EcoSalon chats with Keya Chatterjee, Senior Director for renewable energy and carbon footprint outreach at the World Wildlife Fund, and author of a new book about carbon-free parenting.
Before getting pregnant, Keya Chatterjee and her husband lived the type of low-carbon lifestyle that most of us only dream of. No car, no refrigerator, and 100 percent of their home’s energy supplied by solar panels. Once their baby Siddarth arrived, Chatterjee knew they were going to have to make some changes, but still wanted to keep their carbon footprint minimal.
Doing so took a lot of research and dedication, something that’s probably far down the list of priorities for expecting parents who’ve had their lives turned upside down. Thankfully, Chatterjee chronicled the entire process and put it into a book that can serve as a guide for the rest of us.
We recently caught up with Chatterjee to ask her some questions about the book and what she learned while writing it. Keep reading to find out what she had to say.
Eco Salon: What inspired you to write this book?
Keya Chatterjee: As a person who works on climate change, it was a tough decision to decide to have a baby– I was worried about the kind of world I would be bringing my baby into, and I was worried that having a baby would mean having to give up on our relatively sustainable lifestyle. I did tons of research while I was pregnant about the carbon pollution associated with different decisions we were making– about whether to move, what kind of birth we wanted, how to diaper (or not!), how to feed our baby, and even what type of child care to secure. It was harder than I thought it would be to find out what the most sustainable options were, so once I compiled it I really wanted to share it with other parents who might have the same interest in protecting the future for their babies.
ES: What aspect of having or raising a baby would people be surprised to hear carries a large carbon footprint?
KC: It’s electricity and transportation that makes the biggest difference– much bigger than diapers, which are nonetheless top of mind for many new parents. Parents could make a huge difference by deciding to move to a smaller home that is close to public transportation, or deciding to switch to a more efficient vehicle. Our carbon footprint actually got negative by giving up air travel, so transportation makes a huge difference even when it is for vacations!
ES: How do you respond to those who say the greenest thing we can do is not have kids at all?
KC: It’s a fair point, which is why I have a chapter on adoption in the Zero Footprint Baby. That said, as a parent, however you become a parent, you have a much bigger personal stake in the future of the planet, and that has made me even more engaged and committed. Also, I crunch the numbers in the book and show that it is possible to reduce your carbon footprint as you add a new bundle of joy to the family!
ES: What’s the most useful green parenting tip that you discovered while writing this book?
KC: What was most useful for me was finding out what changes had a huge impact on my carbon footprint and what changes had a more modest impact. Diapers are on our minds a lot, but solar panels make a bigger difference. I also discovered that the cost of solar panels has come down 75% since we bought ours in 2008, and that many homeowners today would save money immediately installing them, whereas it took us four or five years to get to the point where our electricity is basically free.
ES: We recently reported on Alicia Silverstone’s breast milk-sharing program “Kind Mama Milk Share.” Are there other types of peer-to-peer sharing or swapping can help parents raise a low-impact kid?
KC: Oh yes, ThredUp is a great website for helping parents share clothes, and so is Encore baby registry, which helps new parents register for second hand items. I also used Craigslist a lot, and our neighborhood listserve.
The Zero Footprint Baby is available on Amazon for $12.97.
Images: Keya Chatterjee