With a background in finance and law and four young boys, Anna Hackman was an unlikely candidate to become a blogger who specializes in green building. But fears about her kids' health led Anna to learn anything and everything about the materials that were being used to build her home, and how they might affect her family. Her side-hobby became a full-time job of research into green building and business which Anna now shares on her blog, Green Talk.
Although I've known her for years, Anna and I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time a few weeks ago at the North American International Car Show where this spit-fire of a mom from New Jersey could be found cornering reps from every car company to ask about how their cars are made, and what they are doing to make them greener.
MNN: Green homes are all the rage now, but they weren’t even heard of in 2000 when you were building your home. Why did you decide to build green?
Anna Hackman: My kids all have learning disabilities: dyslexia and ADD. I kept thinking that there must have been something in the environment that caused it. I had read a bit about toxic chemicals and health effects in the 1990s. It wasn’t as popular but people were writing about it. And I was very concerned about the chemicals that were inside my house, because that’s where we spend most of our time.
So I decided that I wanted a green house. But not just a ‘green’ house but a nontoxic house. Now, my background is finance and law, but there I was looking up chemicals and trying to figure out what they were. How the heck do I know what chemicals are what? It was baptism by fire. I had to figure out what chemicals were in everything and whether or not they were dangerous for my family.
When I started, I didn’t realize how intense this was going to be. Everything, and I mean everything, that went in that house had to be nontoxic. I called the companies and pestered the builders. I had this really special subfloor that used a low-emitting formaldehyde and the builder put it in using a nasty adhesive. I realized at that point that it was all going to be up to me. I couldn’t expect him to know not to use that adhesive because nobody was looking into these kinds of things. It was a full-time job to research, find the materials, talk to the subcontractors. It was eye-opening and mind-boggling how much detail was involved. You have to really like that kind of stuff to do what I did. And I loved it.
When and why did you start your blog?
In 1999, I started building a notebook of all the things that would be in my dream house. We had just finished remodeling the house we were in. It had a lot of issues — energy issues and other weird things. I learned how to fix this house up to a point where I realized we really couldn’t fix it anymore or we would be out-priced in the neighborhood, so we decided to build a new place.
It took a few years to find the perfect place to build and in the meantime my notebook was 5 inches thick with ideas. Back then I was tearing things out of magazines, because there wasn’t really much on Internet. I started to build my house in 2003 and I was by myself. There was no one that understood green building back then. People were constantly rolling their eyes at me and so it was up to me to do my own research. We started building in 2003 and finished in 2005. People called me all of the time for building advice, so in 2007 I started my blog.
What is the environmental issue that concerns you most?
Toxicity in food. And all of the chemicals that are leaching into our bodies from other things that we’re not controlling. Because it has a real impact on our bodies, particularly on our kids. My oldest son is now a Type 1 diabetic. Where did that come from? He’s 15 years old. And of course, I can’t help but wonder: Was it vaccines? Was it food? Pesticides sprayed around the house? Drinking from plastic bottles? If I had to sum it up I would say that I’m most concerned about the chemicals in our environment. It’s so scary because as a parent you feel helpless. Most of us don’t have chemical degrees so that we can look at a label and know which chemicals are safe. So what do you do? That’s why I want the Safe Chemicals Act to pass.
Tell me about the book you’re working on.
It’s called "The Jewish Princesses’ Guide to a Greener Bar Mitzvah." I wrote it that so that I could get the point across that it’s not a crunchy guide to throwing a bar mitzvah. Because if you can’t have a little bling, it’s not fun. I wanted it to be fun but still easy on the Earth. When we had our boys’ bar mitzvahs, I wanted people to not even realize that they were green so that I could show them that you can have a conventional bar mitzvah that’s still really easy on the planet. The Jewish religion is very connected to the Earth, so I think it think it fits in very well with our beliefs to have a religious event that is friendly to the environment.
How do you do to maintain your sanity?
I drive myself crazy and I have you guys (Anna and I are both members of the Green Moms Carnival.) You have to be as cautious as you can be and if you don’t feel comfortable, you need to recognize that maybe there is a reason that you don’t feel comfortable. Mother’s intuition is incredibly strong.
After a certain time, it’s really hard to control your kids. They’re gonna go out and eat stuff you don’t want them to eat. The cafeterias at school stink. They love fast food. What are you going to do? You can’t keep them in a box forever. So you’re hoping whatever you instilled in them at the beginning, they’ll remember as they get older. You’re hoping that it somehow sinks in.
Also on MNN: Read more profiles of interesting people in the green realm