Concerned Mothers Everywhere
Mother Earth. Mother Nature. When it comes to environmentalism, mothers have always had good branding. And for good reason. Besides the obvious life-sustaining qualities inherent to motherhood, mothers are often responsible for instilling environmental awareness in their children, and for greening up the family.
Rachel Carson, often called the mother of the environmental movement -- thanks to the influence of her book about the environmental and health costs of chemical pesticides, Silent Spring -- was also a mother, to Roger Christie, her adopted son. Since Carson's day, we've only learned more about the insidious effects of toxic chemicals in our lives, and more about how fetuses, babies and young children are more susceptible to exposure than are adults.
For reminding us why providing a clean environment for the next generation matters, and fighting for what's right, we celebrate mothers.
Read on for more nominees for a 2009 Heart of Green award in the parenting category -- honoring those who protect children's health from toxic chemicals, and who foster their well-being by inspiring a love of the outdoors.
Green This! That's what Deirdre Imus wants us to do (via her book series: Greening Your Cleaning, Growing Up Green and the recently published The Essential Green You), and that's deserving of Heart of Green recognition.
But the book series is only Deirdre Imus's latest effort in a lifetime of work devoted to improving the health of children by reducing their exposure to toxic chemicals. After opening the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer with her husband, radio talk show host Don, Deirdre began to connect the dots between childhood illness and exposure to manmade chemicals. That led her to found the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center. Its mission? "Identify, control and ultimately prevent exposures to environmental factors that may cause adult, and especially pediatric cancer, as well as other health problems with our children." One of its biggest successes has been its "Greening the Cleaning" program to remove toxic substances from cleaning products. Approximately 500 businesses, including 70 healthcare institutions and 100 schools and school systems, have participated.
Why do so many children have asthma, allergies, autism, cancer, developmental problems and other diseases? Deirdre Imus is trying to find out, and helping inspire many more parents to ask the right questions. She is a winner of a 2009 Heart of Green award. See all 2009 Heart of Green Award winners, and Watch her acceptance speech!
National Wildlife Federation
Nature Deficit Disorder may not be a clinical diagnosis, but the malady appears to be real. Children sit in front of computer, video game and television screens during the time that they once spent playing outdoors. Whatever it signifies for their personal well-being, that means a generation of children is growing up without the same connection to nature that inspired so many conservationists in the past.
The National Wildlife Federation is doing something about it, by pioneering the "No Child Left Inside" concept (and law). Remember Ranger Rick? The iconic children's magazine was only the first in a series of NWF efforts to inspire kids to enjoy the outdoors. Others include:
- Green Hour, which promotes the idea that children should spend about an hour a day outdoors with unstructured play time and gives parents the tools they need to provide that time.
- Citizen science projects like Wildlife Watch, which uses reports of simple wildlife observations to help scientists understand the health of various species.
- The Great American Backyard Campout (June 27, 2009), which is just what it calls itself.
For helping us do right by our kids, the National Wildlife Federation deserves a Heart of Green.
Dr. Philip Landrigan
There is more than one Dr. Phil. A pioneering children's health advocate who helped convince the government to ban lead in paint and gasoline, Dr. Philip Landrigan has been the driving force behind the Children's Health Study, which began -- finally -- in January 2009. The study will follow 100,000 children from conception to age 21, documenting the environmental factors that contribute to good health, or to chronic disease. It is the single largest study of children's health ever attempted.
In the process, the study will develop the best set of data ever assembled about what causes disease, answering controversial questions about the origins of autism, diabetes, cancer and other significant health problems that keep parents up at night worrying about everything from nutrition to the toxicity of household cleaners. If it wasn't for Dr. Landrigan, politics may have killed the study before it started.
The Children's Health Study will be a milestone in our attempt to understand how exposure to chemicals affects the health of our children. For making sure we learn all we can from it, Dr. Landrigan deserves a Heart of Green.
People concerned about the safety of chemicals used in consumer products (yes, even rubber duckies) have long advocated for the so-called precautionary principle: Let a chemical be proven safe before it is used in commerce.
If there's a "Precautionary State" in this union, it is California. In 2009, California became the first state in the nation to ban children's products made with phthalates -- the hormone-mimicking ingredient found in many plastics, fragrances and other goods. Several big retailers, and ultimately the federal government, followed suit with their own plans to phase out phthalates.
Perhaps more significantly, California has taken its first steps toward a more precautionary approach to regulation that would stop chemical-by-chemical legislation and instead aim to comprehensively weed out suspect chemicals and replace them with more benign options. With some 80,000 chemicals in use, it's no small task.
For exercising caution when it comes to public health -- and particularly children's health -- California is showing other states the way.
For nearly two decades, Healthy Child Healthy World (formerly known as the Children's Health Environmental Coalition) has been working to educate the public and policy makers about what we can do to raise our children in an environment free of toxic substances.
A year ago, Christopher Gavigan, the executive director of the influential nonprofit, took the message to a new level with the publication of the group's eponymous Healthy Child Healthy World, a star-studded tome (look for contributions by Meryl Streep, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Hanks, Tobey Maguire and others) packed with tips for greening everything from your pregnancy to your pets.
The book, like the organization, is an essential resource, and Christopher Gavigan deserves a Heart of Green.
Cornell University's Garden-Based Learning Program
A schoolyard garden makes perfect sense. Students learn real-world skills, experience nature and small-scale farming up close -- and in some cases, even learn a little business savvy as they market produce in their communities.
But how is a teacher to get started and design a curriculum that really engages her students?
Cornell University has the answers, with its Greener Voices program and other garden-based learning initiatives. The Ithaca, N.Y., university did three years of research to develop student gardening programs for all grade levels that really work, and it continues to test them in programs across New York, with a special emphasis on underserved communities. The information and expertise is shared freely on the Web, so any teacher can start an effective program.
For teaching essential green living skills to the next generation, Cornell's Garden-Based Learning initiative deserves a Heart of Green.
Bill Thompson III
When Bill Thompson III set out to write a birding books for kids, he turned to an obvious source of expertise: his daughter Phoebe's elementary school class in rural Ohio. His Young Birder's Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America was focus-grouped at every stage by its audience.
The result is a book that has similarities to a guide marketed at adults -- with all the field markings, range maps and other information you need to identify a bird that flies by or chirps nearby. But to appeal to kids, the book also has plenty of photos and illustrations, and plenty of "wow" facts like this one: "The Loggerhead Shrike and its relative the Northern Shrike have the folk name of Butcherbird for their habit of impaling prey on thorns or fence wire as a butcher hangs out slabs of meat."
Ewwwwwww. Thanks, Bill. You've got a Heart of Green.
The Ecology Center
Like a clown in a horror movie, there's nothing scarier than a good thing gone bad. Because toys should deliver joy, we're appalled if they instead steal health -- which is why scandals about lead, phthalates and other toxic and suspect materials in toys have caused such public outrage.
But the scandal goes beyond the toxicity of the toy to the failure of government regulators to catch these problem toys before parents buy them. That's where the Ecology Center and its site, HealthyToys.org, come in. By testing toys and publicizing results in ways government regulators do not, HealthyToys.org every year identifies toys that contain potentially harmful levels of hazardous substances like lead, arsenic and mercury. Those findings prompt retailers and manufacturers to pull toys from the shelves, prompt more investigations by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and prompt Congress to tighten testing requirements.
For telling us the truth, however ugly, the Ecology Center deserves a Heart of Green for HealthyToys.org.
Environmental Working Group
We expect businesses to be cautious about the chemicals they use, and we expect government agencies to stop the use of any harmful chemicals. But in practice, some 80,000 chemicals are found in U.S. products, and only a fraction have even been assessed for potential health risks.
When independent scientists begin to identify chemicals of concern, it often seems that industry is quick to defend the chemical, and government is slow to take the risks seriously. The Environmental Working Group would never be criticized for being too slow (though it does take hits for being overly alarming). When a chemical is identified as a concern, this nonprofit group is out there publicizing the worrying scientific results, publishing lists of products that include the suspect chemical and arguing for alternatives.
In recent months, the Environmental Working Group has raised concerns about everything from sunscreens to bottled water to children's bath products and cosmetics. For providing information concerned parents need (even if it means causing us more anxiety in the process), Environmental Working Group deserves a Heart of Green.