Gillian Deacon

Award-winning broadcaster and bestselling author Gillian Deacon is one of Canada’s best-known environmental writers. She is the author of the national bestsellers There’s Lead in Your Lipstick: Toxins in Everyday Bodycare and How to Avoid Them and Green For Life, a guide to making sustainable living ‘the new normal’. Find out more about Gillian at
green living
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It takes just two weeks to form a new habit (or break a bad one), so why not make a commitment to implement a greener routine that can save money, make a lasting impact on the environment and positively affect the health of your family.

So here’s my challenge to you—commit to making four small and simple changes which can be incorporated into your family’s daily routine that will make a lasting impact on the environment and the health of everyone involved. Greener doesn’t have to cost you more time or money, so get your family involved. Empower them to be a part of the change with these four easy steps and make sustainable living the new ‘normal’ in your home.

Step 1: The Litterless Lunch

As a mom, when I recognized the impact of prepared, packaged and processed foods on our bodies and the environment, I knew that I had to make a change. By swapping out disposable packaging for reusable lunch carriers and avoiding prepared foods, you’ll be saving money, the environment and improving the health of your child. Here’s how:

  • Reusable lunch carrier – The SnackTAXI is a great option in place of the plastic or paper bags often used to carry lunches.
  • Reusable containers – Stainless steel, glass or an alternative wrap like the Wrap-N-Mat can be used in place of plastic wrap or foil.
  • Stainless steel or glass drink bottle – Opt for stainless steel, glass or my favourite—the Otterbottle—instead of single-use cans or juice boxes.

Step 2: Watch How You Wash

Keep in mind that while you are making an investment in a healthy and more sustainable lunch, it’s important to investigate what you are using to wash and keep your lunch containers clean. Many dish and laundry soaps contain petrochemicals (derived directly from oil). So wherever possible, look to wash your lunch bags and containers with plant-derived, non-toxic dish soap. I make sure the following on are my shopping list:

  • A natural dish soap – Plant-derived dish soap like Free & Clear Natural Dish Liquid can effectively clean the grease, grime and dirt left in your child’s stainless steel and glass containers while making sure there’s no dangerous residue left to contaminate lunch.
  • Natural all-purpose spray – I’m constantly cleaning my countertops of sticky fingerprints but want to make sure those same counters are safe to place food on, so I opt for a plant-based cleaner like Free & Clear All Purpose Kitchen Spray which lets me do both.
  • A plant-based concentrated laundry detergent – At the end of the week when it comes time to wash lunch bags, cloth napkins and the kid’s clothes, I choose a highly concentrated detergent like Seventh Generation’s 4X formula which let’s me get more loads per bottle and is safe to use on my family.

Step 3: Choose a Fun, Fit and Sustainable Route to School

Getting to school has an enormous impact on our environment as well as our health. With an estimated 1.6 million children in Canada (26% per cent of children) considered overweight or obese, it’s a wonder more parents don’t look at making healthy transportation options a part of their daily lives. Here’s a few ways to work health, cost and environmentally-friendly options into your getting to school routine:

  • Start a walking school bus with children or families in the area. Walking is the greenest way to travel and does the least damage to the environment. Find ways to either walk with or ensure your children join forces with other families who travel the same path to school.
  • Make the investment in two and four wheeled methods of transportation such as a bike, new scooter or skateboard to make the trip to school fun and fit.
  • Create a carpool. Find out which days work best for the drivers, and create a schedule and a system for notifying other members of the pool if someone isn’t riding on a particular day.

Step 4: Rebrand Responsibility

It’s important to engage your kids in the school preparation and planning process to help set them up for success. This means that kids must be involved in organizing their snacks and lunches for the week, they should help clean and select their clothing and should also be in charge of creating their weekly schedules (including chores, sports practices, music lessons, etc). Most importantly though, they need to understand why it is important that they choose environmentally-friendly products.

After having many conversations with my own children about the environment and what it means to do our part, I recognized that a big part of teaching stewardship is ingraining responsibility into the fabric of your household.

Overall, it’s never too late to set a new standard of what you and your family can do to help care for the environment.

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Environmental saving opportunities for your family
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With Earth Day quickly approaching, going green is top of mind for many—my family included. But instead of trying to live green for one day or one month, what if you and your family made a long-term commitment to reducing your environmental footprint?

I’ve recently discovered millions of homes across the country share a dirty little secret—Canadian households typically have three zones that can consume up to 60% of energy usage. However, by making small, mindful changes, families can turn their impact from negative to positive. 
In my books, Green For Life and There’s Lead in Your Lipstick, I talk about the small and easy changes families can incorporate into their day-to-day lives to eliminate harmful chemicals, save on energy costs and leave you feeling good about your environmental footprint. By focusing on each area as a ‘greenable zone’, it is possible to unlock countless environmental saving opportunities. 

The first step is to identify which areas of your life have the most potential for green living—if your family is anything like mine, you undoubtedly spend the most time in the kitchen and there are several simple changes that can be made:

  • What are you cleaning your countertops with? Our food is in direct contact with whatever chemical ingredients we use to clean kitchen surfaces, so make sure to avoid hazardous toxins in your kitchen cleaning products.
  • Keep a pitcher of cold water filled from the tap in your fridge. Why? The water helps maintain the cool temperature inside and allows your refrigerator to work more effectively at a lower temperature.
  • Did you know a simple sheet of paper can help detect heat loss from your stove? Use Gill’s simple paper trick to discover if your stove is leaking the heat you’ve spent good money on for baking and cooking.
  • Ever wonder why your dishwasher has a delay button? Many newer model washers allow you to set a later time for dishwashing so your energy consumption occurs during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lower and energy consumption is less taxing to the grid.

Where does an estimated 65% of your home’s total indoor water use take place? The bathroom. In this room, small simple changes can make a big impact:

  • Start a family shower challenge and save on water and energy use by reducing the amount of time everyone spends under the hot water. Set a timer in the shower; the goal is five minutes, but you can work your way down in increments. See which family member can take the shortest showers.
  • Install a low-flow showerhead to make your shower pressure feel stronger while actually using less water. Available at any hardware store, the low-flow showerhead is a no-brainer.
  • Be aware of the product you use to clean your sink and tub. Non-biodegradable chemicals impact our water supply and also come in contact with small children taking baths.

As Canadians, there are many alternatives that we can start to integrate into our daily lives that will help make the planet a cleaner, healthier and more enjoyable place to live. The laundry room is the final room in the house where small changes can make a big difference:

  • Overhaul your laundry shelf by purchasing products that only offer biodegradable detergents, and packaging made from post consumer waste.  Seventh Generation for example makes a biodegradable and non-toxic detergent that even comes in a fully compostable package.
  • What is the cheapest and easiest way to avoid static cling before it happens? Scrunch up a ball of tinfoil and toss it in the dryer to eliminate static electricity.
  • To prolong the lifespan of your washing machine, clean it once a year by running a full (light) cycle with 2 cups of white vinegar.

There are lots of great online resources that offer tips and tricks on how to live a greener life—education is the key. I follow several green companies online for daily tips and green giveaways; my personal favourite is Seventh Generation.

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