Lori Bongiorno

Many Shades of Green

Bongiorno’s book gives readers the tools to lead a greener lifestyle.

Even after writing a book titled Green, Greener, Greenest with green letters printed on 100-percent recycled paper, Lori Bongiorno ’91 does not claim to be a hard-core environmentalist. Instead, she describes herself as a mother and a journalist who became increasingly interested in health and, through that, the environment.

“The health of the planet and personal health are inextricably linked,” she explains.

Green, Greener, Greenest is filled with “no brainers”—easy adjustments that are better for the environment and personal health. Each of the book’s 12 chapters discusses a different aspect of the environmentally friendly lifestyle, including food, apparel, and pest control. The chapters contain short, clear descriptions of environmental and health effects and ways to address these problems.

“We all know we should be greener, just like we all know we need to lose 10 pounds,” Bongiorno says.

She believes the principle that helps dieters also works for those seeking to help the environment: Small, consistent changes result in large impacts.

Thus, Bongiorno gives her readers a “menu of choices.” Green options are simple and cheap. Greener ones require more time, energy, and investment, while the greenest choices often suggest some form of activism.

For example, a green water-conserving option is to turn off the tap while brushing your teeth. Those seeking to be greener can wash their cars using a bucket of water rather than a hose, and the greenest choices include installing low-flow toilets and turning off the water while using soap in the shower.

Bongiorno’s path to greener living began after she graduated from Lehigh with a degree in political science. Because she enjoyed reading, writing, and learning, she worked in a small publishing company until BusinessWeek hired her as a reporter.

She believes the principle that helps dieters also works for those seeking to help the environment: Small, consistent changes result in large impacts.

Bongiorno drew on her journalistic skills when her husband was diagnosed with stage-four melanoma in January 1999. During the next two years, she pored through medical studies and quizzed experts on the disease and its treatments. Her husband’s treatments, which included invasive therapies and three surgeries, convinced Bongiorno “that it’s better to prevent serious disease than deal with it,” she says.

When her husband passed away in late 2000, Bongiorno used her newly gained medical knowledge to write about health issues.

In 2002, a friend invited her to write for what is now the National Geographic Society’s quarterly resource for the National Geographic Society’s Web site for the eco-conscious called The Green Guide. Bongiorno hesitated.

“I’m not an environmentalist,” she said, but she agreed when her friend mentioned that many things harmful to the environment also have medical consequences.

While writing about toxins in plastic food containers, Bongiorno made the connection between the environment and health. Two types of plastic additives are suspected of harming health, bisphenol A or BPA, often found in hard plastic containers, and phthalates, which are used to soften plastics. Both BPA and phthalates may leach into food and water and disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. What’s more, phthalates’ manufacturing and incineration processes release highly toxic dioxins into the environment.

That day, Bongiorno recycled her plastic storage containers and bought glass instead. It was one of her first consciously green acts.

“It was easy to do. A no brainer,” she says.

Since Perigee Books published Green, Greener, Greenest, it has gained popularity especially among young mothers and college students. Bongiorno speaks at events and at colleges, including Farmingdale State College, and she also blogs regularly for Yahoo! Green.

These days, her family eats a low-meat, mostly organic diet filled with fruits and vegetables purchased at the farmer’s market. But the food is stored in an older, inefficient refrigerator that Bongiorno plans to replace soon. Bongiorno also owns a Subaru station wagon, but she only drives 4,000 miles a year.

“I’m doing what I can,” Bongiorno says. “If I were to do everything all the time, it would be too much. But doing something is better than doing nothing.”

That is the premise of Bongiorno’s book. No one person may be the same hue as Kermit the Frog, but everyone can turn a shade or two greener.

—Rebecca Straw