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How to go eco

Going eco-friendly is something you can take one step at a time

The DH and I were having another one of those discussions over the weekend - how to reduce our bills and at the same time go more eco-friendly.

We are all for being green, as I'm sure most people are, but the primary push is probably going to be forced on all of us. For instance, we stopped using our tumble dryer a year ago in order to reduce our electricity bill, and for the same reason, we now wash up by hand rather than using the dishwasher. (In any case, it broke, and the part was a fortune, and we can't afford a new machine.) So back we are (or rather, the DH is) washing up with a bowl and soapy water. It is not so bad, really, and at least enables us to use our nice raku dinnerware, which was too delicate for the machine.

A bunch of us girlfriends also wanted to try soap nuts, so we split a 20-euro bag between four of us (giving each of us enough nuts for six months). The verdict so far is pretty positive - the soap nuts seem to get your clothes as clean as old-style washing powders or liquids, and leave no residue in your clothes to irritate sensitive skin. The only drawback is that the clothes don't smell fresh. They don't smell dirty either, of course, they just don't smell at all. Perhaps this is something we'll all get used to - you can put a few drops of essential oil in the dispenser if you want, but I don't like to do it too often because we have a septic tank. 

Another thing that's on our minds is lighting, because the old-style incandescent lightbulbs are being phased out now, and that will mean switching over to energy-saving bulbs, like it or not. Which is fine, even though they're three times the price, because they last virtually forever and they use, say, 11 watts of electricity instead of 60, which will mean a massive reduction in consumption. But in our case, it also remains replacing all our light fittings, because our current ones won't take eco-friendly bulbs.

We have a dimmer switch for the main lights, and that's a no-no for energy-saving bulbs, so it will have to come out. This house is also French but the people who restored it from a ruin were British and they brought over British fixtures with them - crucially, these take bayonet-fitting bulbs. Try getting those in France. It's hard enough to get incandescent ones, but in long-life, it's virtually impossible. So every British light fitting in the house will have to come out and be replaced with a French one - that's 14 fittings.

Oh la. It can't be helped. It is what we call the Montcocher effect - we try to do the simplest thing, like put up a shelf, and it entails some massive palaver with drills and rawlplugs and special screws and I know not what. But once again, when it's done, it will be done, and I'm sure we'll be glad of it. 

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Eco-friendly my arse

I was reading the November 2007 edition of US Vogue the other day.

Normally I'm a pretty big fan of American Vogue, which along with American Glamor is the only fashion mag I bother to open these days (excluding the loo reading of the dog-eared women's mags which circulate in this neighbourhood of broke British ex-pats, usually supplied in packs by somebody's mum from Blighty).

Vogue, under the leadership of Anna ('Nuclear') Wintour kind of makes me laugh, with its ridiculously elitist interviews and fantastically high-priced garments, but it does at least take fashion seriously and its Democratic principles aren't in doubt - it remains solidly on the side of pro-choice, pro-liberal.

But I'm disappointed with the November issue's article on wardrobe simplifying - Why less is more.

Damn, I thought, as I read the headline. I should've written that. I'm all in favour of a small wardrobe and slow clothes - from the fashion perspective for the sake of efficiency in dressing, and from a political perspective because I'm fundamentally anti-consumerist. But after a promising start with an interview with a woman who's downsized her wardrobe to just a few (read 'couple of hundred') items, it went on to tell you exactly how you ought to jettison everything you've currently got for a range of new eco-friendly and socially-aware 'basics' - which will, of course, last you a lifetime but which will also, of course, cost you a packet... "an investment, be it a $9 tee or a $1,900 coat that enriches her...life with a degree of self-expression and self-respect".

Well, most of us don't need to spend $1,900 on a coat to improve our self-respect. Ethical clothing, we are informed, used to make you look like a crazy survivalist, but now that eco-friendly and organic are evidently FASHIONABLE, Vogue is getting (very belatedly) on the bandwagon.

A later article in the same issue covers 7 'must-haves', from teeshirts ($44) to sweatpants ($115). Shirts at over $300? Gimme a break. Hilditch and Key or Thomas Pink will supply you quite readily with a £40 shirt that you can wear for 20 years (though mine came from a second-hand shop, so I feel doubly pleased). The latest 'basic' must-have jean has a waist so low that most women's guts would cast a serious shadow on their gorgeous Repetto ballet flats ($195).

Here we go again. I haven't got a problem with all this 'must-have, dahling' crap, but to dress it up as what it ain't is a downright lie. The truth is none of us NEEDS more clothes - the average western woman's wardrobe could probably clothe a small African village. And yes it's fun to shop. You can see that from the strange glint that appeared in the eye of What Not To Wear victims, who, initially horrified by the descent of Trinny and Susannah, became very meek at the sight of that giant cheque. £2,000 for me? For myself? Oh, heavens... Most women are busy putting their kids, their mortgage, their bills and their husbands before themselves and the chance to splash out on a whole new wardrobe is both pleasurable and liberating, especially when it's not your money.

But I feel cheated by this issue. At the bottom line, it is not what it pretends to be. It is simply a sneaky and underhand way of advertising Vogue's favourite designers in the editorial pages. And of persuading women to part with yet more cash, but this time to get all touchy-feely about it, when what they should actually DO if they want to help the third world, or save the whale, is stop buying clothes altogether.

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