Mindy Pennybacker '70Living Green
Mindy Pennybacker '70 does not try to scare people into saving the earth. Instead, the environmental journalist and consumer advocate taps into our natural desire to lead better, healthier lives.
As author of "Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices," (St. Martin's Press, 2010) and founder of the website GreenerPenny.com, Pennybacker provides practical, reliable information amid a media landscape filled with doomsday scenarios and green-washing hype. Her readers continually inspire her, as they seek advice on what to eat, wear, drive and much more.
"Parents are natural environmentalists. It's easy to blend the optimism for our children with optimism for the planet," explains Pennybacker, living and writing in hometown Honolulu after a 26-year career in New York City that included more than a decade as editor-in-chief of The Green Guide.
Pennybacker, who is married to author and editor Don Wallace, had earlier worked for the Trust for Public Land and the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We were establishing community gardens, preserving the wetlands in New York Harbor, creating a model for saving natural ecosystems and supporting local and organic agriculture," she recalled. "I didn't realize at the time that we were pioneers."
It's no stretch to call her a born environmentalist. Just 6 weeks old when her grandfather first cradled her in the waters off Waikiki, Pennybacker grew up surfing, fishing, hiking and cherishing the natural world. She maintained that outlook when she left Hawai'i for college, earning a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Stanford University, a master's in fine arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a law degree from the University of California-Davis.
Working as an assistant editor at Glamour magazine early in her career provided a taste of consumer reporting, but it was after son Rory was born in 1986 that Pennybacker dove headlong into environmental reporting and advocacy. "I wanted to make the safest choices for my child," she said, explaining that she nixed the monthly pest control spray standard in her Chelsea apartment building at the time and spent extra for organic apples and pears, her son's favorite foods.
Some of the scientific research she learns about is frightening, but rather than being alarmist she assures readers that safer choices exist, and specifically warns them away from unwise ones. "Why use scare tactics? We don't want to drive ourselves mad," Pennybacker said. "You can have a wonderful lifestyle and still make healthy choices for yourself, your family and the environment."
For Pennybacker and Wallace, that lifestyle includes spending at least a month a year in their second home on a "wild island" off France's Atlantic coast. Those respites are especially precious when Rory can join them On leave from Stanford University, he works for a hedge fund in NYC, focusing on investments in green energy.
Back in her hometown, Pennybacker is heartened to see her alma mater focus wholeheartedly on sustainability. "Hawai'i is one of the most amazing ecosystems on the planet. None of us should take it for granted."
By Christine Donnelly