by Erin Lehn Foresca
Karen Totino, owner and founder of Green Conscience Home, in Saratoga Springs, originally set out to be an occupational therapist, because she wanted a job that revolved around helping others. However, her career path made an unexpected turn in 2004 when this health-conscious mother of two took her kids for a stroll around the block. “I saw the words, ‘Discharges to Stream’ painted above each storm drain we passed. And next to the drains were little yellow signs put out by chemical lawn care companies,” she recalls. “It was a light bulb moment for me—I realized that all those chemicals were being washed into Kayderosseras Creek.”
After contacting the stormwater coordinator for Saratoga County, Totino discovered that runoff pollution was a significant environmental problem. She decided to do something about it, and the following spring, Green Conscience Organic Lawn Care was born. Four years later, Green Conscience Home officially opened as a storefront. The business celebrates its ninth year this summer, focused on healthy home improvements and an ideal place for customers to get educated about eco-friendly living.
When Totino first started in the industry more than 13 years ago, green businesses were more of a niche market. However, the eco-friendly entrepreneur explains there was a pivotal moment in mainstream culture in 2015 when 60 Minutes aired a story on laminate flooring sold by hardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators. According to the report, the retail giant was selling laminate flooring made in China that contained toxic levels of formaldehyde. “It was a light bulb moment for the general public. More people began educating themselves about whether products and materials in their homes were harmful to their families,” says Totino. “Every customer who walks in the store is on their own journey. Whether they watched an exposé that really opened their eyes or they’re dealing with a health condition, something prompted them to drastically change one area of their life—like altering their diet to include more whole, organic foods. Then, you start to see more of your world that could be healthier.”
A defining moment for many couples is when they have kids. “Take, for example, nesting,” says Totino. “A couple will redo a whole room to create a nursery for their new baby. But if they don’t use eco-friendly, non-toxic materials, what they’ve essentially created is a toxic bubble for their newborn. Grown adults can withstand a certain level of toxicity. But for babies and small children, the impact on their health can be huge. We want the world to be safe for our children, so becoming a parent can really open our eyes more to environmental effects.”
While Totino doesn’t think it’s necessary or feasible to tear down our homes and start from scratch, she does believe it’s a wise idea to become more aware of environmental toxicity—especially in our homes. She suggests starting out in the bedroom. “Our beds have the potential for the most impact because we spend so much of our lives in bed. Our beds and the accessories that go along with them should be as toxin-free as possible. If you can’t afford to buy a new bed, then start with your pillow. Start wherever you can that makes the most sense within your budget,” she says.
Totino takes pleasure in knowing that she and her staff have a wealth of information for their customers. “My staff is very knowledgeable, friendly and engaging—I feel really lucky to have them. Nothing makes us happier than helping to empower others in making healthier indoor and outdoor choices for their families,” she shares.
Hands-down, her favorite aspect of running the store is the relationships she’s built over the years. “It’s all about building community,” says Totino, who recently procured a real estate license to further expand her offerings. “I’ve made some of the best friends of my life doing this work. I have a deep appreciation for the installers, other organizations I partner with, and with our customers. I love that we’re the go-to source for healthy home interiors. I know that people do a lot of their shopping online these days, but there are still some things that need to be experienced in person. Interior finishes are such a sensory, tactile experience, and I’m proud to be able to offer that to the community.”
Green Conscience Home is located at 33 Church St., in Saratoga Springs. For more information, call 518-306-5196 or visit Green-Conscience.com.
Erin Lehn Floresca is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings.