As she sat around a picnic table with a handful of female friends one day a few years ago, Kimberly Danek Pinkson watched how one woman’s brief mention of switching from conventional light bulbs to more energy-efficient ones led to an animated discussion about the small things everyone can do to be more eco-friendly. It was like a light bulb — an eco-friendly one — turned on in her head. And so in 2006 the EcoMom Alliance was born, a nod to the fact that women do most of the household purchasing.
What started as a mash-up of Tupperware-like parties, shared tips not unlike those from Heloise — just greener — and grass-roots activism has gone one step further; Pinkson recently joined with SproutBaby.com founder Jody Sherman to form EcoMom , an online retailer that hopes to nourish “Generation Organic from the highchair to the lunchbox.”
Pinkson, 40, lives with her 8-year-old son Corbin in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.
You’ve said that once you became a mom, you knew you had to do everything you could to make your son’s life “as healthy and wonderful as possible.” What does parenthood have to do with being an eco-focused person?
A key role and responsibility of parents is to protect and take care of our children, and therefore looking at the environment in which they are growing up. This means the environment, of course, which is our home, our neighborhood and community, plus looking out into the more global environment as well. When you look into being "eco" and "green" and what we call "healthy," we often separate the environment from what we consider healthy, yet they’re so intrinsically connected; at least that’s what we hope to inspire in people.
Why EcoMom and not EcoParent? Don’t dads care about the environment, too?
Absolutely and we’re certainly not exclusionary of fathers. We love them and have the utmost respect and appreciation for them. We wouldn’t be EcoMoms without EcoDads! But I felt that I could only speak from my experience as a mother. Moms connect to each other on a level that we don’t with our husbands, fathers, or partners all the time. There’s a biological connection that we share. It is valuable to come together as moms in the things we’re good at; we can use that in so many ways to have a positive effect.
You started off with EcoMom parties, which seem to harken back to a day when moms stayed at home and threw Tupperware parties. But most of us don’t look like that anymore. Are the parties still a big part of EcoMom, and have they morphed into a girls’ night out?
They’re kind of one and the same. The EcoMom party is kind of addressing the isolation and lack of connection that so many people feel. I wanted to create a reason for people to come together to get that social support, to look into each other’s eyes and laugh, and tell stories, and be united by a cause.
In one article I read about an EcoMom party, it seemed that “guilt” came up a lot. Is keeping a green home just another thing moms have to feel pressured about?
There’s no way to escape the kind of fear factor that’s implanted by the media in a large part of the issues that we’re facing today, and they’re real issues. It’s when we feel hope that we can have a positive effect. If you’re just given “Here are all the dangers in the world” and you’re left with that, yeah, you feel guilty and scared and think "I’m not doing the best I can." But if you’re given information that’s positive and proactive with all the positive things you can do and how they add up, that’s really the concept of the network of mothers. It’s relieving the guilt and it’s empowering. It’s like, “These are things I can do and I’m doing them and I feel great.”
You have said that you’re not “advocating shopping as the solution,” and yet you just partnered with SproutBaby.com founder Jody Sherman to create EcoMom, which, of course, is all about shopping. Shouldn’t the message be — use less, recycle and repurpose?
Absolutely. We’re actually in development of a secondhand kind of tool for moms so they’ll have that option first. But still, shopping in and of itself is not a solution. Women represent over 85 percent of purchasing power and more than 50 percent of that is moms. While it’s not a solution, when you look at the American marketplace, every single dollar that we spend we has the ability to have a tremendous impact, not only our economy but economies around the world. So, how we shop as mothers is extremely important. By making the choice to buy, say, recycled toilet paper, we can have a dramatic effect. If you consider that your choices and actions are part of a much bigger movement, you can have a much bigger impact.
On EcoMom, you feature $569 organic crib sheet sets and $180 diaper bags, making being green out of the reach for most people. But, you don’t have to spend that kind of money to be green. Are there so many conflicting messages that people will just give up, or talk themselves into believing they can’t afford to be green?
If you explore the site further, you’ll see those are the exceptions, not the norm. There’s no reason that you can’t have a healthy, eco-friendly face lotion - for example - at a comparable price to a conventional one. So we will go out and get that eco-friendly one. We want to meet the market price, and are, in fact, doing that. It’s such a common fiction that you can’t afford to be green. I’m a single mom and I live in a very small house, I rent the bottom of a home, and I’m doing it. It’s just a matter of where you put your choices, where you put your values. Being green is something we can afford because some of the choices actually save you money, both immediately and later on down the line in terms of efficiency or that make you healthier.
As a single mom, how do you handle the work-life thing?
It is brutal. It’s so hard. I wish I had some great miracle answer but I don’t. It’s constantly a juggle. The thing I find most helpful is trying to be really present so when I’m talking to my son Corbin or doing something with him, my mind’s not, “Oh gosh, I need to send an e-mail, or I have an interview at 1” or any of those kinds of things. I feel like it sort of expands time. I’m not good at doing this all the time but when I’m able to get into that zone, I realize things go a lot better and I feel that stress a lot less.
Most single parents say they can never find “me” time. Do you have “me” time, and how do you spend it?
Usually hiking in the hills around my home is my “me” time, or taking a Bikram yoga class here and there. What feeds me most, other than my son, is when I can get out in nature.
What do you think you’re sacrificed as a working mom, and what have you gained?
Sleep! But I remember talking to Arianna Huffington once and she said, just let yourself sleep because you’re so much more productive when you can. In terms of what I’ve gained by being a working mom, I feel like I’m creating solutions for moms. What inspired me to do this was that there is a demand that needs to be met. I feel like being a mom isn’t always acknowledged and rewarded; I want people to think like, “I’m an EcoMom.” That’s a rewarding title they can give themselves. We’re doing that, and that feels really rewarding.
In what ways has motherhood surprised you?
I always wanted to be a mom and always knew that it would be the most amazing thing and the most challenging thing, and that’s not been a surprise. So, I think it’s the patience I actually can have because I don’t always consider myself a very patient person, the depth of calmness I’m able to find for him. Growing up I had this image of being a working mom, that you’d go very smoothly from drop off to the office and you’d look all put together, and then come home and dinner would somehow be miraculously made and you’d still look put together. Most of time I’m in sweats and changing in my car to go to a meeting.
You spent time with indigenous elders when you were growing up. In what ways did that impact you?
The indigenous understanding of how we’re connected to nature and the way that what we put into the environment: how that affects usm and how we treat one another comes back to effect you personally, now science is proving (that). To have that imbedded in me at such an early age was such a gift, and also a great responsibility. When you have that understanding, then you have that responsibility to be a steward of this planet, not only for your children but all the world’s children and for one another.
Your son is among what’s being called "Generation Organic." But many kids reject their parents’ beliefs and traditions once they become teens. Do you think Generation Organic will keep its green beginnings?
I was introduced to indigenous people through my dad’s work, and it was such an incredible childhood. But there was definitely a period in my teenage years when I was embarrassed by it. And then, of course, I came full circle. I think kids growing up right now, it’s not going to be a thing to rebel against their parents; they’ll find other ways, I’m sure! If anything I think they’ll look at us in disbelief and think, wow, I can’t believe that’s how you used to do things, I can’t believe you had cars that ran on gas and I can’t believe you would put food in containers that leak chemicals into the food, earth and water.
When your son looks back on his childhood, what do you hope he’ll remember most?
I hope that he’ll remember feeling loved, inspired and supported, and he’ll remember … what good adventures he’s had with his mom and what a good role model she was.
EcoMom founder Kimberly Danek Pinkson was interviewed by Vicki Larson, Around the Watercooler  contributor. She is a journalist and single mom.