It’s not easy being green in Westchester. Just ask Elizabeth Ferber, a mother and passionate environmentalist living in Katonah. She tried to start a food co-op in her neighborhood, but it never got off the ground because of lack of interest.
“People want to drive the least distance to get what they want. When I see people at supermarkets, I want to tell them there is no nutrition in what they are buying,” frets Ferber. “I go seeking out organic products. It takes a little bit more work.”
Her commitment to the environment and healthy living is evident in every aspect of her life — from home, to family, to work. She runs an interior design consulting firm, Design Alternatives, from her serene, uncluttered home. The dense woods framed by the large windows and the tulips on the wooden dining table provide a painterly touch. Videos and books are lined up with military precision on bookshelves. Anything that is toxic in her home has long been removed to create a safe haven for her 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. The linens and mattresses are organic, the wall paint is milk-based, the microwave’s unplugged, and the house is kept spotless with environmentally friendly cleaning products. Clorox is not a word you use lightly in this house. She even gives gifts that don’t accumulate dust, such as soaps and teas.
Her concerns about the environment have leeched into her work as well. She decided at the beginning of this year to expand the scope of her two-year-old business to include a specialty area of environmentally oriented options.
Ferber’s clients pay an initial consultation fee and an hourly rate for follow-up work. She says she doesn’t pressure them, but merely presents information about green alternatives in paint, carpeting, fabrics and cleaning supplies. She uses local suppliers in Mount Kisco as much as possible. “I know the resources and I can generally get discounts,” she explains. The Internet and specific green vendors are her sources for environmentally friendly products.
For those who want to gradually detoxify their homes, Ferber suggests a few options, some of which are easier and cheaper than others. Switch to biodegradable cleaning and laundry supplies such as those made by Seventh Generation, which can be found in any health food store. Install a filtration system for drinking water to remove chlorine. Get natural linens and carpeting that have not been treated with chemicals. Paint the walls with non-toxic, milk-based paints, which are available from some mainstream manufacturers. (This is a big issue as paint surrounds you and outgases dangerous chemicals into the air, which can aggravate respiratory problems, she points out).
Ferber works around her kids’ schedules. “My children are still young, so I meet with clients when they are in school or when I have some child care, twice a week. Often I get to work once the children have gone to sleep.” Her husband is not involved in the business, but provides moral support.
In addition to running her business, Ferber writes articles on design and has enrolled in an online Master of Public Health degree program in Australia. When asked how she keeps all the balls in the air, she emphasizes that she is very organized and focuses on de-cluttering her life. “The more I have to do, the more efficient I have to be with my time,” she adds.
Ferber says she enjoys the balancing act, even though she doesn’t always get enough sleep, and often wishes that she had an extra eight hours in the day. “Sometimes I find being a mother and trying to carve out time for myself quite stressful. Everyone has different ways of coping with the demands of parenting, and for me work and pursuing good health are two avenues. I make all the strands fit together somehow.”
Even though Ferber is sometimes disheartened by the general apathy she has encountered, she is hopeful she can make a difference through her work and her personal efforts. After all, she asks, if you can’t raise the level of environmental awareness in Westchester, with its educated and affluent population, where can you?
To contact Design Alternatives, call (914) 232-3538 or email [email protected]