Umbra Fisk

Ask Umbra®

Advice for Living Green

Yours is to wonder why, hers is to answer (or try). Send your green-living questions to Umbra.

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Umbra Fisk is Grist Research Associate II, Hardcover and Periodicals Unit, floors 2B-4B.

Umbra on college Earth Day fests

Dear Umbra, With Earth Day coming up, our environmental group at Purdue, Campus Greens, is trying to plan some events. Last year we had 15 groups handing out information and we provided free veggie burgers plus other food. This year we were hoping to expand on that success and include some activities like having people manually power a TV, washing machine, or some electronic device. Other than that, we’re really struggling for ideas and support at a die-hard conservative school. Any help would be appreciated. Anthony West Lafayette, Ind. Dearest Anthony, Thank you for your letter. I would rather eat …

Umbra on love

Dear Umbra, I long to have a partner join in (or be excited and supportive) when I participate in an environmental event, or write a well-researched and poignant letter about a pressing environmental issue. I have broken off three serious relationships in the past few years because I decided the men were not environmentally sensitive enough. Where does a nice, smart chick like me meet a nice, smart, environmentally sensitive activist? Edelweiss Ottawa, Ontario Dearest Edelweiss, I read your letter to a friend and he said, “Hard core — good for her.” I had a slightly different take on your …

Umbra on wedding registries

Dear Umbra, I am getting married and would like to register for some socially and environmentally responsible household and kitchen items: pots, pans, etc. I found plenty of resources on organic cotton and hemp, but other than that I have come up with nothing! Paige Doughty Cambridge, Mass. Dearest Paige, This is a potential stumper. First we would have to figure out every possible thing that might be wrong with the pots and pans in our lives, not to mention blenders and teaspoons. Then we would have to figure out if anyone has made better ones, then find a registry …

Umbra on vacations

Dear Umbra, My wife and I want to celebrate our 25th anniversary by taking a significant trip. We are thinking of a 10-day European vacation, possibly the Greek islands. I am conflicted by my dedication to celebrating this milestone and my dedication to living eco-friendly. What advice would you have for those wanting to travel while limiting their impact on the environment? Realistically, if I hope to enjoy another 25 years of marriage, I may have to budge on this a little. Ed Richmond, Vt. Dearest Ed, If you wanted to take a Love Boat cruise, that’s one thing, but …

Umbra on carpeting

Dear Umbra, Our home is mostly wood floors, but we would like to have a carpeted den. My gut instinct is that the carpet pad (looks like the foam from the inside of a car seat all smooshed together with other pieces) is full of chemicals that will constantly offgas. Am I right? If so, is there an alternative, or something to do so we can have a safe carpeted area? Yosh Schulman Millerton, N.Y. Dearest Yosh, Almost all the articles I just read on your behalf started with the reasons carpet is our nation’s No. 1 floor covering: comfort, …

Umbra on Valentine’s Day

Dear Umbra, Do you have any advice on how to have a guilt-free, pleasurable Valentine’s Day? I would like to give my husband gifts that are good for him and the environment. Krista Ashley Gadsden, Ala. Dearest Krista, Love, love, love. Does greeting him at the door dressed in strategically placed hemp napkins count as a Valentine’s Day present? Your birthday suit: the most ecological clothing. Good for you, pleasurable, and guilt-free. Love me like a rock. Photo: iStockphoto. I’ll be traditional for a moment. The usual must-consume V-day items are chocolate, flowers, and alcohol. Chocolate industry watchers have identified …

Umbra on bamboo flooring

Dear Umbra, We will be putting in new flooring in the very near future. My first choice was hardwood, but I have recently read a lot about bamboo. Because it is renewable, it seems to be a better option. But how is it grown? Who is harvesting it? Are the people in the industry fair to their employees? Is it truly a better option for the environmentally conscious, or just a marketing tactic? Kathleen DiBacco Darien, Ill. Dearest Kathleen, Wood is a renewable resource, too, don’t forget. The bamboo situation is definitely interesting. I’m afraid that while bamboo has become …

Umbra on flooring options

Dear Umbra, If I have to replace my old carpet, what are the environmental pros and cons of the different choices? (Ceramic tile, carpet, or the laminate flooring sold at Home Depot seem to be the most common.) And can I recycle my old carpet? Claudia Bloom Mesa, Ariz. Dearest Claudia, I’m going to lay out all the flooring choices of which I’m aware, and I’ll talk about some of them in depth in upcoming columns. In terms of your carpet, you might be able to recycle it or give it for reuse if it’s not in bad condition. Call …

Umbra on eco-friendly paint

Dear Umbra, I just bought a home that needs lots of TLC, and would like to do it in a way that is best for the environment and my health. Do you have any advice about the best choice of interior paint? Every room in the house desperately needs new paint, but I’d like to avoid inhaling all the toxic who-knows-what in your basic everyday latex paint. Carrie WadmanPhoenixville, Pa. Dearest Carrie, My advice is to go with yellow, always the best choice for interior and exterior. Different strokes for different folks. For your own health, the top repainting environmental …

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