Founder of Green at Home
e+a: When did you first start living green and what triggered the change?
Emma Rohmann: I started choosing healthier cleaning products when I learned of their environmental impact during my environmental engineering degree. Before then, I had no idea that water treatment systems couldn’t remove everything we were putting down the drains! As a result, all those chemicals stay in the water we drink. That was enough for me to quit the regular cleaners, cold turkey.
I started reading more about organic food and other environmental issues, and grew more and more aware of the impact our habits have on the environment. I made changes slowly from there.
When I got pregnant several years later, I started looking into ingredients more deeply as they related to our health. Suddenly, I was bombarded with information and fear-based headlines like “How Your Shampoo Poisons You Everyday” (ugh!). I tried to figure out what was fact vs fiction, what products were actually healthy, and a few years later, how I could live greener on my maternity leave budget with 2 kids.
Green at Home was born on my 2nd mat leave, as a way for me to synthesize all the research I was doing and figure out how to apply it to my own life.
e+a: There's definitely a strong link between living a toxic free life and the zero waste movement. Did they go hand-in-hand for you since the beginning or did reducing your footprint come later?
ER: Reducing my footprint came first. I was driven to make change at first for environmental reasons - I hadn't connected the health benefits directly at first. After university, I worked for 10 years as a green building consultant, focused on reducing energy and water use in big office towers, where I also learned more about the impact of indoor air quality on our health. We applied this knowledge at home, and only over the last few years have we been working on reducing waste.
e+a: What are some of the challenges you personally face when trying to be more sustainable?
ER: On the waste front, I find it challenging because I can't shop at 3 different grocery stores to get everything I need. The big grocery stores don't do a good job at this so it's an ongoing battle with my desire to choose local & organic vs also wanting to reduce plastic. Time is also a hard one... I wish I put more time to making kid snacks from scratch for example. But I do what I can, and keep moving forward.
What are some of your favourite sustainable living items?
My favourite (and most surprising) sustainable living change is making my own cleaners. I love castile soap for everything from hand soap to my tub and tile scrub recipe! Some easy switches we made early on were having a stash of reusable cloths in the kitchen instead of paper towel and installing a programmable thermostat.
e+a: Through your online program Your Healthy Home, you help people make their homes healthier with your step-by-step process and coaching. What's the top toxic culprit you find when doing these?
ER: Every home is so different! This is why I created the program in the first place - because what works for one family, won't work for another. And because everyone is on their own journey - some just getting started, others looking to up their game. But some of the things that I talk about that surprise people the most are:
Household dust has been shown to have a high concentration of hormone disruptors like flame retardants and phthalates. So dusting your home can go a long way to reducing your exposure.
People don't realize how much their homes offgas every day. Furniture, flooring, cleaners, body care, you name it. So not having a source of fresh air (especially in the winter) is a big culprit for many homes. Running your furnace with a high quality filter (and changing it regularly) is so important.
I see a lot of people using cleaning products they think are green, but really aren't. Ingredients don't have to be listed on the label and claims like "natural" and "non-toxic" aren't regulated, so there's a lot of greenwashing. (If you want to see how yours fare, you can grab my list here - and stock up on the great products at eco+amour!).
e+a: As a mom, how do you recommend parents communicate the importance of green and sustainable living with their kids? Are there any activities you can recommend to get them interested and hopefully plant lasting habits?
ER: Leading by example and sharing the "why" goes a long way. Talking to your kids about why you want them to turn lights off when they leave a room, and shut the water off when brushing their teeth, for example. They are smart, and perceptive. When my kids ask me why they don't get certain snacks or other things that they see other kids at school with, I explain it honestly and openly, and they get it. I'm also careful in those situations not to shame the others, and I encourage them to have conversations with their friends to help spread the knowledge.
My kids are also obsessed with the Lorax movie. It's a cute way to spark conversation as well.
e+a: What advice would you give someone just starting out in green + sustainable living?
ER: It can be very easy to get overwhelmed with all the "movements". I think it's important to start with one area that you feel passionate about - waste, toxins, energy, food, etc. and focus on that at first. You have to have a pretty deep rooted desire to make a change to make it last. And don't start with the goal of zero. It's not practical, and you're more likely to just feel failure which is the #1 thing that makes people quit altogether. Set small goals, and you'll see a snowball effect.