Ever wonder where that chair you’re sitting on came from? How it was made? And with what? And what’s going to happen to it once your cat finally shreds it beyond recognition? These are the kinds of questions that drove Annie Leonard across the globe to visit factories, manufacturing facilities and dumps in search of answers about how stuff is made and where it goes after we no longer have use for it.
Those answers are the stuff of The Story of Stuff, Leonard’s groundbreaking, totally fascinating and more than a little horrifying 20-minute web film. That little movie earned Leonard the distinction of one of Time Magazine’s 2007 Heroes of the Environment and has generated more than 10 million views in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, making it one of the most successful environmental-themed viral films of all time.
Last year, Leonard released The Story of Stuff book, and she currently directs the Story of Stuff Project, with the goal of convincing stuff-loving folks everywhere that we can and must find a more sustainable way to meet our material needs.
EcoStiletto: What gives you hope?
Annie Leonard: Two things give me hope. One is the huge number of solutions that are available right now. If it were impossible to make things and run our society without trashing the planet and each other, I’d be depressed. But it’s not! From green chemistry to biomimicry, there are so many solutions for eliminating toxics, building green buildings, generating clean energy and designing sustainably. We could make our buildings, our transportation and our stuff so much better. Knowing that solutions are on the horizon feeds my hope.
The second thing that feeds my hope is the knowledge that so many people want a better future. People want clean air and water, safe products, a fair economy, top-notch education and healthy children. There’s enough of us who want these things that we can get them, if we work together to make change.
ES: What does sustainability mean to you?
AL: Sustainable means fair and clean and healthy and fun. It means thinking in the long term: building a society that supports, rather than undermines, those ecological systems on which life depends. It means being kind to each other, sharing and having fun. It means every day getting better than the last. Who wouldn’t want that?
ES: When did you become aware of making more eco-friendly choices in your daily life?
AL: Actually, I made these choices before I knew they were eco-friendly. I grew up with a frugal single mother who cultivated a culture of stewardship and appreciation for what we had. I didn’t waste because I learned that only losers waste, not because I realized that waste threatened the planet. By the time I was in high school and learned that focusing more on community and less on buying stuff was good for the planet, I already knew it was a way more fun way to live so it was ingrained into my head and heart.
ES: Has producing The Story of Stuff series changed anything in the way you live your life, personally? For example, after producing “The Story of Cosmetics,” do you still use beauty products?
AL: I use few and simple beauty products. I use 100% coconut oil for moisturizer and I screen the few products I do buy on SkinDeep and Good Guide to select the least toxic ones available. At the same time, I don’t kid myself that this protects me from toxics. In fact, when writing the book, I had my own body burden test done to identify the toxic chemicals that I’m carrying around in my body.
Even though I eat organic food, buy non-toxic products, vigilantly screen my house to keep out PVC, BPA, BFR and Teflon, my body was loaded with toxic chemicals! I am living proof that in today’s toxics-permeated consumer world, even the best individual choices just aren’t enough. We need to work together for chemical policy reform and get toxics out of our stuff once and all.
See The Story of Cosmetics