How to Save the Planet Right Here in Boston
(One sustainably raised steak and plant-based pullover at a time.)
You already drive a hybrid, use cloth bags at the grocery store, and recycle (ahem, most of the time). What more is there to do for Mother Earth? Turns out, a lot. The pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine, may have diverted our attention for a while, but let’s be clear: Climate change is still the crisis of our lifetime. And as factories continue to pump pollutants into the air, fast-fashion castoffs pile up in landfills, and plastic bottles float freely in our ever-rising (and warming) oceans, the stakes only get higher. The good news is there are plenty of easy ways to make a difference at home: Whether it’s supporting local businesses that create sustainable products or building spaces that are as easy on the environment as they are on the eyes, greener living starts right here.
Learn the Lingo
Zero-Waste: Generating no waste, with all resources being recycled, reused, or composted.
Eco-Friendly: Not harmful to the planet.
Geothermal: That which uses or relates to the heat of the earth.
Carbon Footprint: The amount of carbon-dioxide emissions produced by a specific entity or activity.
Sustainable: Considerate of the environmental needs of future generations.
Fair Trade: A system that, among other goals, aims to foster sustainability practices among manufacturers and farmers.
Join a CSA
Forget the sad lettuce languishing in your big-box grocery store’s produce aisle—joining a CSA not only reduces waste and supports the ethical growing practices of local farmers, it also guarantees you’ll enjoy your food at peak freshness. Stillman’s Farm, located in New Braintree and Lunenburg, has run a CSA program for more than 20 years; choose from the team’s “Farm Best” option, a weekly bag of in-season fruits and vegetables, or the weekly “fabulous fruit” or “totally tomato” shares. Omnivore? Pair that produce CSA with meat from Tewksbury-based Walden Local. The company’s whole-animal share program distributes participating farmers’ cuts of grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, and wild-caught fish among members. Or, to receive farm-fresh protein, produce, dairy, eggs, and grains every week, try Woburn’s Family Dinner, which offers packages built with products from multiple local purveyors and farmers. Vegetarian, pescatarian, omnivore, and paleo options, in half and whole sizes, are available for delivery.
Eat at a Low-Waste Restaurant
For a Light Bite
Menton and Porto alum Matthew McPherson has long been cooking up plans for a sustainable restaurant, and his dream has finally been realized at Eastie’s brand-new Café Iterum. While the fast-casual spot’s zero-waste program is still in its fledgling stages, the café’s menu of sandwiches, grain bowls, and baked goods focuses on plant-based, locally sourced ingredients (hello, zucchini noodles). There are still some animal products on the menu for the meat eaters—but who wouldn’t be intrigued by the house-made eggplant bacon?
For a Special Occasion
Woods Hill Pier 4
What’s more stunning than the waterfront views at Woods Hill? The Seaport restaurant’s commitment to eco-friendly practices. Proprietor Kristin Canty sources some ingredients from small, local purveyors (think: raw milk cheeses, grass-fed animals, and sustainably caught fish), but many items, from the garlic to the mushrooms to the poultry, come from the eatery’s own 360-acre farm in Bath, New Hampshire. The result? New American fare you can feel good about, served via Massachusetts-made plates and glassware (and later composted, should you leave any scraps behind).
For a Guilt-Free Dessert
The easiest way to make ice cream more eco-friendly is to ditch the dairy. Coconut milk comprises the base of every signature ice cream flavor at FoMu, with options running the gamut from chocolate pudding to cold brew to cookies and cream. That the team has also strived to minimize waste at every step of their manufacturing process by recycling and reusing sourcing containers, donating leftover product to staffers, schools, or organizations, and running almost entirely paperless cafés only sweetens the deal.
Shop Vintage and Secondhand Boutiques
Fast-fashion brands are ubiquitous, but their synthetic garments—which require excessive amounts of energy and water to produce—aren’t built to last. So the next time you’re craving a wardrobe refresh, head not to the mall, but to one of the area’s many vintage shops—all recirculating clothing that’s stood the test of time. At We Thieves, owner Sandra Rossi wields a sharp eye for evergreen women’s fashion, stocking her petite Inman Square boutique with floaty dresses, splashy T-shirts, and perfectly worn denim. Meanwhile, across the river, Castanet is a treasure trove of secondhand Céline, Chanel, Balenciaga, and more, making the Newbury Street shop the ideal spot for a splurge. Designer fashion also abounds at Covet, especially in the handbag department: Shoppers can snatch up Prada totes, YSL crossbodies, and Louis Vuitton wallets at the brand’s Beacon Hill and Southie locations or via its Instagram stories. If your taste tends less toward labels and more toward L.L.Bean, look no further than Bow Market’s “mantiques” emporium, Blue Bandana Relics, where cozy flannels and wool sweaters are shelved alongside vintage pennants, books, and taxidermy.
Grow Your Own Food
According to a 2021 study by the United Nations, food production, processing, and packaging account for 34 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. (Yikes.) Luckily, at Newton Community Farm, manager Greg Maslowe teaches locals that anyone with resourcefulness and access to a little outdoor space can grow food for themselves—and ease the strain on the environment in the process. “Five-gallon buckets, a trough you’ve salvaged, or a shoe—you can be really creative about what you fill with soil,” Maslowe says.
Whether you’ve set aside a small plot of land or a discarded sneaker, the two most important factors to consider as you’re plotting your garden remain the same. The first is soil: Lead contamination is common in Boston-area dirt, Maslowe says, so it’s crucial to test before you plant and, if necessary, bring in fresh, uncontaminated soil to grow your food in. The second is sunlight. Plants need at least six, and often up to eight, hours of sun per day, so if you don’t have a bright spot in the yard for your garden, your best bet is to grow your grub in a small container that you can move around to catch optimal rays.
As for what you should plant? Cherry tomatoes and lettuces are great for beginners. So are Asian greens like bok choy, Maslowe says. Garlic, onions, and leeks are ultra-versatile in the kitchen. Steer clear of cucumbers, though. They’re more susceptible to disease than other vegetables, so they can be frustrating for budding green thumbs. Above all, Maslowe advises that as you’re choosing your plants, go with your gut—literally. “Grow what you want to eat, because that’s going to be the most exciting to you,” he says.
Vacation at an Eco Hotel
When you decamp to a sustainably minded hotel, you’ll leave stress, responsibilities, and wasteful living in the rearview. The charming Glen House, located in New Hampshire’s breathtaking Mt. Washington Valley, is not only perfectly situated for a sumptuous ski weekend—it was designed with a plethora of eco-friendly touches, including geothermal heating and cooling; highly efficient, regenerative elevators; and “dark sky–compliant” lighting that helps preserve nighttime darkness. Similarly, green details also make a statement at Maine’s Inn by the Sea: Enjoy a facial and massage within the recycled sheet-rock walls of the property’s spa, then head back to a private beachfront suite for a restorative nap in linens designed to protect endangered butterflies. Too tame for your taste? Book a luxury cabin at one of Vermont’s designated Green Hotels, Lake Morey Resort. Action awaits on the 18-hole golf course and 4.3-mile ice-skating trail—just make sure to leave room in your itinerary for the resort’s activities program, focused on environmental projects and local ecology.
Build an Earth-Friendly Home
From left to right:
Erecting a double-walled structure allowed the team, which included Haycon Building, to “super-insulate” the house, prevent energy loss, and “reduce the loads for heating and cooling,” says architect Derek Bloom of Bloom Architecture.
Landscapers incorporated found boulders and low-maintenance native plantings into the outdoor space, which also features a fire pit.
Methodically placed triple-paned windows filter in sunlight and help warm the home.
Sustainable touches aren’t limited to the house’s envelope: They appear throughout the finishes, too, from responsibly harvested bamboo flooring to LEED-certified paint.
The house’s temperature is managed by a geothermal heat pump, which eliminates the need for fossil fuels.
In creating the clearing for the house, Bloom says “respecting the forest” was a top priority for the team, who worked to preserve as much of the tree line as possible while affording ample lake views.
Architect: Bloom Architecture
Contractor: Haycon Building
Landscape Architect: Terrain Planning & Design
Landscape Contractor: Stephens Landscaping Professionals
Structural Engineer: TLH Consulting
Embrace Green Décor
With shops throughout the state—including a shiny new showroom in the Seaport—plus a forthcoming location in Portsmouth, Circle Furniture makes easy work of scoring ethically crafted dining tables, armoires, sectionals, and much more. The long-standing furniture emporium goes out of its way to work with manufacturers who prioritize a commitment to the environment, sourcing pieces built with recycled or sustainably harvested wood (not to mention eco-friendly upholstery).
For Home Accents
The city’s first zero-waste store, Uvida Shop specializes in plastic-free wares for just about every room in the house: shapely candles, soap decks made from discarded local wood, and bamboo pots, to name a few. And did we mention the plant selection? The North End–based company, which made the leap from online retailer to brick-and-mortar in December 2020, offers a sweet selection of Insta-ready monstera, peace lily, pothos, and other leafy beauts for a double dose of green.
Sustainability has always been central to the mission of this Vermont standout, a family-owned business founded in 1944. (“Disposable is not in our vocabulary,” the company’s website promises.) That’s why the JK Adams team makes a point of producing its handmade wine racks, cutting boards, rolling pins, and other kitchen staples using renewable (and inarguably durable) materials, including maple and walnut, grown throughout the United States.
Support a Sustainably Minded Brand
Razors can be wasteful, as most can’t be recycled through curbside programs.
However, in a partnership with Terra-Cycle, Southie-based Gillette has created the world’s first national razor recycling program: Simply collect your used handles, blades, and cartridge cases, print a shipping label, and send the package to TerraCycle, where they’ll be cleaned and melted down to make new recycled products. For bonus points, stock your shelves with the brand’s “Planet Kind” line of shave cream, face wash, and moisturizer, all of which are packaged in plastic that’s 85 percent recycled.
It only takes one look at the 1.7-megawatt solar array outside Bose’s Framingham headquarters to see that the company is serious about sustainability. The audio brand is particularly dedicated to its refurbishment initiative: By fixing up returned products such as earbuds, Bluetooth speakers, and sound bars and selling them for a discount, Bose reduces e-waste. And customers have certainly taken to the program: Last year, sales of certified-refurbished products grew by 220 percent.
Harness 100 percent renewable electricity for operations; eliminate the use and discharge of hazardous chemicals; send zero waste to landfills from factories. These are just some of the lofty sustainability goals New Balance has aimed to achieve by 2025. In the meantime, support the cause by seeking out the Allston-based brand’s “green leaf standard” shoes and apparel: If you see a green leaf on the label, that means the product is partially made of environmentally preferred materials, such as recycled polyester, organic cotton, or chrome-free leather.
Lean Into Plant-Based Fashion
For the Ethical Adventurer
A plant-based button-down, sweatshirt, or tee—is there any better uniform for exploring the outdoors? A longtime leader in thoughtful, plant-based attire (the company first started using exclusively organic cotton in 1996), Patagonia has one of the most extensive catalogs of sustainable clothing around. Now it uses four different types of cotton (organic, regenerative, recycled, and “in conversion,” sourced from farms that are in the process of receiving organic certification), and durable, breathable hemp.
For the Eco-Friendly “It” Girl
“Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option,” Reformation’s unforgettable slogan goes. “We’re #2.” It’s not just cheeky branding: The buzzy fashion retailer tracks its environmental footprint so meticulously that customers can read statistics on the carbon dioxide, water, and waste savings of every dress, corset top, and pair of jeans listed on the company’s website. And the shopping experience at Reformation’s sleek Back Bay boutique is just as green; the natural or recycled-fiber garments hang on recycled paper hangers, and come home with you in reusable totes.
For the Eco-Minded Gentleman
The storefront may be a fresh face on Newbury Street, but Buck Mason’s reputation has been well-established by the brand’s perfectly cut, effortless T-shirts. (Case in point: Tom Brady wore one in his 2015 Man of the Year photo shoot for GQ.) The secret? All of the company’s slub and pima tees are knitted from cotton grown in the United States, and cut, sewn, and dyed in California and Georgia. Crafted using techniques that ensure they last—and designed with an eye toward timelessness—you’ll keep these pieces in your closet (and out of the landfill) for a lifetime.
Invest in a Green Tech Startup
The Mask Maker
In a world still battling the spread of COVID-19, it’s hard to overstate the importance of reliable PPE for our healthcare workers. Still, today’s single-use N95 masks—thought to offer the best defense against the virus—are hardly eco-friendly. That’s why the team behind Teal Bio, based in Somerville, is dreaming up a reusable model. Engineered with partially biodegradable filters made from renewable wool fibers, the Teal respirator system can be cleaned and disinfected, ensuring reliable protection—and a lot less waste.
The (Good) Gas Guzzler
We know greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide contribute to global warming. But what if these pollutants could be trapped before they enter the atmosphere—and transformed into something useful to boot? Enter Carbix. By developing a so-called carbon-sequestering reactor, the innovative Quincy-based startup aims to capture harmful emissions—thus minimizing their environmental impact—while also extracting from those gases valuable materials needed to make common building products including cement and glass. A win-win in our book.
The Plastic Perfecter
According to the EPA, Americans recycle less than 10 percent of the roughly 35 million tons of plastic produced each year. As a result, many products languish indefinitely in landfills or, worse, end up in the ocean, where they wreak havoc on marine life. That’s…a problem. Thankfully, Beverly-based Radical Plastics is on the case, working diligently to devise a new kind of plastic that retains its low cost but—unlike its traditional counterpart—is fully biodegradable.