Emma is the owner of Green At Home, where she uses her engineering background to run a business with the purpose of cutting through the overwhelm and sharing practical strategies to help families live more healthful lives.
Healthier Homes & Homemade Beauty With Emma
What motivated you to begin Green At Home? How can we work with you?
I am an environmental engineer and started my own green living journey in university. About 10 years later when I had my first baby, I wanted to make sure I was providing her the healthiest start I could and became mildly obsessed with reading labels. When my second came along, I really wanted to understand what we could do to continue using healthier products while on a mat leave budget. So I started doing deeper research. I’m talking scientific journals and studies about a range of topics. I wanted to know whether organic food was really necessary for us. I wanted to understand more about the issues around plastics. And I wanted to figure out what ingredients I should really be avoiding in household products.
I started Green at Home to help communicate what I learned in this research, in a non-biased, non-judgmental way. I want to support people’s curiosity about green living while offering solutions that fit within their lifestyle and goals. That’s also why I host workshops and provide in-home (or Skype) consultations: to help families make choices that are right for them, and show them how simple (and cost effective) it can be to create a healthier, greener home.
You are also a co-leader of an amazing networking group called Mamas & Co. Tell us how an entrepreneurial mom can benefit from joining this group? What would we expect?
Mamas & Co. is a networking and education group specifically designed for moms who run their own business or are thinking of starting one. We are a community focused on support and encouragement while providing valuable information to help our members grow their businesses. We offer a private online forum for members to ask questions, share successes and struggles, and share their experiences with others. We also host in-person events in Toronto with networking and educational seminars. It is not uncommon for our members to collaborate and even hire one another – it’s an amazing group of women!
As a mom of two young children, what do you find the most challenging part of going green for your family?
When I started researching the safest products and best practices, the most challenging part was information overload and a constant feeling of not doing enough. Now that I’ve been so immersed in the details, I’ve created a process for me to approach new information and ideas without getting overwhelmed. I still struggle with comparing myself to others, but we all do the best we can with the resources we have and I keep reminding myself of that. That’s also why I turn to sources of info and inspiration that lift me up, not stress me out (like Green Moms Collective, of course!).
We know there are toxic ingredients in our products. What resources do you recommend we use to make label reading easier?
I often recommend the Think Dirty App to my clients as a starting place. It’s similar to Skin Deep, but is Canadian and I find it has a better user interface and clearly sourced references. A list of my other go-to label reading tools is in this handy Tipsheet.
Even with all those great resources, label reading can be overwhelming and confusing. Do you think this has led more people to be interested in making their own products?
I think that’s part of it. The labeling laws for cosmetics don’t help consumers decipher what’s truly non-toxic. Consumers can’t rely on the front of packaging since terms like “organic” and “natural” aren’t regulated (unless you see a third party certification). Instead, we have to be able to read the detailed ingredient lists to know what’s in the products we put on our bodies. Another reason is cost-savings. Once you learn how to make the basics and have some ingredients on-hand, it’s often more cost-effective to make your own than buy off the shelf.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start making their own beauty products?
I would say start simple. Have a look at recipes that have fewer ingredients and preferably ones that you recognize. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the number of recipes and advice out there. If there’s someone you know who already makes their own, ask for their favourite starter recipes. My go-to resource when I’m making something new is the David Suzuki’s Queen of Green. Then, as you get more experience you can start experimenting and tweaking recipes that suit you. You can also go to a workshop to learn how to make them with some guidance (you can check out my upcoming workshops if you’re in Toronto). And there are several groups on Facebook where DIYers or professional makers can ask questions and get feedback.
How can we care for our homemade beauty products? How long do they typically last?
Ideally, the recipes you use will include care instructions and how long they last. If the recipes include preservatives, they likely aren’t all-natural. The best way to make homemade products last longer is to keep them from being in contact with water. You can reduce the potential for microbial growth by avoiding using your fingers in jarred products, and by keeping products in the fridge.
Tell us about your own skin care routine. What are your go-to products, homemade and store-bought?
My skin care routine is very basic. I rely on store-bought for soaps and facial products. My go-to right now is Pretty Cosmetics for face wash and night cream (I like that the face wash does double duty as a makeup remover, even for my sensitive eyes). Most of my make-up comes from Pure + Simple. I love my homemade body butter and lip balm. But the best part of my skin care routine is my homemade sugar scrub – it’s like a day at the spa and it’s so simple!
Thanks so much for all this helpful information, Emma! We can't wait to learn more about DIY beauty from you! One last question…now we really want to know what are you still trying to green in your lifestyle? What do you wish you could do better?
I think there will always be ways I can do things better. I drive to the grocery store and don't regularly shop in bulk. That's probably not something that is going to change in the near future, no matter how much I really want to or know I should, because of the time and interest I have available to spend shopping. My most recent focus to be greener is reducing packaging waste. I'm going to try to bake and make more food, especially kids' snacks, from scratch. I still rely on packaged foods more than I would like, so that's my little project for the winter – finding recipes that work and making the time to do it. Hopefully, the kids are as into it as I am!