The New Green Consumer Guide by Julia Hailes

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The New Green Consumer Guide by Julia Hailes

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Category: Home and Family
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An excellent compromise between poster-style soundbites, a readable narrative and concrete, useful information. It's friendly and approachable and even contains one or two surprises.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
ISBN: 978-0743295307

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The original Green Consumer Guide sold over a million copies when it was published in 1988. There wasn't much competition in those days - we were all still scoffing at the Prince of Wales for talking to his plants. Nineteen years on, it's a different ball game entirely. Julia Haile's new version will sit on bookshop shelves entirely devoted to the environmental message. The idea is no longer to get the message out, it's to save people from drowning in it and enable them to actually get up and do something about it.

The format has been brought smartly up to date and the narrative is broken up with tables, dialogue boxes, sound bites and lists of web links. But it's not overdone and there was enough weight in the text to interest me, a person probably ready for a little more than a primer on the basics. Neither it is too weighty - the style is bright, breezy and realistic and I can't imagine any wannabe green consumer would feel in the least bit daunted by anything discussed.

The problem with any of these green guides is that the subject is so vast. Consumers aren't making ethical or environmental decisions in a void. Each decision has a knock-on effect in other areas and despite the greenwashing claims profit-hungry companies are swamping us with, there are few ideal and practical choices. And this where Hailes really comes into her own. She has a knack of explaining things in a simple and direct way and then presenting her own chosen path through the maze without insisting it should be the reader's choice also.

It's broken down into intuitive areas - home, food, transport, personal matters - and I was pleased to see that someone at least isn't afraid to devote a good few pages to the subject of green death. It's not easy to die with minimal environmental impact, you know. Some things came as a surprise to me - Hailes doesn't recommend green detergents. She considers that washing at low temperatures - preferably 30 degrees - is a far more constructive way of improving the way we launder our clothes. Some things are necessarily over-simplified and in the area of transport, I think the book probably falls short of really laying the truth on the line.

Critics of individual attempts to protect the planet and combat climate change insist these micro-measures are a drop in the ocean and little more than a waste of time. I can't agree. Knowledge is empowering and the mood of a nation carries politicians and companies with it - provided they believe that votes and revenue are in it for them. I don't think consumer power can do a great deal to combat climate change, but I do think consumer power can help to create the political will that can.

This is a sensible and rational primer for anyone who doesn't want to be patronised but does want a practical and down-to-earth set of suggestions for making environmental lifestyle changes.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending the book.

Those interested in finding out a bit more about the food they eat might like Joanna Blythman's Shopped while those most interested in the challenges climate change presents could look at George Monbiot's Heat. If you're looking for an introduction to climate change, have a look at Things You Can Do: How to Fight Climate Change and Reduce Waste by Eduardo Garcia and Sara Boccaccini Meadows.

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Buy The New Green Consumer Guide by Julia Hailes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The New Green Consumer Guide by Julia Hailes at


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Magda said:

Have you noticed how climate change changed the focus of enviromental concernes (example, but not the only one: from the concentration on 'old fashioned' chemical polution to carbon emissions). I have to say I like this direction, and it also makes it easier to integrate the social(ist?)pro-development angle with the (semi)enviromentalist one.

Jill replied:

Yes! I think it's served to sharpen the argument for many people and lose that woolly, Jesus-wants-me-for-a-sunbeam aspect.