Gina Murphy-Darling, or “Mrs. Green,” hopes that people keep her new book in the bathroom.
Everyone spends time there, she says, so you might as well have something good to read. It’s a way to conserve time, too, and conservation is what Mrs. Green is all about.
Her book “Your Mother Called (Mother Earth) ... You’d Better Call Her Back!” tells the story of Murphy-Darling’s detour from the corporate world and into the green one. From a life-changing trip to the Amazon in Peru to her first, 30-minute radio show on KNST 790-AM, Murphy-Darling, 64, shares her personal journey and how readers can add some eco-savvy to their own lives.
“It’s a how-to manual for a manageable, greener lifestyle,” she says.
Murphy-Darling was 57 and retired from a career in social services when she started Mrs. Green’s World Radio Network in 2008. What began as a radio show with expert guests morphed into a weekly podcast, newsletter, blog and variety of other media. The show streams every Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. at mrsgreensworld.com and at other times.
Murphy-Darling is also a community representative for the University of Arizona’s President’s Advisory Council on Environmental Sustainability and member of Local First Arizona, Angel Charity for Children and other organizations. She has been recognized several times as an influential woman in the community.
“She brings a perspective of someone with a lot of exposure to what’s going on in the community,” says Ben Champion, an administration representative on the council and director of the university’s Office of Sustainability.
But it took some time for these seeds to sprout. It started small.
IN THE AMAZON
Murphy-Darling will never shake the memory of drifting down a Peruvian river past a cleared area of jungle. Huts and families still spotted the barren land.
“I remember looking and seeing this amazing, National Geographic setting of trees and birds and life,” she says. “And then we came across an area that had been clear-cut and the erosion and starkness of it … that was my most painful ah-ha moment.”
Seeing the deforestation on that 10-day trip changed her. Those trees were never coming back.
“It was intimate, down the back rivers, and I was terrified,” she says of the life-changing trip.
Her group went deep in the jungle, and Murphy-Darling wondered how they would find their way out. They met with tribal medicine men who told stories about the land and the forests.
She needed to tell other people what was happening there.
When she got home, she attended a conference called Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream put on by the Pachamama Alliance, an organization devoted to environmental conservation.
“I stood up and said, ‘I’m going to start a radio show,’” she says. At the time, she was retired. Within three months, the show, then called “Mrs. Green Goes Mainstream,” was live.
A staff of seven now work part-time to help Murphy-Darling manage her radio personality and online presence.
She records in a home office that doubles as a studio, interviewing scientists, winemakers, foodies, composters, writers and farmers — anyone with expertise in an area of sustainability.
Rather than pick an area of specialty, she learns from the experts to apply an integrated approach to raising environmental awareness.
Her guests come from all over, and her Facebook page has more than 4,650 likes. After about two years of local broadcasting, Murphy-Darling moved her show online for increased access. She says she has listeners in 32 countries. Her general demographic is women ages 25 to 60, who she calls the “consumer heads of household.” She estimates that she has about 20,000 listeners each month.
For several months at the show’s beginning, event promoter and business coach Janet Rae co-hosted.
“Gina’s passion and determination is infectious and really made this thing fly,” Rae, 55, says.
To brainstorm the mission of Mrs. Green’s World, the two women took long walks through the desert, later scrawling ideas on a big white board. The day they landed on a mission statement, they celebrated.
“It was one of those weird Tucson days where it gets cold and rainy and dark, so it was the perfect day for creating,” Rae says.
“We celebrated that we knew we had created something beautiful. We got drinks and looked at the mountains. Those days are magical in Tucson.”
When Murphy-Darling returned home from the Amazon with a glint in her eye and an idea in mind, her husband, James Darling, 62, wasn’t surprised.
“It was nothing out of the ordinary,” he says. “When she was in social services, she was very passionate about that. She is either all in or all out on most things, so it wasn’t a shock.”
Murphy-Darling moved to Tucson about 40 years ago and got a job with a county adult education program, helping people learn English and work toward a GED.
From there, she says she was part of the beginning days of Arizona’s refugee resettlement program and founded Parents and Children Together Inc. That organization is now part of Providence Service Corp. She also co-founded and served as president for StrengthBuilding Partners, a mentoring nonprofit.
In all of it, she worked with at-risk families and youths to focus on solutions, not problems.
“It just morphed from families and into the planet,” she says.
She has always focused on individual action.
“What I like about Mrs. Green is that she doesn’t start out with ‘save the whales and send $3,000 to so and so’,” says 59-year-old Cathy Rankin, a listener-turned friend who owns Temco Air Environmental. “The first things I learned were so simple and cost me nothing.”
Take, for instance, Murphy-Darling’s crusade against plastic bags. She has even designed a compact, neon green bag that wads up into a portable puff.
“I wouldn’t be caught dead using a plastic bag, because I think, ‘What would my mom think if she saw this,’” says one of Murphy-Darling’s three daughters, 26-year-old Emily Murphy-Darling.
Beyond plastic bags, Mrs. Green vows never to use disposable water bottles. She shops secondhand and tries to eat a more plant-based diet. For a carnivore at heart, that’s a tough one.
Her husband is in it with her. The couple tries to shop and eat local whenever possible.
“It’s not really possible to change everything all at once, and that’s a pipe dream. ...” Darling says. “You do what you can and that’s the thrust. No matter what you do, no matter how small, it adds up.”
It took more than two years for Murphy-Darling to jot down and edit the story and lessons of Mrs. Green.
“Her subject matter is really darn serious,” says Murphy-Darling’s book editor, Barbara McNichol. “She knows how to lighten the seriousness of a topic through her passion and her humor.”
Murphy-Darling’s story begins growing up in New Jersey, when her mother washed tin foil and reused wrapping paper for years. She marvels that she continued to believe in Santa Claus.
Her daughter Emily, who now lives in New Mexico, remembers her own mother washing plastic bags to reuse in lunches.
On family vacations, they played games such as “recycle camp,” Emily Murphy-Darling says, romping through the forest to pick up trash.
Still, her mother says, it has been a “gradual awakening.”
“The more I did it, the more I realized it was not just about the health of the planet, but it was about our own health,” Murphy-Darling says. “How do we help systems change? It’s always the same, by one individual making a difference, one step at a time.”
Contact reporter Johanna Willett at email@example.com or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett