Sloan Barnett is a regular contributor to NBC's Today show and the Green Editor for KNTV, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco.
She has been a television and print journalist for more than ten years, and wrote a popular consumer advice column for New York's Daily News for nearly a decade.
She lives in San Francisco with her husband and three children.
She recently agreed to be interviewed by Greener Living Today.
Greener Living Today:
Recently here in the San Francisco Bay Area we were watching a weekly segment you were doing with NBC station Channel 11 concerning the “Greening” of the station. What was involved with that and are you doing it for other NBC affiliates?
I’m not. I work for NBC. I’ve been a journalist for ten plus years. I work for NBC, both for KNTV, which is our NBC affiliate, and the Today Show.
Bank of America sponsored a really wonderful series at KNTV called Ecologic, and that’s what you’ve been watching on Thursday nights. The first big kind of series we did was all about the Greening of our actual buildings. So we went in and audited every single part of what we do, from the water that flushes down the toilet, to the lights in the studio and the helicopter that covers the breaking news and the weather. While news stations require various things that we can’t get around, we did find that there were plenty of places where we could make change and we could do better.
I’m very proud of NBC, that they even wanted to try to improve their carbon footprint, and they’ve done a really good job at it, and sometimes at great expense, so they should be applauded.
Greener Living Today:
Can you tell us a little bit about how you became attracted to reporting on “Green” or environmental issues and how you got your start?
I was a prosecutor. Out of law school, I worked in the Manhattan DA's office for Robert Morganthau, I was an assistant district attorney, and I always wanted to be a journalist. I started doing legal commentary, kind of moved into consumer, and that’s really where it all happened. The Green part of it became an offshoot, and I talk about this in my book “Green Goes With Everything”.
My son became asthmatic five years ago and when my husband I stood there in the ICU watching him fight for every breath, it really was a life altering experience in every way as a mother, and I went about to learn how I could live the Greenest, cleanest and healthiest life in my own home and to protect him.
That’s when I became so interested in Green issues all around. I’d always been interested in the environment. I traveled to Antarctica as a young girl. I went to work for Greenpeace and the Rain Forest Alliance.
What brought me to Green journalism was this moment concerning my son. I’m doing all kinds of research to protect my child, and then to help other people protect their families.
That is where the book was born and I started to hit up work to do Green pieces as well, and when I moved out to the Bay area that was a very easy sell because obviously this is really the Greenest place in America.
Greener Living Today:
In the book you made reference to Body Burden Tests. What does the test involve and what was your reaction to your own Body Burden Test?
The Body Burden was something that I had read about.
It’s a term that was coined by the Environmental Working Group, where they draw seventeen vials of blood out of your body, as they did out of mine, and they test it at one of four labs in the world.
So it’s not possible to just call your doctor and get one of these tests. You pretty much have to be part of a university study.
I did it as part of Harvard School of Public Health and they allowed me to get the seventeen vials of blood drawn and shipped to a lab in British Columbia.
They are testing you literally for the chemical load in your blood stream. What you learn is pretty frightening, that they’re pretty much across the board.
We know from the CDC, the skyrocketing rates of Flame Retardant, Phthalates, Platicizers, Bisphenol A and all kinds of things that one would never imagine could be streaming through your blood, and in fact, they are.
What surprised me? I would be honest and tell you, not that much, because I’ve been doing this research and I know what’s inside all of us.
I’ve read about other journalists, I’ve read about CDC studies.
I wasn’t surprised, because I know so much about it.
I wrote about it because I wanted people to see it’s inside me and I lead this pretty Green lifestyle.
Now I will tell you that there were certain chemicals that were lower in me than the CDC average and that proves that we can have an impact on our body, but PCBs and DDT, those are pesticides that have not been around since I was ten years old.
Those are in my blood stream.
There are a bunch of them that we can do something about and there are some that we just can’t, that are just systemic.
So, again, the Body Burden is a way of showing people that’s it’s in me too and also of sharing my results. I just wanted people to get an insight into what’s in all of us, not to scare us, just to say, “Hey! Look what we’ve done to ourselves, but here’s the good news”. The good news is that we can do something about it.
That’s what the book is all about. I wrote the book to empower people to take simple steps that would make an enormous difference in our life and in our health. I like to say that finally, Green is a health problem that we actually can all do something about, without doctors, without an insurance company and I think that’s pretty empowering and pretty exciting.
Whether you want to do one thing today, or ten things, whether you want to do a few next month, everyone can do something and that can be small or big.
In the book I give you lots and lots of simple steps and then some more complicated.
It’s a personal choice, but everyone can make better healthier choices.
I hope that I’ve laid out a pretty easy plan as to where you start. The last thing I want is for people to go “Oh my God, there’s so much, forget it! I’m just going to go back to my bleach”.
What you really want to do is just go step by step and I really take you through the easy things to do and that’s where we should all start. The things that are just a matter of better choices and then some things that are more complicated, that might make you give up convenience or cost, and I never ask people to do those things.
Greener Living Today:
Household cleaners started off the book. After reading that chapter we found ourselves going through all of our cupboards and making some “Green” decisions. What are your recommendations for the average consumer when it comes to deciding what to keep and what to get rid of?
Cleaning products, I like to say, is the easiest place to start.
We all clean and we all use products to do so. So, there’s no saying that you’re not going to spend the money anyway.
The thing about Green cleaners is, if they don’t work no one’s going to use them, and if they cost more, no one’s going to use them.
That’s why I really take you through step by step.
This is the one place where I’m quite extreme, because I think I’m a person who believes in a reasonable approach. I’m not going crazy. I’m not telling you to burn your house down. I say that I don’t live in a log cabin, I don’t bake my own bread, I wear leather shoes and I’m a normal girl, but the cleaning products are one place where you don’t want to leave any around.
You want to take a big black garbage bag, you want to get rid of all those conventional cleaning products in a clean sweep and then you’ve got to call your sanitation department to dispose of them because they’re that toxic. You can’t just put them down the drain or in the garbage. Once you’ve done that you’ll want to replace them with a really good Green cleaning product, a super concentrated, non toxic, biodegradable line of cleaning products.
Greener Living Today:
At one time, preservative free foods were hard to find, unless you lived in a large metropolitan area. Today we have many more choices. What, in particular, should consumers be aware of when stepping up to a healthier diet?
This is one of those areas where I don’t insist on a clean sweep. Organic can be more expensive, so you’ve got to pick your organic wisely, spend your organic dollars wisely.
You don’t need to do everything. I think if you have kids, or if you’re drinking a lot of dairy, you’ll want to start with milk, buy good organic milk.
Next I like to go to meat, and then I think about how it’s less meat, but certainly it’s going to be grass fed and hormone free.
Then you want to think about your fruits and vegetables, but you don’t need to replace all of them with the organic version, just the thin skinned ones.
I lay them out in the book and give you the whole list, so that you’re shopping wisely. That’s very important as you want to think about sustainable, local and seasonal. All those are words that will help you shop the place in the supermarket where you’re thinking of things that were alive a few days ago and not the processed or packaged foods. Try to stay away from those to the extent that you can.
Again, with every step that you’re doing better, you’re taking a step towards better health. It’s not a clean sweep, it’s just making better choices. When you go to the store, read the chapter in the book, become more aware of what you’re buying and try to make better choices.
Greener Living Today:
The final chapter in your book concerned clean energy. Can you go over a few of the everyday things that the average person can do to reduce their impact on the planet?
You know, it’s crazy. We read about it and I’ve done pieces on the news so many times, and yet I still find myself making some mistakes or some snafus.
What I expect of people is to do the really obvious things.
Obama has been speaking about unplugging your cell phone charger.
Well, the truth be known, I think I wrote this in the book, and I did a whole piece on it in the news.
I went home and lo and behold there is my cell phone charger plugged into the wall. So, I’m not perfect and every day I try to do better.
Everybody should have all of their electronics on a power strip and everybody should be shutting down at night.
You can see me at midnight running around, like a lunatic, shutting all my computers down when everyone in the house has forgotten to do so.
I’m really a crazy person, my husband will tell you this, about turning lights off. I think we Americans forget that, just like we leave the water running when we’re brushing our teeth.
I can’t imagine any excuse to have that. You’ll always find me, even in places where I don’t live and are none of my business, I’m always turning lights off.
There are all kinds of little things like that, ways that we can save water, for instance, and I know that’s not energy, but they’re so related.
There’s no reason to be leaving that water faucet just going and going, and you’d be amazed that little kids have been taught so much of this at school, and of course, in my house through me.
I think my children know more about all of this than I do.
They’ll catch me doing the wrong thing and go; “Mom, your water faucet’s still on”, or “You left the lights on”, or “Why is that TV on and no one’s watching it?”
I call them my little Green warriors and wrote about them in the back of the book. I’m amazed and it gives me hope, that our next generation will really understand these issues and will care about them.
Light bulbs, you know, it’s true. The energy efficient light bulbs take a little more time to heat up and to light the room, so I mention in the book that sometimes when I come down for my midnight snack it takes a little more time to find my cookie, but by the way, that cookie’s not good for me. I should be skipping it anyway. So, I’m perfectly willing to make that sacrifice.
Bigger sacrifices that I make; I have a hybrid car. I think people are going towards that.
If you have a car that is a giant gas guzzler, you have to make a decision. There are also environmental costs in getting rid of a car and replacing one. You have to weigh all of those options.
Those are the types of bigger things, that I don’t expect everyone to do. If you have the opportunity, solar panels on your roof are a great thing and I applaud you for doing them, but if we can all start with the little things, we’d be making an enormous difference.
Greener Living Today:
You point out at the beginning of your book that you are a shameless pitchwoman for Shaklee. I hadn’t heard mention of Shaklee since the early 1970’s, when we used to buy some of their cleaners, etc. Can you fill us in on some of the history of Shaklee? Also, how long has your husband Roger been chairman?
Shaklee is one of the oldest, greatest companies in this country.
It is the first company to be climate neutral, and that’s something to be really proud of.
The building in Pleasanton, California is one of the first all Green carbon neutral buildings. They are constantly on the cutting edge of all environmental concerns, planting a million trees, they’re just extraordinary.
They’re in partnership with Dr. Wangari Maathai, who is the first Nobel Peace Prize winner for the environment. It doesn’t end and it’s been going on for a very very long time, way before I was even alive.
My husband’s been with the company four and a half years and we’re all very impressed with their environmental heritage.
It’s a company that I think my husband is very proud to be associated with, and I was proud to tout in my book, because they are walking the talk, they are doing it right, and these are people who believed in Green when Green was a color.
Dr Shaklee said we’re ruining our crops, we’re not getting the vitamins we need and he’s been credited with inventing the vitamin.
The same with the Green cleaners, we’re ruining our water systems, what are we doing?
The Green cleaners are some forty eight or forty nine years old.
When my husband and I first got involved with the company, I said to him after Spencer’s asthma, “wow, the cleaning products are amazing, but they need to be a little zippier, a little sexier, a little more twenty first century, so we revamped the entire line.
Shaklee introduced Get Clean as it is today, some two plus years ago, added new packaging and the product works even better than it used to.
That’s when we were so fortunate to go on Oprah and tell her our story about our asthmatic son and all the things we have done in our lives.
Then, wow, were we blown away when she chose Get Clean as one of her Favorite Things.
She still uses Get Clean in all of the bathrooms at Harpo Studios, and we couldn’t be more delighted.
Greener Living Today:
What overall advice would you give to those that want to start the process of “Greening” their home and making a positive contribution to the planet?
I would start with your cleaning products.
That’s the first thing to do, it’s the easiest thing to do.
Green cleaners work as well, or better and they cost you a lot less because they’re super concentrated. So you’re saving an enormous amount of packaging, and that is so good for the planet. You’re also saving your family by bringing in non toxic biodegradable products.
Next, I would start to look at what you’ve got in your refrigerator and what you’re putting on your table.
The food itself, as well as the way you cook it and the way you store it. All of those are things that I go through in the book.
The bathroom is another place you’re going to want to look. I don’t say throw out your makeup. I’m a girl, I wear makeup, I’m on television with plenty of makeup on, but I try to choose better, more natural products, Greener products and they’re all out there.
For the first time ever, they actually look good, they smell nice, they work. So that’s a whole new day. You want to look at your personal care products, your shampoos, your skin care and your makeup.
I think if you just take it day by day, you want to take it step by step, not everything at once.
If you do one thing today, maybe you could do something else next week.
Slowly, but surely, you can make an enormous difference in your life, and a difference that you can be proud about, that you can gloat about and that I think can make an enormous difference to your health.
You can learn more about Sloan Barnett and her book by visiting her official website:
Virtual Body Burden Test:
Green Goes with Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet