The Zero Footprint Baby
How do you raise a carbon neutral baby? Should you buy toys? What about relatives who need to fly to visit? If you need a refrigerator, where do you buy the most energy efficient model? The answers to Keya Chatterjee’s questions were far flung: she found some with family members from India, others on the internet, and ended up ordering a refrigerator from Silicon Valley.
Chatterjee, the Director of Renewable Energy and Footprint Outreach at the World Wildlife Fund, was kind enough to take time out of her busy work day and speak with DC EcoWomen about the challenges of raising a zero footprint child, writing a book, and juggling a full-time job.
Before the birth of their son, Chatterjee and her husband were already well acquainted with green living. They had no refrigerator, buried their compost, and had solar panels installed in their backyard. “Some people counted calories,” she wrote in her book’s introduction. “We counted kilowatts.” But a baby changed the math. A former employee at NASA, Chatterjee had the skills to do the research and the training to write up the answers she found. “I wrote the book because I feel that climate change is an important issue for parents and there wasn’t really anything out there about the individual choices parents can make,” Chatterjee said. “The more information I was compiling, the more I thought, I don’t want everyone to do all this work.” Thus, The Zero Footprint Baby was born.
The Zero Footprint Baby looks at all aspects of childrearing, starting with pregnancy. And, of course, Chatterjee addresses the issue of diapers.
“It’s actually funny because I realized long ago in my head that it was possible to not use diapers,” she said, “thinking back to how my family members live in India. There are no books about it. It’s just normal life.” Surprisingly enough, diapers aren’t a huge part of the carbon footprint of a baby. “It’s really more the decisions that parents are making,” said Chatterjee. Though she ended up raising her son without any form of diapering at all, Chatterjee found that the size of your house, the number of flights you take (or relatives take to visit you), and medical care are all a much bigger part of the carbon footprint.
She was surprised to find how much the medical system impacted the numbers. The carbon footprint of the United States medical system is much higher than that of the United Kingdom. “It was interesting to read about as I was reading about the medicalization of birth.”
Though Chatterjee decided to breastfeed her baby, her book lists tips for reducing the carbon footprint of a formula fed child. Don’t drive to pick up the formula, buy in bulk whenever possible, and buy brands with as little secondary packaging (like shrink wrap inside a cardboard container) as possible, she suggests. In fact, many of the chapters include alternatives to some of Chatterjee’s choices, and she explains many of her own personal compromises. She and her husband eventually decided to buy a refrigerator to store breast milk, though they purchased a specialty and extremely energy efficient model.
With The Zero Footprint Baby, “My aspiration was to provide a sense of community,” Chatterjee said. “I feel very strongly that people should do whatever they can and not feel stressed about what they can’t do.”
“The biggest challenges were interacting with people around us and explaining what we were doing,” she said. “You put yourself out there, then you open yourself up to criticism.” One of the arguments she heard most was, “Oh, you’re not doing one hundred percent of what you can do… It’s a prioritization question. There will be criticism no matter how you choose to parent.”
Her book is already making an impact: The Zero Footprint Baby was featured as one of EarthShare’s best environmental stories of 2013.
When asked how she managed to transition to such a low impact lifestyle, “We wouldn’t have done any of the things we’re doing if they were hard for us,” Chatterjee said. For example, she explained, her family doesn’t use a lot of heat or air conditioning. Instead, they go to the pool in the summer or museums in the winter. “For us, our lives are much more rewarding.”
Written by Caroline Selle, Zero Waste Girl