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Do One Green Thing

Do One Green Thing

3.4 15
by Mindy Pennybacker, Meryl Streep (Foreword by)

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If you can only read and reference one green thing, make it this book: an easily comprehensible, clearly presnted source for green living. Everything you need to know is right here at your fingertips. Unlike a lot of other overwhelming green guides on the market, this is green decision making in bite sized pieces.With chose it/lose it comparisons throughout,


If you can only read and reference one green thing, make it this book: an easily comprehensible, clearly presnted source for green living. Everything you need to know is right here at your fingertips. Unlike a lot of other overwhelming green guides on the market, this is green decision making in bite sized pieces.With chose it/lose it comparisons throughout, now it's simple to figure out it's worth switching to a green detergent, what kind of plastic your sports bottle is made of, or which fish is safest to eat. Rather than spending time trying to figure out how best to go green, use this book and devote that time to making the difference.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“One green thing: It's so simple. This book takes the pressure off by giving you one easy but effective choice to make in each basic area of your life... Do One Green Thing makes me feel happy and confident that more positive change is afoot, and that we all have an important and rewarding part to play.” —Meryl Streep

“Provides multiple lists on good and bad choices for dozens of products and uses… Pennybacker includes not only "Choose it/Lose it" tables but also clearly elucidates why one should reach for canned wild salmon caught in Alaska as opposed to its farmed equivalent from the eastern seaboard.... The format and language are clear, and the outlook is determined as Pennybacker lays it all on the line for those eager to change, and leaves readers with no excuses for not starting immediately.” —Booklist

“Mindy Pennybacker has provided a nifty catalogue of how to live more lightly on the earth. You'll learn a good deal here, especially about how simple small changes can be.” —Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“The clearest, easiest-to-use, and most reliable guide to green living that I've seen, from one of our best all-round authorities on the topic.” —Bob Schildgen, environment advice columnist for Sierra, the national magazine of the Sierra Club and author of the popular collection Hey Mr. Green

“This is a lovely book. Practical and down-to-earth, it encourages each of us to follow our best aspirations, to take simple steps to improve our planet and enhance our own health and the health of all our children.” —Philip J. Landrigan, MD, author of Raising Children Toxic Free

“Helpful "Choose It" and "Lose It" charts and other graphics make it easy to make the green choice. The attractive, magazine-like layout makes this a book you'll be likely to thumb through often.” —Sierraclub.com

“This is the book I've been waiting for. Well researched and compactly presented, Do One Green Thing makes it quick and easy to decide what's best for our families, the planet, and the world's farmers. From pesticides and produce to nanotechnology and sunblocks, Pennypacker translates the latest research into concrete advice enabling every consumer to go green.” —Margaret Mellon, senior scientist and director of the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists

“Now you can stop making excuses and go green in a way that suits you, and that you understand. Do One Green Thing is a trove of good advice that is fun to read. Added to that, Mindy's done all the hard work. This is a wonderful book.” —Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prizewinning author of A Thousand Acres

“Do one green thing: Take this book with you when you shop!” —Dani Shapiro, author of Slow Motion and Devotion: A Memoir

“Why feel guilty when this wonderful book makes it so easy to feel—and be—green?” —Kenneth Cook, President, Environmental Working Group

“Pennybacker cuts through the clutter of green retail claims, offering advice that’s clear and concise. Heed her words, then spend your newfound time taking political action—she tells us how—to protect our planet.” —Elizabeth Royte, author of Garabageland and Bottlemania

“Mindy's mantra is "keep it simple" and for all of us who juggle work, families and the hope of being kind to the planet, this book is an outstanding primer to read on the checkout line. A must-read for easy but meaningful things you can do keep your family and the planet healthy and happy.” —Tensie Whelan, President, Rainforest Alliance

“Do One Green Thing is a handy guide full of practical tips for everyday green living. I hope it inspires many people to do many green things…for their well-being and the survival of our planet. ” —Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund

Library Journal
Pennybacker, former editor in chief of the Green Guide, advocates small but meaningful changes in eating, home, grooming, and transportation. Her coverage is good but not encyclopedic, with researched pro and con arguments to sway the reader. The home section is similar to Bruce Harley's Cut Your Energy Bills Now but does not include the how-to instruction. Overall, this is an intelligent, well-presented book with a clear agenda.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Do One Green Thing

Saving the Earth through Simple Everyday Choices

By Mindy Pennybacker, Carolyn Vibbert

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Mindy Pennybacker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-55976-2


Drinking Water


Free yourself from the bottled water habit.

Why? If every American stopped buying water in disposable bottles:

1. We'd save the nonrenewable fossil fuels that are used in the plastic, which equals seventeen million barrels of oil annually — enough to fuel one million U.S. cars for a year. Adding in the energy used for pumping, processing, transporting, and refrigerating bottled water, Americans would save fifty-four million barrels of oil, the same as running three million cars for a year.

2. We'd save greenhouse gas emissions by keeping at least 2.5 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

3. We'd save water. Bottled water has a heavy water footprint: Twice as much water goes into making a bottle as its contents, so every bottle of water sold actually represents three bottles of water.

4. We'd save energy. Bottled water uses more energy than tap — up to two thousand times more, depending on the distance it travels to the consumer.

5. We'd save money. Worldwide, every year, an estimated $100 billion is spent on bottled water. If you replace just one bottle of store-bought water ($1.50 and up for 12 ounces) a day with tap water (less than $0.10 per gallon) you'll save at least $440 a year.

most-asked question

Isn't bottled spring water safer than tap water?

Not necessarily. Tests of bottled water have found many unhealthy contaminants.


choose it

Drink tap water. Fill your own reusable bottle.

lose it

Don't drink bottled water, except when you really need it. For example, local reservoirs may be contaminated after a storm, or you may be traveling in places that don't have safe public water supplies.


better for your health

Be assured that most water in the United States, both bottled and tap, is safe to drink, although there are periodic public alerts of contamination by lead, chemicals, or bacteria. Bottled water, though, is actually less strictly regulated than tap. Tests of 10 mainstream brands of bottled water by the Environmental Working Group in 2008, and of 103 brands by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1999, found bacteria and toxic chemicals in many of the samples. Because public water supplies are regulated, you can easily find out if your tap water contains unhealthy contaminants, most of which can be painlessly removed by using refillable pitchers and faucet attachments with replaceable carbon filter cartridges by makers such as Brita, Pur, and Zero Water.

better for the planet

To top off all the savings already mentioned, if just one out of twenty Americans stopped buying water in disposable bottles, we'd save 30 million pounds of plastic waste a year. Although they're recyclable, more than 80 percent of plastic water bottles in the United States end up in landfills. Tapping into springs, whether in the United States, France, or Fiji, can cause lower water flow and the drying up of creek beds, which harms ecosystems downstream.

better for social justice

At present, 1.1 billion of the world's people, mostly the poor, do not have access to safe drinking water. When private companies take and bottle spring (or even tap) water — often for little to no money paid to local communities — they endanger the political stability of poor countries and the health of residents who can't afford to pay for clean tap water. By choosing public tap water over private bottled water, we're helping buck the creeping trend toward treating clean water as a market commodity rather than a service that all governments should provide.


By July 1 of every year, your water utility company is required to send you a report listing any contaminants in your water supply that exceed EPA safety levels. If you don't receive your report in the mail, call the utility to request it, or check for it online at the Environmental Working Group's national tap water database: www.ewg.org/tapwater/yourwater/ or at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo/index.html.

Finding the Right Filter

Regular carbon filters, like those in carafes or faucet attachments, remove heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, some parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals. But carbon filters do not remove bacteria, which may enter systems after storms and sewage spills. In the case of local drinking water alerts, drink bottled water (purified water is cheap) and consider ways to further clean up your tap water if contamination continues.

Consumers Union rates carbon filter performance at www.greenerchoices.org/ratings.cfm?product=waterfilter.

For how-tos on filtering bacteria and other contaminants, go to www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/gfilters.asp.

Worth a Test: Lead

Lead may also enter your water through old lead-lined water mains and building pipes. If you're pregnant or have young children, it's a good idea to use a carbon filter as a precaution while you have your tap water tested for lead. Ask your city department of health or environmental protection agency if they provide free water testing. If not, find a nearby certified testing lab at www.epa.gov/safewater/labs/index.html.

Recycling Carbon Filters

Preserve Products recycles Brita pitcher filters, which can be dropped off at many Whole Foods stores. See www.preserveproducts.com/recycling/britafilters.html.

You can also mail filters to Brita and to Zero Water for recycling (but you pay for the postage). Zero Water will reward you with discounts on new filters. See www.zerowater.com.

GreenerPenny's Tip


Drink your tap water out of a carbon filter carafe, which removes the most common contaminants, until you find out what contaminants of concern, if any, your city's drinking water has.

For more information, log on to www.greenerpenny.com.


most-asked question

I've heard that some plastic bottles leach toxic chemicals. What's the safest reusable water bottle?

Choose reusable bottles made from safe plastic or stainless steel.


choose it

Choose reusable drink bottles made from the following materials:

1. Stainless-steel beverage bottles

2. Tempered glass baby bottles

3. Bottles specifically made to be reused, crafted out of plastics that have not been found to leach toxic chemicals:

High-density polyethylene (HDPE #2)

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE #4)

Polypropylene (PP #5)

Tritan copolyester (Other #7), a new transparent plastic that the manufacturer assures is made without BPA

lose it

Lose the following:

1. Bottles made with polycarbonate (PC #7),*also known as Lexan, which can release toxic Bisphenol A (BPA) into their contents (see "Plastics by the Numbers".)

2. Reusing disposable plastic water or juice bottles made of polyethylene (PET, or PETE, #1) more than once or twice

*Some baby bottles are also made of PC.


better for your health

By not drinking out of PC bottles, you'll avoid one major risk of exposure to a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA), which the U.S. National Toxicology Center has warned may interfere with normal human brain and hormonal development. BPA crosses the placenta, and thus also poses a particular threat to fetuses; it also can harm young children. "I would advise a pregnant woman to try to reduce or entirely eliminate her exposure to Bisphenol A," said the lead author of a 2009 study. Higher levels of BPA have been implicated in cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adults. For more information, see the "Food Storage and Cookware".

By not reusing disposable bottles, you'll avoid possible illness from the bacteria that they collect, even when washed. Unlike wide-mouth sports bottles that are easy to clean, disposables are not made to be reused. Most disposable water bottles are made of very thin polyethylene (PET #1) plastic; hormone-imitating chemicals have been found in water from some samples of PET bottles, including some that have been stored for long periods, or at high temperatures (often attained when left in a car or backpack in the sun). PET is also the most recyclable plastic, so feel good about tossing these disposables in a recycling bin rather than reusing.

better for the planet

Choosing non-BPA plastics sends a strong message to companies to decrease the manufacture of this toxic chemical and its release into the environment.

Still, more and more kinds of disposable water bottles are being made. PET #1, while easily recyclable, is made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource whose massive carbon and water footprints are noted above.

Another new kind of plastic bottle on the market is made out of polylactide (PLA #7) bioplastics. PLA, a clear plastic made from corn or potato starch, is not readily recyclable — but if the occasional PLA bottle gets tossed in a recycle bin, it won't cause harm. Overall, bioplastics are greener than conventional plastics, since they're made from renewable plant materials rather than petroleum. For more info on bioplastics, which are also used to make food containers, see "Food Storage and Cookware,".


You can usually identify plastics by the recycling code numbers in the "chasing arrows" triangle stamped on the bottom of the containers. Refer to this list for the environmental and health impacts of different plastics, listed here:

#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET, or PETE): It is used in most disposable and some sports bottles, is easily recyclable, but, alas, seldom recycled. (Ninety percent of disposable water bottles wind up in landfills, according to the Container Recycling Institute.) It does not leach BPA, but may, in rare instances, leach other chemicals if heated or old.

#2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE): It is used in milk and gallon water jugs, is the most widely recycled plastic, and has not been found to leach any chemicals.

#3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC): The worst plastic in my book and the least recyclable, it can leach toxic lead and phthalates, plasticizing chemicals that have been linked to the development of irregular reproductive organs in male infants and obesity in men.

#4 low-density polyethylene (LDPE): This is a somewhat recyclable plastic that hasn't been found to leach.

#5 polypropylene (PP): Not easily recycled, but popular in reusable bottles and food containers, it hasn't been found to leach chemicals into water.

#6 polystyrene (PS): Another baddie, used in Styrofoam cups/containers and also some clear containers and eating utensils; it can leach styrene, a cancer-causing chemical, especially when heated.

#7 "other" (a catch-all number, when referring to polycarbonate [PC]): This leaches BPA.

#7 "other" (when applied to copolyester (Tritan): It has not been found to leach BPA, but is also not recyclable.

#7 "other" (for bioplastics): Made from plants, not fossil fuels, this has not been found to leach chemicals, but is unfortunately neither recyclable nor very reusable, and will properly biodegrade only in an industrial composting facility.

GreenerPenny's Tip


No need to toss a perfectly good new PC sports bottle! Use it with care and hand-wash it rather than in the dishwasher. (Bottles that have been heavily used, scratched, or submitted to high heat are more likely leach BPA.) When your bottle shows signs of wear, replace it with a BPA-free stainless-steel or plastic model from the following list:


Bilt (www.ems.com)

Enviro Products (www.enviroproductsinc.com)

Guyot Backpacker (www.guyotdesigns.com)

Klean Kanteen (www.kleankanteen.com)

Riverkeeper (www.riverkeeper.org)

Thermos makes water bottles as well as its trademark insulated bottles (www.shopthermos.com)

Reusable glass has its fans, too. A long-necked glass bottle with an attached rubber and ceramic stopper is sold at www.livinglavidaverde.net/store.aspx


Camelbak Tritan (www.rei.com)

Nalgene Tritan, or HDPE #2 (www.rei.com)

Novara PET #1 (www.rei.com)

Rubbermaid Chug Sport, Sippin' Sport, PP #5 (www.target.com or www.amazon.com)

Somafab PP #5 (www.somafab.com)

Tupperware tumblers, PP #5 (www.tupperware.com)


Adiri (www.babybungalow.com)

Bornfree (glass) (www.newbornfree.com)

Dr. Brown's (www.handi-craft.com)

Evenflo Classics (glass) (www.ingeling.com)

Gerber Fashion Tints and Clear View (www.amazon.com)

Green to Grow (www.greentogrow.com)

Medela breast milk storage and feeding set (www.target.com)

Playtex (www.playtexbaby.com)

Sassy MAM (www.mambabyusa.com)


When used according to instructions, the following portable, non-leaching plastic bottles will remove bacteria and viruses. Great for backpackers or for use in emergencies.

Aquamira Water Bottle with Microbiological Filter (www.aquamira.com)

Fit and Fresh LivPure (www.target.com)

Katadyn Micro Water Bottle (www.rei.com)

WaterGeeks (www.thewatergeeks.com)

For more information, log on to www.greenerpenny.com.




Choose organic and locally grown produce.

Why: Organic agriculture greatly reduces exposures to pesticides in your body and the environment; buying locally preserves small farms and green space.

In My Life

I've always tried to eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, but it wasn't until I became a mother that organic produce became part of our daily life. When our child was two years old and entering preschool, I read a report that young children were being exposed to high levels of dangerous pesticides in their food. What could parents do to protect their children? We didn't want to stop feeding them vegetables and fruit. Did peeling remove pesticides? No. Could we substitute pears for apples? No. Consumer Reports tests showed that pears had high levels, too.

The solution: Organic produce was grown without these pesticides. Money was tight, but my husband and I decided that we would buy organic apples and pears, our child's favorite fruits.


most-asked question

For the sake of my budget and my health, which fruits and veggies are most important to buy organic?

Buy organic for those foods you and your family eat most. It is also worthwhile to buy the organic version of produce known to have high pesticide residues. You can economize by not spending the extra on organic for things you eat only once in a while, or for the Tasty Thirteen (see the "Choose It/Lose It" table, below), which have the very lowest levels of pesticide residue.


choose it

Buy the organic version of the produce you and your family eat the most.

The Toxic Thirteen: You may also want to buy organic in the following foods, which otherwise have the highest pesticide residues:













Sweet bell peppers

lose it

Buy non-organic in foods you eat only once in a while, or those having the lowest pesticide residues.

The Tasty Thirteen listed here are generally low in pesticides and okay to buy non-organic.









Sweet corn

Sweet peas

Sweet potatoes




Excerpted from Do One Green Thing by Mindy Pennybacker, Carolyn Vibbert. Copyright © 2010 Mindy Pennybacker. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mindy Pennybacker was editor-in-chief of THE GREEN GUIDE for over a decade, as well as co-founder of the affiliated website. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Sierra, and The Nation, among others. Do One Green Thing grew out of her longstanding commitment to answering readers' questions about green living.

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Do One Green Thing 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey! Save the world! More at Earthlings first search result!!!!!!!
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
A few months ago I read a book that totally changed my life: Garbology by Edward Humes. From that moment on, I have changed many of my wasteful habits and started going green(er) than I previously had been.  Most of these changes end up saving me money as well! One day after reading Garbology, I was at the library and randomly picked up Do One Green Thing by Mindy Pennybacker.  I knew it was a book I needed to own because of all the great tips, so once I got home I ordered my own copy. What a smart choice!  Because this book is one of the best!  I have learned so much from this book to make myself and my world a little greener, to make healthier eating choices, and to save some money in the process. Some of the things I will take with me are. . . The best fish choices for my health and the environment Which foods to purchase organic and which ones I can skip That some microwave safe plasticware still leaches hazardous materials (the book describes which ones do that!) The difference between hand washing and dishwashing dishes - both environmentally and financially Plus this tidbit: "Replace one 6-ounce can of albacore "white" tuna with one 6-ounce can of wild Alaska salmon, and reduce your mercury intake by 89 percent."  After reading that, we no longer buy canned tuna fish, but we buy canned Alaskan salmon.  It's a little more expensive, but it takes almost the same when made in the normal "tuna fish" way. I also have about 50 other sticky notes on pages with green info, plus a few I photographed (like the one about the healthiest fish, so I have it in my phone for reference at restaurants!). I highly highly recommend Do One Green Thing.  The book is full of valuable information for going green, and most of the tips end up saving you money! What do you do to be green? Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book
Haute More than 1 year ago
This book is a great read for those wanting to become more eco-friendly without turning their lives upside down. You can take big steps or baby steps. There is no judgement, just ideas for moving in the right direction to help the earth and help with a healthier lifestyle. I first checked it out from my local library, but then bought 3 copies: 2 as gifts and one to keep as my own reference manual.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Finally, a book based on the latest science that gives practical, user-friendly advice on how to live green for your own personal well-being and for the well-being of our Earth. I love the information and the easy to understand advice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in living a "greener" life. Ms Pennybacker does a great job of laying out easy to understand and follow suggestions that simplify the choices we make to actually make a difference. I appreciate her attention to the latest information on what actions truly have an impact.
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