First-time parents must prepare themselves to stay green.
New mother Gabrielle Breen is very conscious of her environmental footprint – in the latter stages of her pregnancy, she spent time draught-proofing her house. But after her daughter was born, her priorities changed for a while. “In the beginning, I didn’t care if I used energy,” she says. “It was the last thing on my mind.”
She found out she wasn’t alone. “I’ve heard stories of parents who discover that flushing the toilet calms their baby, and so one parent holds the baby and the other flushes the toilet over and over again.”
In hindsight, Ms Breen says that with careful planning, new parents’ resource thriftiness need not go down the drain. “If you’re prepared beforehand it makes things easier. And over time, as you get on top of parenting, you can improve things even more,” she says, suggesting that over-zealous flushers try downloading a recording of ‘white noise’ from the internet instead.
New parents spend much more time at home so sealed gaps and boosted insulation will mean lower heating and cooling bills. “Keeping your home cool during summer is an energy efficiency thing, but it will also increase your comfort and your baby’s comfort,” she says.
The Moreland Energy Foundation (MEFL) runs short energy-smart sessions for new parents through Maternal and Child Heath Centres in the area. “We give information about what you can do to minimise your bills and ensure you’re comfortable without costing the earth,” the foundation’s Jessica Steinborner says.
A comprehensive information booklet is free to download from the MEFL website. The Energy for Babies Kit discusses common infant issues such as heating, cooling and washing. It also outlines a number of standard eco-wise measures, from low-energy lighting to water saving.
Ms Steinborner says that while anyone can make those changes, the message is particularly relevant for new parents. “Bringing a baby home is a life changing moment. Often people are planning a renovation or considering big purchases, like new fridges, cars or heating and cooling systems. New parents can either wed themselves to very expensive bills and a bigger carbon footprint, or they can make a clear step towards reducing their impact.”
When her old washing machine conked out, Ms Breen and her husband bought an efficient front loader, which uses much less water, and they’re thankful for their choice. “Babies are so small, I couldn’t believe how much washing you end up doing.”
The couple opted for reusable nappies. According to MEFL’s research, cloth nappies are a more sustainable choice than disposables because they reduce both landfill waste and water use – laundering a cloth nappy takes less water than manufacturing a disposable. They’re also cheaper. “Disposables cost at least $3000 per child whereas a set of cloth nappies costs up to $900 dollars, and you can use them for subsequent children,” Ms Breen says. “I thought reusables would be hard, but it’s been easier than we expected.”
She says that changing simple habits, as well as your hardware, makes a big difference. To help keep your kid cool in summer, she recommends natural air conditioning. “When you’re feeding your baby at night you can wrap them with a damp muslin cloth. During the day, wipe them with a wet facecloth, or put a damp cloth over the top of the pram.”