On a Monday night last February, around 25 women gathered in Sherry McConkey’s house in Squaw Valley. Sipping wine and munching on appetizers, they milled about the kitchen and living room, chatting in small groups. After an hour of casual conversation, the event leader called the women to attention, and they took their seats wherever they could find them, on the couch, chairs or floor.
While the meeting had the look and feel of a book club or Tupperware party, the women weren’t there to discuss Oprah’s latest pick or the benefits of durable plastic.
They were there to talk about the environment and how mothers can become everyday advocates.
Called an EcoMom party, meetings like this one are being held around the country, and even the world. Its mission is to leverage the power of mothers – who make most of the household buying decisions – to help reduce global warming by making sustainable choices for their homes, work and families. The parties are part of the EcoMom Alliance, the brainchild of former Tahoe resident Kimberly Danek Pinkson, who was motivated to start the organization after the birth of her son and the realization that moms could act together as a positive force for global change.
‘Throughout history, women have always bucked up and done what needed to be done,’ Pinkson said. ‘We are this amazing power sitting on influence that we don’t realize. We have a vested interest in protecting the future for our children.’
Dr. Stephanie Riley, a naturopathic doctor based in Tahoe City, mother of two and member of the EcoMom advisory board, led the Squaw party. She presented EcoMom’s 10 First Steps – easy actions anyone can take to lead a more sustainable life. These include switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, carpooling, unplugging electronic devices, using non-toxic cleaning products and line-drying laundry.
‘It’s a great way of getting through to women,’ said McConkey. ‘It’s amazing how many women have changed since the party.’
That includes McConkey, who swapped out all her old cleaning products for Seventh Generation ones, changed all her light bulbs and is trying to unplug most of her electronic gadgets every night.
‘Every day I think about it,’ said McConkey, who has a two-year old daughter. ‘You realize how much stuff is in the environment, and how obsessed you can get with your child and wanting the best for them.’
That seems to be the major motivating factor for most EcoMoms – ensuring that their children lead healthy lives. After the party, Alpine Meadows resident Sierra Campbell said she went home and threw out all her plastic containers that can transmit chemicals into food, identified by the number on the bottom, such as 3, 6 and 7. (Good plastic will have numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5.)
‘Having kids has made me more aware – I want to do the best thing I can do for my kids,’ said Campbell, who has two children.
Like many Tahoe moms, the EcoMom party wasn’t Campbell’s first introduction to leading a sustainable life. Campbell already did things like recycling and leaving kitchen appliances unplugged when not in use. What she took away from the party, she said, was a heightened awareness about what hazards are in the home and in everyday products we use and put in our children. Campbell said she learned, for instance, that nectarines are on the ‘Dirty Dozen,’ a list of fruits and vegetables that have high levels of toxins. To avoid the chemicals, Riley recommends buying organic.
Similar to Campbell, Tahoe City resident Rachel Crus already had an environmental awareness – she buys mostly organic and seasonal food, shops at the farmers market in the summer and is part of a local CSA (community supported agriculture) co-op. She also uses online resources like National Geographic’s Green Guide (thegreenguide.com) and Skin Deep, a personal care products safety database (cosmeticsdatabase.com) to find out what products to buy, or not to buy, for her family.
What the party did for her, she said, was to show her that other moms are on the same page as her when it comes to what they put in, and around, their children.
‘It’s important to me what my kids eat and what their environment consists of,’ said Crus, who is expecting her third child in June. ‘I’d rather them be around like-minded parents so they are not exposed to things I try so hard to keep away from them.’
The party helped other moms develop a new mind-set. Annica Bryan, who has two children, said that since the event she is constantly thinking about ways to lessen her global footprint. These include small steps like filling the dishwasher before running it and not buying products with a lot of packaging. But she’s also applying her new outlook to bigger things like the new home she and her husband Charles are building in Squaw Valley. While they were already incorporating green elements like solar panels and recycled steel before the EcoMom Party, she says that now they are trying to go green as much as possible.
‘Now we are questioning every step,’ Bryan said. ‘We are even looking into recycling water run-off.’
After the New York Times ran a front-page article about EcoMom in February, the organization has taken off. Pinkson could no longer keep up with all the emails that were pouring in from interested moms around the world, so McConkey now helps her with some of the correspondence. McConkey said that in her first two weeks on the job, she received 80 emails from women in places like India, Greece, South Africa and Australia inquiring into how they could lead an EcoMom party. Locally, the movement is growing too. For a Truckee party planned to coincide with Earth Day, an estimated 100 women were invited.
‘It’s amazing how desperate women are – they really want to get through to other women what’s happening in the world,’ McConkey said. ‘Mothers are so protective as it is.’
-For more information about EcoMom or to take the EcoMom Challenge, go to ecomomalliance.org.
Stephanie Bacon is holding an EcoMom party at her house in Truckee on April 24. Dr. Stephanie Riley will lead part of the event. To see if space is still available, contact Bacon at 530-582-9718.
Q&A with EcoMom founder Kimberly Danek Pinkson
Moonshine Ink: What inspired you to start EcoMom?
Kimberly: In 2006, I co-produced the United Nations World Environment Day in San Francisco. Later, I was with some girlfriends at Donner Lake and one said that after the event, she had switched out all her light bulbs to CFLs. Others were asking about what CFLs were and where you could get them. The conversation grew from there.
After a couple of hikes and meditation, I started thinking, ‘Holy-mole, the power of mothers!’ Then EcoMom popped into my head.
MI: Why do you think EcoMom has recently taken off?
KDP: Part of it is timing. In late 2006, all I got was a pat on the back and ‘good job.’ But as An Inconvenient Truth permeated society, it completely shifted people’s interests. I also think it’s because EcoMom is very positive and pro-active instead of about doomsday stuff. We are asking you to be more conscious and rethink what you do. It’s the way it’s messaged – it’s about bringing moms together, giving women an opportunity to connect.
MI: Why did you decide to focus just on mothers?
KDP: It’s not exclusively for moms. But we chose to focus on mothers and women because women throughout history have always bucked up and done what needed to be done. Our planet, our civilization, needs that right now. We are this amazing power sitting on influence that we don’t realize. We have a vested interest in protecting the future for our children.
MI: What have you been the most surprised by since starting EcoMom?
KDP: How women are so open to change if they are approached in a positive manner.
MI: What is the easiest first step someone can take to becoming more sustainable?
KDP: Non-toxic products are a great way of getting people involved. It’s not political like global warming. Right away, they can start using these and reduce their families’ exposure to toxic chemicals.