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A Minimalist Christmas | The Tree Alternative

With the world of things like Pinterest at our fingertips, it’s no surprise that people are jumping at the alternative of easier and smaller Christmas Tree solutions. When I was 18, I had rushed my boyfriend (now husband) to a big box store to buy a fake tree on sale. It had lasted several years which is great, I love decorating trees, but in a few of the places I had lived over the past few years, it was not ideal to have even the smaller scale tree I had. I didn’t even know there were other options!

It’s hard for people to justify investing in a tree that they only have out for a month in a year, and still be able to store it (and storage is valuable real estate in the apartment world!). Along with the tree, the decorations, lights etc., also need to be stored somewhere, so now it’s impeding even more.

For those who love the traditional tree-feel, I’ve seen many people go for the 2-3’ trees (in various colours: white, purple lights, black with red lights, traditional green with white or multi-coloured lights), which can be placed on tables (read: away from mischievous pets, and small fingers). I know my hubby and I lived in this very cramped basement apartment for 2 years where my (what I thought was small) 6’ tree took up most of our hall space! It was very invasive! A 3’ tree would have been far more practical, but still offer my love for decorating trees.

I have some friends who have kindly provided/shared with me some of the things they’ve done to overcome their tree space challenges.

1: The DIY Tree

My friend Morgan says: “Each of the top smaller pieces are on their own and the longer bottom lengths are cut in half so they’re each 2 pieces.” She followed up to mention her boards are comprised of cardboard, cork, batting and then felt. As of right now they’re tied together and hung with a string in the back, however she’s looking at finding a better hanging solution. She puts a little shout-out on Facebook to her friends, who collectively (over the years) make her decorations for her tree. It’s a great solution for conserving her space, while also creating a personal touch to her space.

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2: Au Natural

I really love this look; my friend Jessie was inspired from something she saw on Pinterest. She actually had her dog find the sticks, “I used a pocket knife to debark and make them the right length. I used walnuts to polish them.” Which is a great personal touch. She adds lights and a few simple colour themed decorations to it to help keep it simple, but still stunning.

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3: Simple Tinsel

This was a fun and very simple artistic way of giving that look of a tree, just up on the wall! My friend Meagan here used tinsel by itself. Please be careful with tinsel if you have pets, it can be very harmful if swallowed. That said, it’s a fun way to create texture in a very simple way! There are many ways to put a creative spin to this, or if you do not like tinsel, you could use other variants of garland, or purely just lights etc. The options are endless!

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These of course are just a few of the very many choices out there in the world. Feel inspired and have fun!

Wishing everyone a very happy holidays from Nested Green.

Green Jobs | A little Speech

While juggling a few different things in business right now, I have an exciting update on a recent event we were very pleased to participate in. Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) had invited us, well… Katherine, to speak to students and those interested in a career that revolved around the environment. The speakers promoted passion but also sustainable business structures to help inspire those interested in this field.

With approximately 50+ students and those interested in changing career paths, it was actually a larger turn out than we expected. The few other speakers were engineers and large corporate businesses focusing on sustainable environmental factors from a much larger scale.

With a quick speech from most speakers, Katherine insisted on telling us where she got started in the business. When we spoke to the many people eager to chat with us, they seemed inspired and enlightened to find a natural business… on a smaller scale. This made us very happy!

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Of course our evening went much longer than we anticipated… with hearing hopes and dreams from many others, we attempted to guide them in the best direction possible to help achieve their goals. It made us both so excited to see so many eager faces ready to jump into the work of environmental design (and living!).

Suffice to say, Katherine enjoyed telling her story so much she (and I) can’t wait to go and do something like this again! Despite her recovering from illness, she did very well in her speech… come take a look for yourself!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uH1UEEvhv8&w=420&h=315]

Designs from the Mat… Hippies and Hemp to the Rescue

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I was called a “hippie chick” once. Well, probably more than once but at least one time that I specifically remember.  I took offence since I didn’t own a tie-dyed t-shirt or drive a Volkswagen Westfalia.  Could it have been that I let my hair grow too long??  What I didn’t realize at the time was that the person who called me this term was referring to my social and political outlook on life.  I should have thanked him for noticing.  I was born in the year that “Hair” hit Broadway, but my parents were the furthest from being Hippies.

On the other hand, our neighbours in Calgary, Alberta were Hippies. I played with their daughter and went on outings with the family in the luxury of a Volkswagen Westfalia.  One outing in particular may be responsible for my fascination and reverence for mid-century modern design … I may have been all of 5 years old.  We were treated to a visit to a custom build home in the middle of ranch country. The home had lofting ceilings, sky lights and spiral stair cases… all covered in moss green shag carpet… no, not the ceiling.  Giant pillows in paisley patterned fabrics, low tables and hanging lamps swagged from the lofty ceiling was all that adorned the grand main area.  Despite the serenity of the country side, I could not help but notice the oil well pumps cluttering the vista from the giant windows.

The Hippy movement of the 60’s and 70’s opened up alot of alternate thinking in the youth of the time. The use of natural products such as hemp were considered illicite due to it’s relation to cannibis sativa, commonly known as marijauna… or weed.  Hemp was a cash crop in the United States long before the country was even that… Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.  Growing industrial hemp in the the U.S. is illegal (although many states are moving to remove the restrictions). In Canada it is highly regulated… pardon the pun.  Check out the links below for a brief history lesson on why such a useful and environmentally progressive product was made illegal.  Hemp can replace the use of fossil fuels for plastics, energy, paper, concrete.  Wonder why wealthy industrial tycoons with interests in forests, metals and oil used their influence to manipulate the government and the country’s population??  Henry Ford produced his Model-T car with “hemp plastic” with an engine that ran on clean burning hemp oil (Ethanol) … where is this product now?? Mr. Ford’s friends at Standard Oil (J.D. Rockefeller) and the United States Steel Corporation (Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Charles Schwab) were not happy with Henry’s use of products.

Hippies embraced Eastern and indigenous peoples’ philosophies, home grown foods, natural products, social reforms, holding governments to task for their actions and sharing “Truths” amongst those who will listen and those curious to learn. Was there a dark age of knowledge that all that is good for us was burried? With the aid of the internet and those who wish to expose that which is wrong in the world, the information that has been hidden from us for hundreds of years is finally being revealed. Well, it’s probably been out there all along but we just weren’t programmed to hear it.  Remember the X-Files?? The Truth is Out There.

There is a growing interest and a resurgence in the philosophies and political views of the Hippie movement.  How can our future be anything but bleak with the continuation of a system that propagates unwellness for our air, water, food, animals and ourselves by pushing plastics, pollution and politics that create wars, famines and plagues? Hemp, the carbon negative resource of the past has the potential to replace the poisons of our current economic and political systems.  I’ll get off my soap-box now… back to the mat!!

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More Information:

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2012/12/05/how-hemp-became-illegal-the-marijuana-link/

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-other-cannabis-war-20140603

http://naihc.org/hemp_information/hemp_facts.html

http://www.hempcar.org/ford.shtml

http://higherperspective.com/2014/02/5-uses-hemp-show-legalized-immediately.html

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/4-ways-hemp-can-save-the-world/

http://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/perfect-plant-7-great-uses-for-industrial-hemp.html

http://hempethics.weebly.com/what-is-industrial-hemp.html

http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/industry-markets-and-trade/statistics-and-market-information/by-product-sector/crops/pulses-and-special-crops-canadian-industry/industrial-hemp/?id=1174595656066

http://beforeitsnews.com/blogging-citizen-journalism/2013/06/hemp-anti-bacterial-fabric-homes-fuel-and-more-something-that-all-americans-can-agree-on-2448220.html

got space? Are you having Emotional Interface with it? Whaaaaaat!!??

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It’s ok to admit it.  Everybody wants it.  In fact, in most places it is expected.  Emotional Interface, that is.

What is Emotional Interface you ask?  If you are a web-designer you are well familiar with the name and the concept.  What works in the virtual world should work in the real world too, no?  Architects and interior designers could learn a thing or three from our virtual design world cousins.  In 2010, Aarron Walter, Director of User Experience at Mail Chimp gave a presentation called “Learning to Love Humans”.  In his presentation, he says:

“Humans, though cute and cuddly, are not without their flaws, which makes designing for them a challenge. By understanding how the wet, mushy processor works in these hairy little devils, you can design interfaces and web experiences that will have them hopelessly devoted to your brand.”

Our ancient ancestors were very good at Emotional Interface.  For them, it was as simple as sitting around a fire pit, sharing stories, dancing, meditating and posting the days events on the cave wall.  So, if you have linked, shared or participated in a space then you may have achieved Emotional Interface. Human needs dictate that we require functional, reliable, usable and pleasurable spaces.  You know when one of these elements is missing in a space:  Where is the door?  Is this the right door?  Can I open the door?  Wow, the door opened for me!!  A positive Emotional Interface experience = pleasure.

Cave Painting Cartoon

Technology plays a huge roll in making our living spaces more pleasurable. From old tech like refrigerators and vacuums to new tech like the AI thermostat “nest”.  They all have a function that can make life a little easier for us. Although both creepy and awesome, the “nest” thermostat learns your room temperature desired patterns so that one day you just leave it alone and it will just know what temperature you want your room to be.  It is kind of like raising a child… but then there is always the teenage years… “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?  Dave, I really think I’m entitled to an answer to that question.” … or for the younger crowd … “The cake is a lie”.

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The spaces that you create for yourself tell the world of your values… you are visually communicating your brand as it were.  What are you telling the world about yourself?  Our cultural and social upbringing influences how we feel about the spaces we inhabit and our expectations of what they should give us. Restaurants are a good example of expectation of an emotional interface. Depending on the quality of the food and prices on the menu, we expect a restaurant to deliver an equal or better offering in service and the physical environment.  Food, service and decor are the Holy Trinity of a successful restaurant… just ask effing Gordon Ramsay!! … aaaaaand we expect it to work out or we give an unfavourable review and the relationship ends.  It is harsh, but like Mr. Walter says, designing for us hairy little devils is a challenge.

“Interior spaces are often the primary interface between users and the built environment and can have a marked influence on our sense of belonging, comfort, emotion and productivity.” Arqua Design

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Every element of design in our environment plays an emotional toll on our soul. The shape, size, colour and texture create a composition of balance, contrast, pattern, proportion and more … that’s a lot of combinations and permutations that could go horribly wrong!!  Be kind to the design!!  Know that everything evolves, the designers are taking note of what works and doesn’t and there is always another toy arriving to distract us from those pesky negative emotions and give us one more pleasurable experience.

“The only intuitive interface is the nipple. After that it’s all learned.” – Bruce Ediger

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Whoa Dude…. What Happened to My Light Bulb!? 2014 The Year of the Light Bulb

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As of January 1, 2014 the U.S. and Canada has ceased the manufacture and importation of incandescent light bulbs. Worried yet? If you are concerned about the upcoming bulb shortages you’d best stock up like it’s a zombie apocalypse because they’ll be going fast and furious. Panic not, the EU and Australia went through with this same ban back in 2009… so it can be done without total mayhem.

Dining room glass feature
Where would we be without the invention of the incandescent light bulb? Scholars argue that there were more than 22 scientist with patents throughout the world over from 1809 until 1879 when Thomas Edison and his wealthy backers (one being J.P. Morgan who owned General Electric and The Titanic) purchased the patent from two Canadian scientists that he improved upon for his now commercially successfully light bulb design. The incandescent light bulb has been evolving ever since but now will see it’s end of days and be dismissed to a shelf in a museum and memories past.
Commercial properties have been refitting their ceilings with fluorescent light fixtures as a cost saving measure since the late 1990’s. The LED bulbs at the time of this great switch-up were priced far out of economical sense for building owners. The new LED (light emitting diode) technology has overtaken the CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulb in new commercial building lighting design. Currently the LED light is only slightly more energy efficient than the CFL for the same amount of light but the LED light also can be dimmed and tinted other colours, as well, the next generation of technologies promises to better the efficiency. Health issues such as seizures and the special disposal of CFL bulbs, since they contain toxic mercury, will see the end eventually of the CFL bulb too. The research into commercial lighting has lit the way for a future of LED lighting in our homes at a reasonable price.

Mud room and Powder room light fixture
Now I’m sure you are smart and understand our governments’ legislation of light bulbs is motivated by reducing energy consumption… we’ll just stick with that premise (see “Research” link at the end for more info if you suspect otherwise). Big retailers such as IKEA, Home Depot and Walmart are on top of the low priced LED bulbs sales… so we should not have to be too worried about finding an affordable bulb for our existing light fixtures. IKEA has moved to only selling light fixtures that use LED technology, so that’s a huge statement of where they think the future of lighting is heading.
A good cost saving strategy is to stock up on incandescent bulbs to avoid the cost of new technologies… then hold on until the competition heats up for the newest and cheapest LED bulbs to come out of the giant retailers … the fight is on for your light bulb dollars. Don’t be tempted by the reduced cost of CFL bulbs either. The environmental impact of even the smallest amounts of mercury that is used in these bulbs is astronomical when the shear number of bulbs that are used in North America are added up. Those bulbs will all die one day and must go somewhere. As with most waste in our countries, not all of it that should be handled with special care make it to the proper facilities and end up in regular waste dumps where the toxins will eventually leak into our precious ground water.

Living room light fixture and custom drapery
If money is tight coming out of your pocket… stretch it a little and stock up on the inexpensive incandescent bulbs to hold you over… invest a little for a few LED bulbs for high use spaces like kitchens… or that lamp you never shut off for “security” reasons… mom. Spend some to save some is the name of the game here. The trendy “Industrial Style” is glorifying the incandescent light bulb in one last hurr-ahh… before they are dismissed from the store shelves as the cause of over consumption of electricity… what’s next? Yes, your oven could be next… or perhaps your refrigerator?? Remember… when in doubt, turn it out … or just light a candle instead!!

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Walmart:
http://inhabitat.com/walmart-launches-line-of-10-led-bulbs/

Canada ban 2014 – Government unprepared for mercury waste from increased use of CFLs:
http://digitaljournal.com/article/341813
http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/in-line-with-u-s-ottawa-to-allow-sales-of-less-efficient-light-bulbs-1.1484749
http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/incandescent-light-bulb-ban-starts-jan-1-2014-1.2462888
Canada govt FAQ for light bulbs
http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/regulations-codes-standards/7281
Ikea news:
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-01/ikea-plans-to-sell-only-led-lights-worldwide-to-cut-emissions
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-01/ikea-plans-to-sell-only-led-lights-worldwide-to-cut-emissions.html
http://jamesbedell.com/blog/2013/8/22/ikea-is-going-all-led-heres-what-that-means-for-the-lighting-industry
Research:
http://freedomlightbulb.blogspot.ca/

Avoiding Toxic Interiors… What’s Making Me Sick?

6 ways to include healthier environments in your wellness journey

In my persuit of healthier living, which began with a personal realization that I “did not feel well” far too often, I found that every element of my life was saturated with toxic chemicals.  I started with a detox diet, then edited my daily diet and started practicing yoga again.  I found I felt better after taking these steps but I knew there could be more I could do to feel even better.  I took a look around my home and realized that the source of alot of my stress was the clutter around me and the possible toxins all this stuff was shedding.

It is a challenge to avoid the toxins being dumped on us in every respect of our lives.  There is a substantial list of sources of toxins in our environment.  Unhealthy chemicals are present in our air, water, food, building materials, medicines, clothing and more.  Even people and stressful situations can be bad for our bodies. Practically every element of our lives is touched by over 80,000 “legal” chemicals.

Even our pets and creatures of the wilderness are affected by our use of chemicals.  Honey bees for example, which our flowering crops depend on for production, are mysteriously dying off.  The reason, discovered by bee keepers, the spraying of herbicides (glysophates) such as Monsanto’s popular product Round-Up… but that’s a whole other topic for future articles.

We don’t live in a bubble and can not possibly hide ourselves from all the toxic substances floating around our environment, but riding our lives of the troubling “low hanging fruit” can be acheived gradually if you have time… or go for the total Detox with “Chemical Cold-turkey”.  Here are six areas in which we can make changes that will make a difference to the health of our bodies and to the environment.

1.  Choose natural, organic and ethical fabrics.  Why?  Textiles such as nylon are produced using fosil fuels which impact greatly on the Earth’s environment.  These chemical based fabrics also contain endocrine disrupting toxins such as BPA and thalates.  Choosing organic cotton over standard cotton is important because the production of cotton is one the largest users of toxic herbicides and pesticides and thus polluters of our water system.  Most of the cotton crops from Indian are a GMO (genetically modified organism) crop called BT Cotton.  BT Cotton in India has recently been exposed as the reason for the mass suicides of poor cotton farmers.  Another productive fibre, hemp (Cannabis Sativa L) is considered a “carbon negative” material.  Naturally organic, it grows quickly without the usual chemicals, less water than crops such as cotton and higher yields per acre.  Canada has a controlled production of hemp crops and several states in the USA have recently made hemp production legal again.  I could write a long essay on this topic alone.  Silk, wool, linen (flax) and ramie (nettle) are other classic natural fabrics, used for centuries all over the world.  Look for the label of the organic textiles organization OEKO-TEX® on your purchases to ensure you are getting a certified sustainable textile product.

2.  Re-upholster or slip-cover your gently used quality sofas and arm chairs.  Why?  Upholstered furniture sold at department stores is almost always treated with toxic fire retardants.  Studies have shown that Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR) and more specifically Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are “chemicals (that) may disrupt human thyroid hormone functioning and cause other health effects, prompting many nations to ban or suspend their use in new consumer goods”(1).  These bio-accumulative toxins store in our fatty tissue (such as breast tissue and waist line) and contribute to our suseptibility to cancers.  PBDE are found in household things such as sofas, rugs and electronics and leaches out in the form of household dust (5). Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) trade names like Stainmaster and Teflon are use as stain guards added to textiles are considered toxic and possible causes of birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruptor and “likely carcinogen” (6)  Wool is the most naturally fire resistant natural textile.  When you purchase soft furnishings from your favourite retailer, if you can choose the fabric, ask if it is treated with a fire retardant and stain repellant.  If available and guaranteed for long-wear, choose organic and sustainable fabrics that can be washed since dry-cleaning is another toxic source called Perchlorethylene (PERC) an is a known carcinogen.  Don’t take the retailers verbal assurance that there are no toxins… ask for the specifications and organic textile association to be certain you are getting what you are paying for.

3.  Choose no VOC paints, varishes, solvents, furniture, wall coverings & flooring.  Why?  Anything in your home that has glue, paint, varnish or made of plastic emits VOC (volitile organic chemicals).  VOCs can cause allergic reactions and respirtory illness.  Prolonged exposure has been linked with liver and kidney diseases, cancer, as well as autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinsons Disease (PD) (7).  Formaldehyde is a cancer causing chemical found in mass produced furniture with particle board and melamine.  A healthier solution is to re-purpose antiques or purchase quality solid wood furniture (that have a no VOC guarantee) and if you need to re-finish use no VOC paint, varnish and cleaning solvents.  Always refinish in well ventilated space, outdoors is prefered and dispose of the remaining products at proper recycling and hazardous waste facilities.  Don’t dump anything down the drain… it is still a toxic chemical!!    Replace old wall-to-wall carpet and pealing vinyl flooring with factory finished, water-based varnish on solid hardwood flooring and ceramic tiles.  Not only will this type of flooring not have the dangerous toxic dust production but you will be able to better clean these solid surface floors.  Little ones who live closest to the ground will benefit from the cleaner air.  Add natural fiber area rugs to make a softer zone for your crawler, in materials such as wool or cotton.  Wet or areas of your home with more traffic would benefit from durable jute.  Think about the cleaning product you use too!!  Products with perfumes are another source of harmful VOCs.  Read the labels on everything since infants are especially at risk from toxic compounds as thier immune and respitory systems are newly developing and ill and elderly family members may have weak immune systems.

4.  What’s lurking behind those walls?  Why?  Older homes and those that are less-than-loved may be hiding toxins such as mold and mildew, asbestos and led paint for example.  Be aware that any renovation project on buildings with a mysterious history should be conducted with care and that specially trained professionals may be needed to handle your mold or asbestos issues, so as not to release dangerous toxins into your environment.  Disrupting aged materials can cause respitory illnesses or worse, birth defects if an expectant mother is exposed.  Leave your home while work is being done and allow it to be aired out for several days after the work is complete.  Renovation projects are an ideal time to add sustainable and energy efficient building techniques, materials and products to your home.  Be vigilant and protect your family, pets and your property by hiring a qualified building professional.

5.  Open the windows!!  Why?  Especially in our extreme seasons, the quality of the air in our interiors declines.  Modern air tight buildings offer little fresh air flow and often the re-circulated mechanical air is pushed through dirty filters and vents… commercial buildings are the worst but your home may be making you suffer too.  Plan to have your vents cleaned at least once a year and change your furnace filter as well, especially after any renovations.  This will help keep mold, mildew, toxic off-gassing of new furniture and finishes as well as keeping those nasty VOCs (volitile organic compounds found in paints, varishes and more) at bay.  Opt for fresh air not phthalate ladden air-fresheners.   A breath of fresh air is very cleansing to your body… just opening your windows may not be enough… get outside and into nature… take a deep breath… relax, smile and take care of yourself.

6.  Too much stuff!!  Why?  Visual clutter is mental clutter.  You don’t have to live a minimalist’s lifestyle to rid yourself of the mental anguish of too much stuff, but making your home more organized and editing the things you have is a good start.  My mom, for example has piles and drawers full of video tapes but doesn’t have a VCR anymore… this creates the stress of dusting off things she will never use again (although, she claims she “needs” them!!).  Stress has a negative physiological effect on your body…. and stress manifests itself differently in everyone.  Having too much stuff in one space can seem out of control, cluttered, confusing.  Organizing spaces such as closets and kitchens can make the process of getting dressed and cooking a meal alot more efficient and enjoyable!!  Visitors to your home will also appreciate a calm and uncluttered space.  The task of editing your home, if you’ve never done it before, can be absolutely daunting. Start with a small space and don’t get frustrated.  Make piles of things to go to storage, give-away, re-cycle and trash.  If you can’t do it because sometimes it is just too emotionally difficult or physically challenging, recruit someone you trust who will listen to your desires.  They will also help you make the hard decisions of getting rid of things you don’t need but are attached to.  De-cluttering is like therapy really, you have to be ready for it… otherwise it won’t be successful.  Editing or decluttering your possesions can be a mentally freeing, although many have a difficult time letting go of sentimental items, the act of editing is definitely an emotional one… but the result is freedom!!

We spend so much time and money removing toxins from our bodies with organic food, vitamins and de-tox baths where we should also be mindful of the toxins in our envionment that we have control of.  Being aware of and taking care of our environment is a benefit to us and future generations too.  Take care of what you can and remind yourself not to not stress over what you can’t control in the environment.  The world is stressful enough… we don’t need to add to it.

1.  http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=EnHYPERLINK “http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=05DF7A37-1″&HYPERLINK “http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=05DF7A37-1″n=05DF7A37-1

2.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367656/

3. https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/manufacturers/philosophy/phylosophy_start.html

4. http://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/general-description.html

5.  Smith, Rick “Slow Death By Rubber Duck – How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health”, Toronto:  Alfred A.Knopf Canada, 2009 (page 96-130)

6.  Smith, Rick “Slow Death By Rubber Duck – How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health”, Toronto:  Alfred A.Knopf Canada, 2009   (page 69-95)   (http://slowdeathbyrubberduck.com/CAN/)

7.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078137/