenLivingIdeas.com and certainly of this podcast.  With everything you guys have done you’ve certainly been the leading sight, and I can only imagine what the ride has been like for you over the last four, almost five years, now.  Has it been a wild ride?

Meghan O’Neill:  It has.  It’s been realy cool to see this whole crazy thing grow.  You know, when we started TreeHugger in August of 2004 we sort of didn’t know what was going to happen.  We pretty quickly saw that there was an audience that was hungry for it, but we didn’t know how big it would grow.  So, a couple of years ago we really say a sea change when a little movie called “An Inconvenient Truth” came out.  There was certainly a more massive more mainstream sort of call to action and hunger for information, but It’s really grown really quickly and it’s been amazing to see how fast other sites have come up on the web.

Sean Daily:  Now were you there with Grahm right from the beginning?

Meghan O’Neill:  Yeah, pretty much.  I started out as pretty much the only writer.  It was me and Graham and we had a designer, Frederico Solca, and Nick Aster was sort of our media architect.  We slowly but surely built up to a team that now includes about sixty correspondents from all points of the globe.  Started tiny, blossomed quickly.

Sean Daily:  I should say so:  Sold to Discovery for ten million dollars.  One of the real darlings of the whole blogosphere, not just the green blogosphere, but a real success story.  Certainly, congratulations on all the success.  You guys have done some amazing things.  I know that you guys have a real focus this year, and it’s near the holiday time as we’re recording this, In know you have a real focus as you do each year on issues around the holidays and ways for people to go green and save green during the holiday season.  I was hoping we could talk a little bit about that.  I know that you do particularly have this go green to save green focus.  Can you tell us a little bit about that and what TreeHugger is doing about that?

Meghan O’Neill:  Yeah, this is our third year doing the “Green Gift Guide.”  We started out a few years ago thinking, “We want to prove to the world that you can buy really cool green gifts for everyone on your list,” so we came up with a bunch of different categories and showed everything that was out there.   This year we really wanted to show people that even in this down economy, even with everything else that’s going on, and the [xx] people that you have to buy for, there really are a lot of gifts that you can get that are cool, that are green, that are going to help people go green, and that are really affordable.  Our gift guide really focuses on that this year.  We’ve also, of course, got all sorts of tips across both websites to help you be more energy efficient, a better consumer, and all that green stuff that comes with holiday celebrating.

Sean Daily:  Sure.  Now Mega, in your estimation how can giving green in the holiday season or anytime really help really reduce waste and financial strain?  The economy is equally, if not more, on peoples mind right now than the environment. 

Meghan O’Neill:  Definitely, well a lot of the gifts that we focus on are meant to, for example, we have a green geeks section.  A lot of them focus on energy saving devices.  For example, we have a desktop computer that is pretty low price point at five hundred bucks and it uses about seventy percent less energy than a typical desktop.  It’s a Dell PC.  They’ve also reduced significantly reduced the amount of literature that they put in there and they’re also planting a tree to offset approximately the first three years of energy use with the computer.  So there’s a good example of a gift.  Probably on the higher price point level of a gift itself but relatively inexpensive for a computer, so a good gift for a teen or a college student or something like that.  It’s something that is money saving; it’s also going to help you save money over the lifetime of the product.  It’s a product where the manufacturer has thought about the green aspects of the item itself.

Sean Daily:  We’re seeing a lot of these eco computers now.  It was interesting, actually, almost a contrarians thing happened, that Apple was listed at the bottom of a list recently of eco friendly companies.  Did that surprise you when Apple made the bottom of that list, or toward the bottom?

Meghan O’Neill:  Are you talking about the Apple, I mean sorry, the Green Piece List?

Sean Daily:  Yes, the Green Piece list this week or the other day.

Meghan O’Neill:  Well Green Piece, when they came out with that list about a year ago, caught a lot of flack for being unfair to Apple and drawing a lot of inaccurate attention to Apple.  It turned out to be both good and bad.  Apple sort of stepped up to the plate a little bit to stay just enough ahead of the curve to know probably that they have a customer that is probably pretty eco savvy.  The typical Mac users, Ipod buyer, is probably a young pretty hip person that is probably pretty eco savvy.

Sean Daily:  Yean.

Meghan O’Neill:  So, I do applaud Apple on one end for doing that, but I don’t think they’re by any means the greenest company out there.  They still have a long way to go, as do a lot of companies.  The electronics industry in general is a tough one because we can’t make these things without creating a lot of waste and using a lot of toxic material.  Of course the biggest issue is with E-waste, but at the same time we can’t move forward without all the technological improvements that we’re making every day.  That’s going to be part of how we move ahead as a species.  I mean our technologies are what is really pushing us ahead.

Sean Daily:  There is a certain irony there in that we need the technology that has the toxic by product and these issues but does advance the overall sustainability movement, at least in a lot of people’s minds, including my own.

Meghan O’Neill:  Yeah, I think there’s no way around that.  On the other hand, our tech writer, Jamie Himebach, wrote a really great post recently about underrated and overrated technologies.  We have tendency to instantly turn to technology to solve all of our problems, but we forget that the simplest thing is the . . . you know . . . the simplest thing out there.  Do you buy the great hybrid care or do you just stop driving so much and use your bike?  Sometimes the low tech solution is actually the best thing out there.

Sean Daily:  Yeah.  Or do you shop at Whole Foods or another market or do you get a chicken coupe in your back yard, as I have and it sounds like you either have or want to get?

Meghan O’Neill:  I want one.  I’m jealous of you.

Sean Daily:  The only issue is that we’ve had some fox issues.  It’s been kind of difficult on the kids because we had a fox issue.  We lost a couple of chickens.  It can be a little painful at times but for the most part.  But. I’ll tell you, once get used to those eggs, the problem is that it spoils you for all other eggs on the planet.  We can’t even eat the best of organic brown, you know what ever they have at the store.  

Meghan O’Neill:  Yeah, it’s amazing when you really start to know your food.  Doesn’t it?

Sean Daily:  Yeah, it’s true.  It really shows you the difference.  Changing gears a little bit, I want to talk to you about, although I love talking about chickens – I could talk about them all day.  I wanted to talk to you about another issue around holidays that people are concerned about who are sort of environmentally friendly, or want to be more environmentally friendly.  What do you think about packaging and wrapping, wasting gift cards?  Are these still viable in having an eco friendly Christmas or eco friendly holiday season, I should say?

Meghan O’Neill:  I think they are.  I think we just have to be smart about how we do it.  For a lot of people the packaging is as important as giving the gift.  I don’t think that there isn’t a value to that.  If you’re one of those people who absolutely has to have wrapping paper go for it, but you really have to choose paper made from post-consumer recycle content and you have to make sure it’s recyclable.  If you can’t find it in yourself to give up the wrapping paper please do so, I guess is the message.  Use a simple bow.  Use a reusable gift bag.  Wrap it in beautiful cloth.  There are so many alternatives out there that I think there are a lot of options.  Our waste goes up between Thanksgiving and New Years by about 25% nationwide.  That’s pretty significant.  So with all the stuff that we’re giving and getting and tossing out we’re tossing out enormous amounts of garbage even before we start to use a product.  I think dematerializing the holidays in general, not just in the packaging and the wrapping, but also in what you’re giving and getting, is also really important.

Sean Daily:  So Megan, what are some of your favorite gifts in this year’s guide?

Meghan O’Neill:  Well, as you know the igloo chicken coupe; I’m just in love with, but more for the chickens than for the coupe itself.  Some of the other stuff that I love is, we have a big focus on gifts that give back this year and we have a really triptych philanthropy section.  One of the things that I think is really awesome is the new site called Microplace; it’s a micro loan, micro financing . . .

Sean Daily:  Like Kiva?

Meghan O’Neill:  Yeah like Kiva.

Sean Daily:  Kiva.

Meghan O’Neill:  And it . . .

Sean Daily:  It’s like Teva, like the shoe company

Meghan O’Neill:  Teeva, Teva.

Sean Daily:  Everyone calls it T-E-E-V-A, its T-E-V-A, yeah.  Thank you though . . .

Meghan O’Neill:  Microplace is the same idea.  It’s micro loans.  What they’re doing this year is for as little as $25, $50, $100, something that makes a pretty significant change in the life of somebody who’s living in poverty, you can donate, excuse me, it’s not really a donation, it’s an investment really, in somebody else’s name and you get a piggy bank back which is really sweet.

Some other things that I love in there:  The voltaic solar backpack which we’ve featured before on TreeHugger.  It’s just a solar backpack, a backpack with solar panels on the back or it that you can plug in your phone, your laptop, your MP3 player and you charge on the go.  It’s great for outdoorsy types, it’s great for people who travel a lot.  I love the idea of it because I hate being stuck in the airport without something to plug into and it solves that problem.

Sean Daily:  That’s a very cool thing, that’ a very cool backpack.

Meghan O’Neill:  We just announced today a new product by Voltaic; they have significantly improved the chargeability of the panels so you can actually, with about four hours of sunlight now, you can recharge your laptop.  That’s a lot faster than anything else that’s out there right now.  This is a really cool product.

Another think that I really love in this year’s guide, there’s a pair of boots by Tom’s Shoes, and for people that are familiar with the company, Tom’s Shoes are like these really simple slip ons that took the world by storm and became popular in the fashion scene.  For every pair of shoes you buy from Tom’s they donate a pair to kids in need.  These boots are really cool looking; they are all cloth, but they wrap around up your leg almost like an Ace bandage so they’re really simple and durable, but they’re really cool looking.  That’s one of my other favorite things on the list.

Sean Daily:  Very cool.  I’m just curious, what are your top tips for people out there that are listening in that are looking to go green throughout this holiday season.  Both in terms of the holiday and gifting and some of the things we’ve talked about, but also food and things like that.

Meghan O’Neill:  I think one of the most important things that people can do is to talk to their friends and family about what they want to do for the holidays.  For example, a couple of years ago my family and I decided we were going to do a gift grab; we grabbed names out of a hag and each person only buys for one person instead of everyone having to buy for everyone.  It has relived so much stress for us during the holidays because you’re not under this money crunch, your not under this time crunch, you’re not so stressed about thinking about what to buy for every person and you don’t end up running up to the mall at the last minute and blowing your budget and buying something that somebody doesn’t really want. 

I think if you can talk about what’s important to your friends and family.  If that’s okay, doing something like that, you can really start to dematerialize.  I know a lot of friends who say let’s skip the presents this year and get together and do a nice dinner and cocktails or something like that.

Sean Daily:  I agree.  It seems like human experience is the greatest gift.  Take a vacation together or like you said just go out and hangout.  That seems the most precious of all gifts.  I really hope there is a general swing to that and I hope this is an opportunity for us to reconnect with those things that are important.

Meghan O’Neill:  I agree with you.  Of course, in some instances there’s no replacement for a gift under the tree or handing somebody something.  For example, I have a child, you said you have kids, the really get a thrill and we really get a thrill out of seeing that light on their face; just the idea of unwrapping, the surprise, right?

Sean Daily:  Absolutely.

Meghan O’Neill:  There’s a place and a time for that stuff but I think in general we’ve gotten to a point where we’re so hyper about giving something that we end up giving, we have given so much crap and there’s so much waste that goes along with it.  I think this season in particular with the downturn in the economy is allowing people to step back and say, “What is it that we care about?”

Sean Daily:  That’s true, and I think that it’s difficult for many of us who grew up with the mountain of presents under the tree.  Even when times were tough I knew that my parents would make sure that the kids really felt that magic of Christmas which was, not entirely but part of that, was the idea of Santa leaving presents, a mountain of presents under the tree.  It sets the bare very high and tradition is by nature tradition and difficult to change.  I think it’s an opportunity for us to modify tradition.  To reinvent it in ways that connect us to our families better and are a little more economically sustainable as well as planetarilly sustainable.

Meghan O’Neill:  Yeah . . .

Sean Daily:  Go ahead.

Meghan O’Neill:  I was just going to say, that also leads to another one of our tips this year that we’ve been talking about which is to choose quantity over quality.  I’m sorry, the opposite:  Quality over quantity.  Of course you’re going to buy something, but why not buy . . . if you’re going to spend . . . I’d rather get a really nice pair of socks that cost twenty bucks than that cheap shower radio that’s going to fall apart in six months.

Sean Daily:  Exactly.

Meghan O’Neill:  I think that quality in things you care about are sustainable.  That’s part of going green too, I think.

Sean Daily:  Yeah.  Great.  How about on the holiday festivities and food side of things?

Meghan O’Neill:  I think there is a lot we can do here.  I think the first thing that people can do is ditch the cheap holiday decor.  We see a lot of . . .

Sean Daily:  The Garland.

Meghan O’Neill:  Garland . . . well some garlands are nice; fresh pine garlands.  I see a lot of those blow up Winnie the Pooh snow globes, the plastic stuff, and that sort of thing.  It’s so easy to decorate with natural materials from our own back yards or from a farm or whatever it is that’s something that’s really easy to do.  It’s really easy to switch to LED light which use a lot less energy; everybody knows that by now.  Anybody that hasn’t taken the step to swap them out yet really really should.  Those are some good tips for decorating.

For food it’s really the same as it always is:  Buy local.  Even in the most remote areas and in the coldest times you can usually still get eggs, meat, milk, and cheese local in most places.  I think that’s true.  Keeping it as local as possible, organic when you can’t.  Not overdoing it; not cooking for ten when you only have four people coming.  Using reusable flatware and glasses and plates.  It’s easy to rent that stuff if you don’t have enough when you’re having a party instead of using disposable stuff.  It’s really not harder to use, I don’t think.  Those are the top food tips I think.

Sean Daily:  Well that’s great.  Here’s the sixty four thousand dollar question, where can our listeners find the gift guide on line?

Meghan O’Neill:  TreeHugger.com/giftguide

Sean Daily:  Easy enough.

Meghan O’Neill: [laughter]

Sean Daily:  Well Megan O’Neil, it’s been a pleasure to have you on Green Talk Radio today.  I’m so glad we finally got to sort of meet, virtually at least – at last.  I look forward to hopefully having you back again in the future to talk more and we wish you much continued luck in the meantime, continued success with TreeHugger and PlannetGreen.com.

Meghan O’Neill:  Well thank you so much.  It’s been a pleasure to be here, and happy holidays to you.

Sean Daily:  Happy holidays to you.

Meghan O’Neill:  Thank you very much.

Sean Daily:  Thanks as always to everyone listening in today.  Remember, for more free on demand podcast, articles, videos, and other information related to living a greener lifestyle, visit our website www.GreenLivingIdeas.com.  We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions.  Send us an e-mail at [email protected]