Why be a green parent?

Buy, give to a friend or order for your local library from 1 July 2010.

Why being green is a journey new parents can make one washable nappy at a time.

Hello – Nicola Baird here – I’ve just been asked to speak about why it’s important for us as parents to be green at the NCT Big Weekend conference (15-16 May). It’s a bit of a clumsy talk title but hopefully will make sure that I don’t cover any of the info by the next speaker, Sally J Hall, reknowned author of Eco Baby: a green guide to parenting, see her website, who is due to provide conference-goers with tips on being green.

So why be green?
When I was asked two years ago write a book about bringing up baby green by a commissioning publisher at Random House (Clare with four children all younger than mine) we reckoned there was no point telling new parents to be green. The facts are scary enough. I’ve seen them printed everywhere. I’ve written about them too in magazine features and books like Save Cash & Save the Planet (Collins, 2005) which I co-wrote for Friends of the Earth. There are icebergs melting, climate changing gases warming the world, sea levels rising, more extreme temperatures and weather events, crops failing, people dying, Norfolk and Lincolnshire underwater… It’s grim when you think about it.

But knowing all the grim statistics doesn’t seem to translate into changed behaviour. As we know from the recent general election there’s only one Green MP (admittedly Caroline Lucas is the first ever in the UK…) and climate change has not been a key focus of any of the three pre-election debates despite all the efforts by organisations like 10:10 to make being green a win-lose issue.

Driving, flying, holidaying overseas, buying stuff, throwing stuff out, eating air-freighted food etc is still totally normal behaviour. In fact not doing these things (especially if you are well off) seems a bit weird.

Meet Hailey – she’s having a nappy crisis
At the publishers Clare suggested I thought about Hailey, a net-savvy imaginary mum. So as I was writing my book I was thinking if Hailey had a nappy crisis it didn’t matter if she had bought new bamboo nappies, or been given second hand cloth nappies or was using a council grant to try a nappy laundry service what did matter was what she would do when the nappies leaked – give up or stick it out? What were the least bad options for the planet depending on her own circumstances? I did the same with food, getting around, dealing with toy mountains at birthdays, etc. And so a chapter plan was worked up to create a book to guide Hailey in her journey to be a greener parent.

Future proofing
We didn’t set out to make being green the latest baby-rearing craze (although it’s a bit of a wish in a far-off part of my mind). Instead the book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children, shows how being a green parent is a way of future proofing against the consequences and challenges of climate change… You could say it’s a journey new mums can make one washable nappy at a time.

And it’s a journey you may want to take, or are already taking. And if so please share this blog around, or add some ideas for me and others to enjoy/use with our children.

Feeling worried?
Having a baby focuses the mind sharply on the future.

Back in March the NCT got pollsters Ipsos MORI to find out what new parents worry about. The results show that three-quarters of parents and expectant parents (74 per cent) feel there is too much pressure to buy unnecessary baby products. Advice and shopping lists tend to come in packs created by commercial companies and quickly lock vulnerable new parents into thinking if I don’t get this product (cot, cot bumpers, big buggy, safety gate, breast pump etc – you know what I mean) then I’m not giving my baby the best.

Emma & Gabriel: has a sling made by a friend's mum and adapted a table for nappy changes.

>> Translated this makes many of us feel like a bad parent even before we’ve started being a parent…

The irony is that buying less would be far better for the planet and our cash flow (another survey I found while researching my book reckons it costs nearly £200,000 to raise a child in the UK from birth until 21 years – and that’s not including school fees). And if you aren’t being forced to work all the time to pay the bills you can then spend more time with your child (if that’s what you want). The pix left and below of new parents Emma and Cristiano with their babies show case a few of the ideas included in Homemade Kids.

Cristiano made 10 nappies for his daughter Electra for the same price as one real nappy costs.

A new kind of shopping

Living green – making less waste, learning with your baby, valuing local life – is not a theory, it’s a practical, hands-on response to climate change which provides ideas for raising happy, healthy and creative children. I hope reading Homemade Kids gives families confidence to buck commercialism. Here’s one idea for soon-to-be parents, instead of heading to the shops/baby fairs ask your friends and family what they thought was a brilliant baby product, and then see if you can borrow it, or find on eBay at an NCT sale or if you’re lucky on Freecycle or a Give & Take event. Or buy something which is well made so it will last for years or comes with a story rather than in a branded plastic bag/box.

If we’re all lucky the search for the best for your baby will lead you on an eco-friendly track towards healthy foods, strong communities, childcare swaps/babysitting circles and the creativity to tackle climate change any way possible.

PS: If you are coming to my talk on why be green at the NCT event in Telford, fantastic. And… please don’t worry as my talk will have different words, in a different order and some more nice pictures of some of the brilliant mums and dads quoted in the book. Hopefully see you then. Nicola x

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