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My friends are eco freaks

  • Story Highlights
  • People with strong views about the environment can be overwhelming to loved ones
  • Etiquette expert: Set boundaries in your home, but don't impose views on others
  • "The idea is not to be off-putting on either side," expert says
  • Gently guide others to environmentally sound actions, she advises
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By Maureen Salamon
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(LifeWire) -- Jay Byrne knows that his mother-in-law meant well when her two young grandchildren came to visit.

Ed Coffin is a vegan, as are his two Chihuahuas, Luna and Chico.

Ed Coffin is a vegan, as are his two Chihuahuas, Luna and Chico.

A devotee of all things natural, organic or otherwise eco-friendly, Byrne's mother-in-law insisted on buying unpasteurized milk, juice and cheese -- all of which can be a health hazard for some youngsters, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

"After our third or fourth visit, we started calling and telling her not to buy this stuff," says Byrne, 46, of St. Louis.

"Maybe she was hurt on a certain level, but we danced around it."

Byrne, president of a public affairs and marketing company, finds himself sidestepping a lot of his green-minded friends and family members, and not just about food.

Because his clients include oil, mining and chemical companies -- industries often disparaged by environmentalists -- Byrne says he is regularly derided, although he personally espouses similar ideals.

One relative even called him a murderer, he says.

"Many of my eco-freak friends have the sense that corporations are all evil," Byrne says. "It's so hard to convince them I'm not part of some global conspiracy."

As environmentalism becomes mainstream, many Americans are embracing more of an eco-friendly lifestyle. But friends and family members who have strong views about the environment -- and expect others to follow suit -- may trash their relationships faster than they can recycle cans and bottles.

Extreme measures

An online Harris survey in May of more than 2,600 adults found that nearly three-quarters of those polled believe their personal actions are significant to the environment, and more than half have made changes in their lives they think will help sustain the environment. Count Binghamton University senior Lauren Roulette among them.

Guests at Roulette's New York house might feel some subtle eco-pressure upon entering the bathroom, where a little sign instructs: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."

"It's a little bit of an awkward situation," acknowledges Roulette, 21, who shares digs with five other students, three of whom also espouse her eco-sensitive habits. "We had to have a talk about it and we decided it's not a big deal just as long as the smell doesn't get out of hand."

But Griff Honsinger, 21, one of Roulette's housemates, isn't joining her in this endeavor or in the vegan lifestyle she and three other roomies share. While he doesn't feel their behavior is extreme, "I do flush the toilet," says the senior marketing major. "And I am a carnivore -- I eat a lot of meat, and various people in my house have told me, while I'm eating it, that it looks disgusting."

Don't toss out tact

Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette maven Emily Post, says people with strong environmental views are allowed to set boundaries and expectations in their own homes, but must hew to the desires of others on their less-than-green turf.

"The idea is not to be off-putting on either side," says Post, spokeswoman for the Vermont-based Emily Post Institute and author of "How Do You Work This Life Thing?"

For example, Post suggests that vegans offer a variety of foods to guests or gently remind them about recycling during their visits. "They should find ways to integrate (their lifestyle) lightly so nobody feels any pressure," she says.

In that regard, 22-year-old Ed Coffin of Philadelphia is ahead of the curve. Coffin drives a fuel-efficient Smart car, schleps his groceries in reusable bags and eschews chemical cleansers in favor of lemon juice and vinegar. He's also a vegan, a lifestyle he feels is environmentally sensitive because it saves animals from slaughter and exploitation.

To help show others how palatable vegan living can be, Coffin even brings his cuisine with him when visiting friends and family -- enough for his own meal and a sample for others.

"To them, it seems a little overwhelming and they don't know how I can find the time to cook these things," Coffin says. "It's really important to me to make things that will appeal to people and help break their stereotypes."

Even Coffin's dogs, a pair of Chihuahuas named Luna and Chico, are vegan, chowing down on meat-free commercial pet food produced abroad.

Ed's mother accepts her son's lifestyle, vegan Chihuahuas and all. It took awhile, though.

"He can be a little overzealous talking about everything that interests him with the environment," says Dawn Coffin, 49, a home health aide from Mullica Hill, New Jersey. "To a person who's not like that, it's kind of stressful, but at the same time, I back him 100 percent."

Compromise is key

Etiquette expert Post offers these tips for the eco-conscious (or hyperconscious) and their loved ones to help them compromise:

• Gently guide others to environmentally sound actions. "Say to them, 'I'll take care of these (bottles, cans, etc.) because these have to be recycled' instead of freaking out when they hit the trash can."

• Respect differences. "Remember that people from different regions, generations and lifestyles will have different opinions," Post says. "Refrain from forcing your opinion on someone else."

• Be gracious. If your hosts offer you vegan food, for example, be polite and try it, even if it's not to your taste. "You can run out and get a Big Mac on your own time," she says.

LifeWire provides original and syndicated content to Web publishers. Maureen Salamon is a New Jersey-based freelance writer.

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