Blue & Green Tomorrow is passionate about reducing the impact that we consumers have on our finite blue and green planet. We are, therefore, delighted to share the second part of an interview with Annie Leonard on her motivations and the future of The Story of Stuff Project.
Missed part one? Catch up here.
What motivates you in your endless pursuit for a society free from the ills of waste and consumerism?
I had the amazing good fortune to visit over 40 countries in the course of my activist career. I have visited Central America, Western and Eastern Europe, Southern Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. For three years, I lived in South Asia. I met workers and activists and community residents. I attended conferences and strategy meetings. I visited infamous sites like Bhopal, India, the site of the largest chemical industrial disaster in history and Gonaives, Haiti, where ash from a U.S. municipal waste incinerator was disguised as fertiliser and dumped on a beach.
I think the most inspiring thing I saw was the many positive examples of people organising their homes, their economies and their politics in different ways. When we grow up in one society, we can too often mistake the dominant way as the best or only way. So it is tremendously illuminating to get out and to see how others live. I’ve seen a wide range of government policies, innovative land use planning, respect for the commons, restrictions on the commercialisation of culture that have led to very different results compared with the toxics-laden, consumer-driven model we currently have in the US. It shows me over and over that we could do things differently. It is not set in stone that we have to trash the planet and endure massive social inequality; these realities are the results of specific choices made by government and business leaders over time. And we can make different choices – choices that better serve the planet and its many communities.
Of course, being a parent is a tremendous motivation. Like all parents, I want the best for my kid, so I’ve become more vigilant about the products I bring into my home. I used resources like Goodguide.com and the Skin Deep database to screen products to avoid those containing toxic chemicals when possible.
Parenting has also inspired me to be a better activist. Before having a kid, I’d work late into the night and many weekends without hesitation; I cared about the issues, enjoyed the company of my colleagues and it was fun! Now, I actually have something I’d rather do in my off hours so I have learned to focus more when I am doing my work so that I have time to turn off the computer and play with my daughter.
What do you hope to achieve with the work from the Story of Stuff? What do you want to change?
As I said earlier, I want to help people move from being passive consumers to active citizens. And I don’t just mean that I want them to make changes in their own lives. The biggest environmental myth I’d like to quash is that the challenges facing the planet today can be overcome through changes at an individual lifestyle level. Yes, of course, it is helpful and responsible and good to conserve energy at home, to ride a bike instead of drive, to carry a cloth bag to the store, even to buy the least toxic and least exploitive products available. We should live our lives as responsibly as possible but it is a mistake to focus all of our attention at that level. We simply must get involved with organisations working for broader systemic change.
What has been the reaction to The Story of Stuff Project?
I never dreamed that a 20-minute cartoon would resonate with so many people in such a deep way. I was blown away by the response to the first film, and quickly realised that we didn’t just have an audience but a community – hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who look to The Story of Stuff Project not just for information but as a vehicle to connect to others who are striving to live a less Stuff-centered life. The wide use of the film by schools and faith communities has been especially gratifying. And our community is worldwide – something like 40 percent of the people who visit our website come from outside the United States. We have had a relatively small number of people, mostly in the right-wing media, accuse us of being anti-American or anti-capitalist, but we try to stay focused on connecting more deeply with the people who do embrace our message.
How do you do your research? How do you ensure the research is thorough and accurate?
The material in the first film came from my lifetime obsession with Stuff. One of the things we’re proudest of is that for each of the subsequent films we’ve partnered with activist organisations who are conducting ongoing campaigns on those issues, such as the Safe Cosmetics Campaign or the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. They help us make sure that everything we say in the film is carefully researched and referenced – that’s why each film includes onscreen facts and an annotated script with additional detail. The industries and interest groups we take on in the films have often criticised our interpretation of the facts, but the facts themselves stand up.
Why do you use the illustration style of presentation?
The first film is based on a live talk that I gave for years at schools, conferences – all kinds of events. In the live talk, I have a large sheet of butcher paper on a wall behind me and I walk people through the Story of Stuff, drawing as I go. Every time I gave the talk, someone would ask for a movie of it. For three years, I delayed, thinking no one would watch a movie of me talking about systems of production and consumption. When I just got so sick of doing the talk, I finally made a movie. I had a friend film me doing the live talk one last time, then went to Free Range Studios to ask them how one might capture the presentation online.
Jonah Sachs and Louis Fox, who co-founded Free Range Studios, and Free Range’s animation director, Ruben DeLuna, deserve all the credit. They created a style that is so inviting and refreshing that they balance out the severity and grimness of the actual data. The environmental situation is scary and the cute drawings offered a little relief, which allowed us to explore the topic even further. I am guessing that if we had used real footage of trashed eco systems, poisoned workers and toxic waste, far fewer people would have sat through the whole 20 minutes.
The number one complaint I get about the film is that I left something out, to which I say “duh, it’s a 20 minute cartoon.” Yes, I left stuff out. Yes, I oversimplified. You can’t fit everything in an entire global system in 20 minutes. That said there is a difference between dumbing down and simplifying. I did simplify; I did not dumb down. I said it like it is. That’s our challenge – how to distill down complex, often technical, sometimes boring and wonky issues in a way that is accessible but doesn’t dumb it down.
How long does it take, including research, to complete one of your films?
We’ve done three films a year in the past two years, so it averages out to about four months of solid work on each one. But we don’t start from scratch each time. There’s a lot of thinking ahead, one or two films down the road.
Do you think that it is important to create a sustainable economy for the benefit of the environment and its people?
Sure. But we’ve got to be clear about what ‘sustainable’ means. Our economy is built around a deep belief that unlimited economic growth is both desirable and possible. The data doesn’t back this up. Once a country gets to a certain point in its industrial development (e.g., safe houses, secure food, access to medicine), increased economic growth does not necessarily add to happiness and well-being, and in many cases can undermine these things. Unfortunately, our political and economic leaders got off track in this country thinking that economic growth is the goal, and are willing to sacrifice good schools, a clean environment and public health for these things. It should be the other way around: health and happiness should be the goal with economic growth one tool among many.
What has been your personal highlight of The Story of Stuff Project so far?
Every day I get emails and letters from people and, when I am traveling about, I meet people who say that The Story of Stuff Project’s films have inspired them to rethink their relationship with stuff and to get involved in making the world better. There’s nothing that makes me happier than hearing these stories from kids, business people, educators, faith leaders, parents, economists – all kinds of people. I am enormously grateful to them for feeding my sense of hope.
What is the future lies ahead for The Story of Stuff?
We’re always looking at new media platforms that will give us an opportunity to reach more people. But what we’re really excited about is deepening our relationship with our community. If people in our community connect with each other and start local projects that are not affiliated with The Story of Stuff, that’s fine. We don’t need to perpetuate the organisation. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
How Going Green Can Save A Company Money
What is going green?
Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.
The first step in going green
There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.
Making needed changes within the company
After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.
Reducing the common paper waste
Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.
Make money by spreading the word
Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.
1. Weather stripping
If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.
Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.
Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.
2. Programmable thermostats
Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.
Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!
3. Low-flow water hardware
With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.
Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.
Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.
4. Energy efficient light bulbs
An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.
New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.
5. Installing solar panels
Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.
Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.
From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!
These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.