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Q. Dear Umbra,

I prefer to buy shoes that will last me a long time rather than buy lots of cheap ones that consume many resources. Is there an environmentally friendly shoe polish that I can use to keep my feet looking spiffy for the long haul?

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Washington, D.C.

A. Dearest Laine,

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations matched.

Ask Umbra on shoe polishYou know one of the things that thrills me most about warmer weather? The footwear — or, I should say, the lack thereof. All winter long my poor little tootsies feel so stifled. Even now, they are wiggling giddily at the very thought of being free. But, alas, we’re not quite there yet.

So back to the shoes that do in fact cover your feet and how to care for said shoes (and I take it we’re talking about leather, no?). First off, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of shoe polish: Essentially, be kind to your shoes and try to avoid scuffs, wear, and tear.

Many conventional, commercial shoe polishes contain toxic suspected carcinogens like trichloroethylene (irritant to eyes and nose), methylene chloride (can cause memory loss and liver and kidney damage), or nitrobenzene (affects the central nervous system and particularly harmful to pregnant women). I have some thoughts for you on the less-toxic polishing front. And remember, whatever ooze you choose to use, an old toothbrush makes a great tool for cleaning.

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Here are a few options; let me know how these methods work out for you. Got a banana? Eat up and then rub the inside of the peel on your shoe — the oils and potassium are supposed to polish and preserve your shoes. Then buff them with a soft cloth and compost the peel. Or try rubbing a little olive or vegetable oil on your shoes and then buffing. Then there are products like Po-Zu’s Soil Association-certified edible shoe cream made from 100% organic virgin coconut oil — apparently, it can be used to shine your shoes, condition your hair, moisturize your lips, and even provide a little snack (let me know how that works out).

And you can always just embrace a shabby chic look when it comes to your shoes, and let them show off what old soles they are — scuffs, dull spots, scratches, and all.


Q. Dear Umbra,

Do you know of any sources of guidance (web or otherwise) on how individuals can invest in ways that will help the fight against global warming and not reward polluting industries? What little savings I have is invested in a 401(k) that goes who knows where. I’d rather be putting my couple of hundred a month into something that will make a difference and not just a profit.


A. Dearest Neosapiens,

Thumbs up on wanting to make sure your nest egg is residing comfortably in a sustainably feathered nest. The phrase that pays when you’re looking to green your investments is socially responsible investing, or SRI. Before you take the plunge, read up on sites like Social Investment Forum and Investopedia, among dozens of others.

Your employer may actually have an SRI fund alternative as part of its 401(k) options. A 2007 Social Investment Forum survey revealed that 60 percent of benefit plan sponsors intended to include SRI options for retirement funds by 2010. Wait! This year is 2010. So check in with your HR peeps or whomever handles your 401(k), and if your employer doesn’t offer an SRI selection, ask about adding one.

Otherwise, you can opt for an investment strategy outside the confines of your employer-offered plan. You may choose to hit up a green financial advisor for some sage wisdom — KLD Research is one source for investor screening.

You can also look into companies like Calvert Investments and Green Century Funds, which offer SRI mutual fund options. Green Your also has a section with great advice on choosing eco-friendly mutual funds.

As with any investment strategy, SRI doesn’t guarantee any sort of return on investment, but at least you’ll be able to hold your dollars accountable for their contribution to the greater good.


Q. Dear Umbra,

Do you have a Facebook presence?

Sharon R.

A. Dearest Sharon,

Man, is it ever stuffy down here in the Grist stacks. Seriously, is it hot in here or is it just me? Just me, you say? Well, I guess I could use a few more fans — on my Ask Umbra Facebook fan page, that is!

Indeed I do have a Facebook presence and would love to see your smiling face there. You can become a fan to follow my comings and goings — and hopefully cool things off a bit here at HQ.