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This week, contributing Upper Green Side writer Amber Roniger explores life for an Upper East Side Mom from an environmental perspective.

It ‘aint easy being green (as Kermit can attest to). We all know this from personal experience. It requires a huge amount of awareness, diligence and dedication to be environmentally conscious in the NYC. I don’t go in much for Jewish guilt (contrary to my upbringing), but I do feel a certain twinge at times when I simply don’t feel like washing out the General Tsao’s Tofu tin, or sorting through the recycling. And yet, I persist. Truly, consistency is key if we are all to contribute meaningfully toward getting our city green. I’ll take a boost wherever I can find it and I definitely draw inspiration from those around me. Most particularly from citizen-mom extraordinaire, Jen Levin, who is my own personal mom-icon. Jen is green from head to toe… well, as much as is humanly possible. Especially when juggling two small children (with the aid of her fantab husband, but still, it ‘aint easy). I’ve long admired Jen’s top-drawer mama’ing skills and her green-leaning lifestyle. She was generous to share some excellent tips and tidbits for green mothering on the Upper East Side.

The ‘do-your-best’ philosophy tops off Jen’s list. She does as much as is reasonably practicable, and makes conscious and calculated decisions when deviating from ‘standard green philosophy’ [insert Alistair Cooke accent here]. Jen’s earth-friendly attitude unsurprisingly stems from her childhood. Her mother always shopped at health food stores and taught her children ‘to walk softly on the earth and don’t leave a footprint.’ Jen maintained this thoughtful contemplation into adulthood and is now passing it along to her two daughters (ages 3 and 3-months).

“I try to get my carbon footprint as low as possible, which is why I [with Nora in tow and Eva in Bjorn] walk [Nora] to school. It’s a 30-minute walk. If I can’t get over the snow banks, then I take the bus.” Keep in mind that Jen owns an SUV; walking is a conscious choice. She and hubby put considerable deliberation in prior to the purchase of what is generally considered an environmental-no-no-of-a-vehicle. Ultimately they chose to prioritize the safety of their children. As there are two sides to every issue, I appreciate Jen’s no-nonsense, cost-benefit analysis approach.

Onto that monolithic topic, the environmental pink elephant in every nursery on the UES, and the bane of landfill and waste disposal workers everywhere: diapers. Jen touts the G Diaper system ( flushable, disposable, biodegradable diaper inserts. You just take them out and flush ‘em away – I’ve never even heard of such a thing. And they’re seriously fashion-forward. They come in a wide variety of great colors and patterns, a huge plus in the female-dominated Levin abode. To quote from the G Diaper website: “no elemental chlorine, perfumes, smell, garbage or guilt.” Not bad. “In fact, flushables are so gentle on the Earth you can even garden compost the wet ones in one compost cycle… Just think of the standing ovation you’ll get from the planet.” Okay, compostable diapers? Now I’m impressed. G Diapers turns the whole nightmare of landfills inside out and renders it mute. And for more heavy-duty, nighttime-friendly diapers (or other times when poopie is more apt to explode than usual), Jen (er, Eva, actually) uses Seventh Generation chlorine-free diapers ( In this world of nouveau-diapers that we live in, there is a form and style for every kiddie occasion.

Now moving on to that mega topic for everyone who loves the environment, has children or pets, or simply abhors inhaling toxic fumes every time they want (or desperately need) to scrub: organic cleaners. I personally cannot stomach the awfulness of chemical fumes produced by ordinary household cleaners, especially since my apartment doesn’t have the greatest circulation. Jen points out that not only are natural cleaners non-toxic, but the kids can help clean up too, the supportive little muffins they are! And should it get too close to snack time and they steal a little lick, it (literally) won’t kill them. Jen purchases her cleaners at Gracious Homes, which I absolutely never would have thought of. I’m really delighted by this new trend of having earth-friendly products available everywhere. Despite our government’s best efforts, environmentalism is quickly becoming mainstream enough for fancy-schmancy stores to stock organic products – an extremely pleasing movement indeed.

From a young age, Jen was instilled with a love of animals. Her mother aligned herself with the Native American approach – all animals eat animals and we’re one of the animals. Jen explains to Nora that it hurts her feelings to be party to killing animals, which is a sad, but not necessarily evil, element of the human condition. Nora draws strong empathy with “The Lion King,” one of her favorite movies, and Jen suspects that she will at some point in the future try vegetarianism. When Nora is a little older, Jen will allow her the freedom to choose.

The ‘don’t waste’ philosophy may seem obvious, but when raising children, the evident is often key. Brought up to use only one (recycled) paper towel at a time, Jen is teaching her children the same. When I ask if Nora understands the concept of ‘environmentalism,’ Jen thoughtfully replies, “She understands that it’s naughty and dirty to litter.” What becomes readily apparent is that when raising small children, instilling positive habits early on may indeed precede total understanding, but in the case of the earth, action is most relevant. Understanding can and will come later.

Armed with all this great information, I sit down to put it into presentable form when Jen rings me up excitedly. “I remembered something! Con Edison offers a wind power alternative. It’s only like $15 a month.” I go to the website: ( to learn about renewable, electricity generated WIND and GREEN Power, an alternative to nuclear and fossil fuels. After reading the description, I sign up immediately. Jen’s positive habits have inspired me to try and levy influence over the other co-op owners in my building to go green as well. I trust that when they see how affordable it is to utilize totally renewable power sources, they’ll be similarly motivated. This is my hope anyhow.

The search for an organic drain de-clogger has been a particular source of agita for me. I was stymied by it for the longest time. I hate, nay, even feel guilt over pouring that ooze of god-knows-what-gloop down my shower drain. Frankly, it freaks me out. I always worry that if it only partially works, I’ll land up standing in a backlogged drain with noxious chemicals eating away at my tender feet. I dial-up Jen on the hunch that she’ll have the answer and of course, she delivers: Citra-Drain, which uses natural enzymes to keep the pipes flowing instead of chemicals. I have no idea how she found out about this product because despite calling all around the neighborhood, I never found anything. Honestly, I had given up hope that it existed at all. I also remember to ask her about a stain lifter I saw her use to soak in the kiddies’ clothes: Oxo Brite, another great little find. By this point I can admit, I’m just pumping Jen for information. I swear she’s a veritable dictionary of practical green morsels.

I ask Jen if she shares her fabulous findings and tips with other mothers. “They’re lukewarm,” she replies. “Mothers are usually exhausted and it’s hard to go out of the way.” All the more cause to cheer Jen, and her extra effort, on. For all these reasons and more, Jen is a woman and mother that I truly admire. Her parenting skills are amongst the best I’ve ever seen and it’s incredibly obvious that she goes the extra mile with everything she does. Jen’s business-minded approach sagely guides her decision-making on all matters green. This is most certainly the necessary first step toward making wise and conscious choices. And teaching the children well seems the most important mission of all: to raise environmentally and socially conscious humans who love the earth. And Jen is right on point.


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