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 a two part interview with Annie Leonard on her motivations, and the origins and future of The Story of Stuff Project.
How did the Story of Stuff Project begin?
My interest in how materials flow through the economy started in grade school and crystallised on a spring afternoon on Staten Island.
I grew up in Seattle, at that time a green and luscious city. My family would go camping every summer. This was in the days before DVDs in the back seats of family cars numbed young passengers, so I’d look out the window, studying the landscape, for the whole drive. Each year, I noticed that the stores and strip malls reached a bit further and the forests started a bit later than the previous year. I wondered where all those forests were going. I wondered how I could stop them from going away entirely.
It turned out to be fortuitous that I went to college in New York City, even though at the time it seemed an odd place to go for environmental studies. My college campus was on 116th street and my dorm room was on 110th street. Every morning I would groggily walk those six blocks, staring at the piles of garbage that line NYC’s street’s every dawn. Ten hours later, I’d walk back to my dorm, staring at the empty sidewalks.
I became increasingly intrigued with this microcosm of materials flow. My curiosity got the best of me; I started looking into the trash each morning to see what was in those never-ending piles. It was mostly paper. Paper! That is where my beloved forests were ending up. In the US, 42 percent of industrial wood harvest is used to make paper. And about 40 percent of the stuff in municipal garbage is paper, all of which is recyclable or compostable if it hasn’t been treated with too many toxic chemicals. By simply recycling rather than trashing this paper, we could reduce our garbage by 40 percent, which would also drastically reduce pressure to cut forests and help with climate change.
Once I realised that those morning trash piles were nearly half paper – were once forests – I was determined to find out where they were going. So I took a trip to the infamous Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. Coving 4.6 square miles (12 square km), Fresh kills, is one of the largest dumps in the world. When it was officially closed in 2001, some say its volume was greater than that of the Great Wall of China; its peaks 25 meters taller than the Stature of Liberty. I had never seen anything like it. I stood at its edge in absolute awe. As far as I could see in every direction were couches, refrigerators, boxes, apple cores, used clothes… stuff. You know how a gory car crash scene makes us want to turn away and stare at the same time? That is what it was like. I just couldn’t comprehend this massive mountain of materials, reduced to muck, by some system obviously out of control. I knew this was terribly wrong. I didn’t understand it back then, 20 years ago, but I vowed to figure it out.
After college, I went to work for environmental organisations in Washington, D.C. For my first 10 years, I worked on an international campaign to stop rich countries from exporting waste to the world’s poorer countries. I spent a decade traveling around the world, visiting the factories where our stuff is made and the dumps where our stuff is dumped. I met communities that had lost their water supplies, their health, and their livelihood because of polluting industries. I realised that our consumption habits in the US are fueling widespread environmental, health and social problems all over the world. I wanted to find a way to share this information; to expose the hidden costs of our consumption addiction – here and abroad. But I didn’t want to produce yet another scolding guilt-inducing rant. I wanted to say, “Hey, we’ve got a problem here. We’re trashing the planet. We’re trashing each other. And we’re not even having that much fun. Come on, let’s work together and build a different kind of world for us and our children.”
We launched The Story of Stuff free on line in December 2007 and have found that the message resonates with a lot of people. The site has had over 12 million views and the film is being shown in schools, churches, community groups and conferences around the world to raise awareness and inspire discussion on these topics. Simply put, we have got to find another way.
How has the Story of Stuff project developed over the years?
After the first film proved so successful, we received tens of thousands of emails asking for more information about Stuff―for more facts and diagrams and details than we could ever possibly fit into a movie. So I wrote a book. The Story of Stuff book takes readers more deeply into the issues covered in the film, from extraction through consumption and disposal. The book also shares some stories and insights I’ve gathering during over a decade of traveling around the world. I want to bring the hidden impacts of all our production and consumption patterns out into the open. And, like the film, I strive to show the connections between a range of environmental and social issues. Most importantly, I provide plenty of signs of hope and examples of how we could do things differently. The book has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish.
In 2010, we (along with our partners at Free Range Studios) began producing more animated films. Now there are six: The Story of Bottled Water, The Story of Cosmetics, The Story of Electronics, The Story of Cap & Trade, The Story of Citizens United and The Story of Broke. Each of them highlights a different issue, but we’re now digging deeper, beyond the problems of waste and consumerism and into the fundamental principles of a just and sustainable society. The overall theme is to show people how they can move from being consumers to being citizens.
We also developed a high-school curriculum and a faith curriculum for teens (Christian and Jewish versions are currently available and an Islamic and non-denominational version are in the works). This year we launched a monthly audio podcast, The Good Stuff, which focuses on people who are finding solutions to the problems addressed in the films. It’s pretty amazing that we’re able to do all of this with a full-time staff of just five people. We couldn’t do it without our community.
Return to Blue & Green Tomorrow for Part II of this interview tomorrow.
How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018
Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.
Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:
1. Energy – produce it, save it
If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.
It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.
While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.
Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!
2. Don’t be just another tourist
Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.
3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly
We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.
To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.
It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.
4. Know thy recycling
People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.
People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.
5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool
Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.
All in all
The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.
Top 5 Changes You can Make in Your Life to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
In a world, where war rages and global warming threatens our very existence, the inhabitants of earth need to be extra vigilant in their efforts to go green. This includes reducing your carbon footprint on the earth and leading a more sustainable life.
Many homeowners feel perplexed by all of the options available to reduce their carbon footprint. They may even feel (falsely) that making their household more green will fail to make that much of a difference in the fight to save our planet.
Even a single home going green has a massive impact on the environment. We can win this battle on home at a time. If you’re interested in accepting the challenge of making your household a green home, read on below for a few of the top changes you can make in your life to reduce your carbon footprint. We all stand to benefit from making the earth safer for future generations – and your wallet won’t complain when you start to see the savings in annual energy costs.
Switch From Dirty Energy to Clean Solar
The ION Solar reviews tell it all–solar is the best way to go. Whether your goal is to slash your energy bills, or to reduce your carbon footprint, the sun is a fantastic source of renewable energy.
It’s important to get past the hype from solar installers. Instead, listen to the plethora of impartial customer reviews that mention everything from a $20 energy bill, to the incredible feeling of knowing that you are doing your part by going green and minimizing harmful emissions in to our atmosphere.
The average investment is $15,000 to $30,000 for installation and purchase of solar panels. Optional battery power packs can help provide consistent power during both night and day. And many government agencies provide federal, state or local grants to help offset upfront investments in clean energy.
Depending on which installed you choose, your household may qualify for low-interest or zero interest loans to cover the up-front cost of your installation. And the loan payments are usually less than your current monthly power bill.
It really is a win-win, as home buyers are looking for homes that feature this technology – meaning solar power installation improves the resale value of your property.
And there are a number of additional home modifications that can help improve the energy efficiency of your home. A programmable thermostat can better manage energy consumption from home cooling and heating systems while you’re away from home. And weather stripping your doors can help keep cool air in during the summer, and warm air in during the winter.
Of course, energy conservation starts at home. And this includes setting a powerful example for your kids. Teach your children how to close windows, strategically keep doors open or closed based on airflow, and encourage them to leave the thermostat alone – opting for adding or removing layers of clothing instead.
Unplug Appliances and Shut Off Electronics
Unplugging your appliances when they aren’t in use, such as the toaster and the coffee maker, has more of an impact than you might think. Set your TVs and stereos on sleep timers, instead of letting them run around the clock. The cumulative impact of wasteful electronic device usage is horrible for our environment – putting unnecessary strain on our electrical grid.
One of the simplest and easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is by recycling. You are already throwing this stuff away anyway, right? It doesn’t take much more effort to just put recyclables in a separate container to be recycled, now does it?
Oh, and did I mention that you can earn money for recycling? Yes! Many cities and towns have recycling centers that will purchase your clean plastic and glass bottles for reuse.
Minimize Your Water Usage
Water is one of the easiest things to forget about when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. Preserve water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Shorten your shower by a few minutes and turn down the heat on that water heater. You’ll be surprised at how much lower your water bill and your energy bill will be.
Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint? What isn’t to love?
These are just a few of the top ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint and start living a greener lifestyle. And we aren’t factoring in all of the advantages that we’ll reap from public investments in a smarter energy grid.
From decreasing your water usage, to switching to solar for your home’s energy needs, you will feel good at the end of the day knowing you are doing your part to save the future of this planet for generations to come!
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