Becoming “mildly-obsessed” with green living led Emma Rohmann to start a business helping families reduce exposure to toxins at home and shrink their environmental footprint. She runs Green at Home out of her home in Toronto, while parenting two children, ages three and six. We asked Rohmann about green living, building a successful business out of a low carbon lifestyle, and if small actions really make a difference.
Why did you start doing what you do?
It started in university when I was studying environmental engineering. We were learning about water treatment systems and water quality, and that was when I realized I needed to make a change in what I was doing. I became the “hippie” in my engineering class, which was kind of ironic because I never considered myself one.
I started using green cleaners, and then I started reading and watching documentaries, and everything just kind of snowballed from there. Next, I started eating organic, and using natural body care products. Professionally I moved into green building consulting for commercial buildings, and that’s when learned about indoor air quality and started to focus on what I was bringing into my home in other areas as well. So it was definitely a personal mission that became a professional one. I made all these changes slowly. It’s been a 15 plus-year process to get to this point.
What does this work bring to your life?
I gave up a steady paycheque in a good job because this is what is important to me. I don’t know if it’s my calling, that’s a little too woo-woo for me I guess, but some might say it that way. I just feel like it’s my passion project.
Has parenthood changed how you view your work?
When I had my second child I was on maternity leave, on a mat leave budget with two kids and I was wondering how I could afford to keep doing what I was doing. Living green isn’t cheap! I started to question everything. Part of me wanted to learn I was just doing everything for no reason, and that I was exaggerating the situation. If that was true I could just be normal like everybody else. I started to really deep dive into this research project to figure out is organic food really that important? And is what’s in normal skin cream really that bad? I learned that it was important, and it was that bad, so looking at my two kids kind of kicked my efforts into high gear and I became mildly obsessed.
While I was doing that I started my blog, because I found that the messaging from environmental groups and from industry was very polarizing and in your face. I needed somewhere to consolidate my research that wasn’t like that.
What do your kids think about what you do?
They don’t know any different. For them it’s just how things are. I’m really curious to see what happens as my daughter gets older and starts to notice that we do things differently, things like I don’t send single-use packaged snacks to school. Will she say, “Well so-and-so gets this, why don’t I get that?” She is very caring about the environment, she gets turning off lights and that sort of things. She’ll tell us, “No, turn all the lights off because we’re killing the polar bears!” And I’m like, “I’m trying to make supper! I’m going to chop my finger off.”
Besides turning lights off, how do you lower your environmental footprint at home?
We purchase power from Bullfrog Power, so we use renewable offsets. When we bought this house we redid all of the windows, we added insulation, we put in a new roof. We did a lot of energy efficiency upgrades to the house itself. And we have a programmable thermostat. We have the house cooler than most people do in the winter, and then warmer than most in the summer. I make my own cleaning products, which is weird, because I’m not a DIYer. But they work really well and they’re cheap, so I love it. It’s really fast. We buy organic where possible. I’m working on reducing our meat consumption. We use all natural body care products.
Where are areas where you could do better in terms of being green?
I would like to waste less. I create too much recycling, I don’t make everything myself — I have a lot of packaged products. I’m not perfect at this and I try to be patient with myself. I’m a full time, working mom. I do lots of things really, really, well and other areas I know I can improve on. It’s all a work in progress. I pick my battles and I know that other people are picking their battles and don’t judge them for whatever their focus is, but I see my role as just helping people understand what is important to them and where they can make a change. Instead of just constantly saying oh, you’re not doing this? Well that’s not good, blah, blah, blah. Which I think is what a lot of the messaging out there is, it’s very shame based and I don’t think that gets us anywhere.
Do you honestly think that all these small actions — recycling, using green products etc- are actually doing any good?
Yup. I do, I really do. And I get quite a bit of pushback on this stance. We’re at the point where we need radical change, but all these little things still make a difference. But every individual is what creates the community. If we don’t give our money to companies that are polluting or to companies that are putting poisons in us then they don’t have a business. So it’s all of our individual actions, whether voting politicians in who make the decisions for us, or voting with our dollar.
If we just say, “Oh, whatever I do makes no difference, it’s all because of the government, or because of these big industries,” then we’re hooped. I really believe in working from the ground up, and empowering people to make choices that feel good to them, and it just snowballs. And if people aren’t happy and healthy then they won’t give a shit about the planet. They’re worried about themselves. So I do think that it’s really important that we continue to take action.
What’s been hardest about what you do?
Never having enough time. There are lots of ways to do all this green living stuff more cost effectively, but often the trade off is time. I just feel like I want to do so much more. I know I can buy stuff in bulk with my own containers, but it’s not that acceptable at the grocery store that I shop at every week. So time is the biggest thing for me. Doing things this way is more expensive, but I have reduced what I buy in general. That’s been a big eye opener, just not buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff, and so that, it kind of offsets some of the costs.
What are some of the challenges that you have in common with other moms?
I think all moms get into the trap of looking at others and thinking, “Well she has her shit together, why can’t I?” Every now and then I catch myself and I just take a step back and realize, no wait, I have shit together in other areas. I am very good at lots of things, but I don’t have everything together. And I think that’s what we all need to recognize about each other, you know. Some people are great at baking, and hand-making everything. I am not. But we get into this trap and I feel like it’s completely social media driven. I also think any mom of a toddler deserves a medal. I constantly give myself passes for not doing things because I have a toddler.
What other moms do you admire?
Lindsay Coulter, the David Suzuki Foundation’s’ Queen of Green. She is just amazing. I did her Queen of Green coaching program a couple years ago and she taught be so much about being compassionate, empathetic, and talking to people about these issues without being knee-jerk about it. I really admire her whole outlook on things.
Also, I am part of a community of mom entrepreneurs, Mamas & Co, and just seeing what women are able to do when they’re working for themselves and building their own businesses but also making other people’s lives better is just incredible. All those moms inspire me to keep going. They instil my faith in society.