We can’t all be dark greens but, as Inhabitat’s Green Home 101 series shows, the sum of many small choices can make a big difference in the long run. Consumers might be criticized for belonging to the holy church of the organic but with spending on organic products going from about $744 million in 2005 to $938 million in 2006 according to the Organic Trade Association, green consumerism is at an all-time high. To help consumers make better choices, a new generation of green lifestyle experts has emerged. Committed environmentalists in their own right, these experts share their insight and offer consumers a myriad of practical tips to make better, greener, healthier choices as they wade through all the products at Whole Foods, Walmart, and Home Depot. As part of our Green Home 101 series, Inhabitat caught up with Danny Seo, Starre Vartan and John Picard to see how they emerged as leading green lifestyle experts.
MEET DANNY SEO – A LIFE, SIMPLY GREEN
Born on Earth Day, Danny Seo was destined to be a green lifestyle expert. He started an environmental group at age 12 with 7 friends and $23 that eventually grew into a national organization called Earth 2000. When he graduated from high school, he wrote a book about his teenage activism years. The book, paired with a Washington Post article that shone a spotlight on his green decorating prowess, launched his career as a celebrity eco-stylist and champion for green consumerism. Today, he’s a green-household name.
What is your ultimate goal in being a green lifestyle expert? This question is very relevant to when I speak around the country to audiences in a presentation I called “Simply Green.” And the title is exactly how it sounds: it can be simple to go green. My goal is to make ideas, tips and how-to projects relevant, simplified and current. Basically, I do the work and research and make it easy for them. I also do whatever I can to talk the talk and walk the walk in my own life.
How do people generally respond to green advice? The light green customer — basically the majority of Americans — are responsive to green living. But they still think it’s very expensive, very limiting and basically unattainable unless you’re a Hollywood star with loads of cash. To rectify this problem, I like to provide tips that make it more simple to go green. I have a new column called “Do Just One Thing” that will be syndicated to newspapers around the country by Universal Syndicate starting next year, too. Each day, you’ll get a free tip you can do right on the spot! And my work with JCPenney is key because it’s the store that America really, truly shops at. We also have a fabulous program called “Simply Green” that makes it easy for our customers to find our recycled, renewable and natural products. Everything from $11 organic cotton bath towels to $1.99 reusable tote bags that, I swear, are the absolute best bags out there.
What do you see as the absolutely worst, non-environmentally friendly habit that most people have? I think it’s the general idea that if it’s free and you’re not paying for it, why bother? I remember a friend of mine who has a rent-controlled apartment in NYC that had utilities included in her rent. So, in the middle of summer, she’d leave her apartment in the morning, but keep the air conditioning blasting all day long, just because she liked the idea of walking into a cool apt each evening. This infuriated me because she would never do this if she had actually paid for electricity.
What are your top eco-picks that you have in your own household and can’t live without? 1. My bagless vacuum. You can dump the canister full of organic waste right into the compost bin. 2. Power strips. Not sexy, but they are fantastic. 3. Method’s Free and Clear laundry detergent. It is super concentrated, very little packaging waste, and all you need is a tiny capful to do a whole load of laundry. 4. My mattress line at Simmons. Tencel fabric cover, a natural latex foam, a soy-enhanced foam base, recycled steel in the foundation support, reclaimed wood from accredited source, PBDE-free and we use a non-toxic solution as a fire retardant. Available at JC Penney. 5. Branches. My house sits on top of a ravine next to a start park, so there’s nature everywhere. I love to use real branches for curtain rods throughout the house because it’s unexpected, free and looks amazing.What’s next?A new bath and beauty line early next year called WHOLEARTH by Danny Seo. It features amazing products using certified organic fragrance and 100% post-consumer recycled packaging.
Starre Vartan grew up in a modern house perched above a wetland in a tiny hamlet along the Hudson River. Author and founder of Eco-Chick, she is the product of a very talented and progressive gene pool that includes an arborist, an illustrator/painter/surfer, an organic gardener, an opera singer/photographer, and a doctor who loved architecture.
What is your ultimate goal in being a green lifestyle expert? I want to help people see that living green (to use the catchphrase) is actually about living BETTER.
What made you decide to write “The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How to be Fabulously Green“? The point of my book is to show women how choosing sustainable options isn’t just about doing something good for “The Planet” but is really about doing the right thing for yourself, your children, your neighbors (near and far) and the rest of the living creatures we share the planet with. And to look and feel great while doing it.
What do you see as the absolutely worst, non-environmentally friendly habit that most people have? I now live in the Connecticut suburbs, and I think the ease with which people jump in their cars (and are, to some extent, forced to by poor community planning) is awful on several levels: You lose out on community interaction when you’re constantly inside your own personal conveyance which is isolating, you’re not moving, which makes people think “exercise” is this thing you do in a gym instead of part of the natural rhythms of life, AND it contributes to local air and noise pollution and global warming. That said, Yes, I DO have a car, and every couple weeks, I love to pack up and drive to Vermont, where a number of my friends have moved. I try to use the car sparingly though.
What are you top five easiest green living tips for consumers who are just going down a greener path? 1. Get toxics out of your life- Improve air quality in your home, and stick it to the companies like Dow and Clorox that convinced us we needed chemicals to clean our homes and ourselves- a total lie. Choose all-natural, biodegradable and organic cleaners for your home and body (and make the switch to natural makeup if you wear it). 2. Go beyond organic – get connected with your food. Where you live and your lifestyle depends on how this can happen for you, it might include going to the farmer’s market, visiting local farms, eating only food that’s in season, or experimenting with buying foods that only come from a 100-mile radius for a week or a month. Any of the above will bring you beyond just buying another packaged food that has the label “organic” on it. I’m not knocking those foods, but they don’t actually educate you or your palate about local, fresh, in season foods. 3. Don’t put anything down the drain that you wouldn’t want to swim in. 4. Support young designers who are doing their creative thing sustainably; I love investing in the future of fashion and design by choosing organic denim, handmade furniture, and opting for fabulous wallpaper or upholstry fabric that’s also low-impact. 5. Look at your garbage- how much of what’s in there is unnecessary? Do you really need disposable wipes and paper towels for everyday use? Can you eliminate plastic bags by bringing your own totes? Can you compost that old food? Can you reuse those takeout containers or old office supplies (schools often love/need this stuff). And there better not be any recyclables in there!
What is your absolutely, all-time favorite eco-product that you currently own, love, and/or covet? My Mrs. Meyer’s geranium-scent cleansing powder- it gets tubs, sinks and toilets as clean as Ajax, but smells like a garden (the company uses real essential oils in addition to ecofriendly cleaning formulations) so tub-scrubbing turns into an aromatherapy experience. That stuff is seriously awesome.
What’s next on the horizon? I finished the classes for my MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia this past Spring- now I have some time to complete and turn in my thesis, which will become my next book (hopefully!). It’s about the five senses and being human in a very fast-moving modern world; though I’m no Luddite (the Internet has to be my favorite invention EVER!) I really want to delve into how we’ve become so disconnected from the natural world and ourselves while at the same time being more connected in some ways. Also, I’m really getting into ecofashion and am loving the experience I’m gaining as a eco-stylist. Basically, I want to up the percentage of time I spend on creative pursuits in the next five years.
JOHN PICARD – GOING WHERE NO GREEN ACTIVIST HAS GONE BEFORE
An eco-activist of the bright green set, John Picard is a green lifestyle expert of a different kind who has been quietly changing the world in which we live. After making the transition from Ferrari-driving architect of the stars to angry Greenpeace activist, John came out of his metamorphosis as a leading green business consultant. Rather than working directly with the consumer, John goes straight to the businesses. So bold is his approach to greening the world that he now is represented by CAA. Working with companies such as Microsoft, BP, eBay, Sony, Ford, MGM, and The Gap, John is almost a celebrity in the business world, making a big difference by working with big corporations. His staff were unable to connect us with him personally, but luckily Sarah Backhouse from G Living TV caught up with him awhile back and we’ve pulled a few comments from a recent Green Room interview.
When were you first aware that you were interested in the environment? In the mid-eighties, I think I’d just finished building two of the most expensive houses ever built and MTV had a fifteen second PSA that said “While you watch this, 1500 acres of rainforest were cut down” and it just kind of hit me. I never paid attention to that kind of stuff. I was getting into my Ferrari, ordering helicopters. I was at the top of my game but that just haunted me. I was searching for something for more meaning.
What really drove you in this direction? It’s not just about saving the planet. It’s this next new economy. The next economy is a natural systems economy. Up until now it’s been a world dominated by male-designed programs. The whole world is built on low bids. The next economy, the next industrial revolution, the gain is going to go to the company that mimics nature, because in nature there is no waste. They’ll be the most profitable, so the bottom line of green in the next hundred years is black. It’s all about bank. New taxes, new incentives, new enterprise zones, a carbon economy, etc. The game is already beyond green. It’s about restorative design, regenerative patterns. The ones who brought us into this mess will be the ones who take us out. (On the tipping point…)It only takes about 8% of the world’s population for us to shift.
I think Gore’s film just brought us together as did the 11th Hour. People just had that asked themselves, why has no one done anything to stop this? Government, our country, the planet overall, is not going to take care of us. You know how it’s going to to down? It’s going to happen within your home first, then it’s going to happen within your community, it’s going to happen within your school, and that’s what driving the first phase of this natural systems economy. I’ve met people, seen the technologies, and experienced massive change in a short period of time. People are generally good, people are generally caring. Look at how much has happened in the last 12 months. The year ahead is just incredible. It’s a competition for my time for big visionary sessions by bigger and bigger companies who are not just talking, but re-organizing their companies.
What’s next on the horizon? Rumor has it that John is working with Microsoft on ways to green the X Box and the videogame industry as a whole among many other things. Check back on his website to see how John forges a new path through the new green frontier, going boldly where no other green activist has gone before.
About BOSCH “Bosch is committed to preserving the environment through innovative approaches to the products we manufacture, as well as the partnerships we form with key leaders in sustainable construction and design. Sustainability, responsibility and continuous improvement are the tenets of our company and are shared by our partners across the United States.
Bosch practices low-impact manufacturing processes while designing the most efficient machines on the market. In fact, we introduced a global integrated management system for environmental issues that makes certain we maintain our high standards for environmental responsibility wherever our operations take us.
Bosch regards innovation as something more than exceptional product quality, functionality and design. Not only our technical developments, but also our commitment to society has an effect on the world of tomorrow.” + Bosch Green Thinking Resource Center
HAILY ZAKI Lacking the skills or the patience to be a designer herself, Haily Zaki is a PR maven, freelance writer and secret agent in Los Angeles who contents herself by promoting, writing about, and surrounding herself with great design. Besides running Secret Agent PR and working with some of the best architecture and design brands in LA, Haily is a contributing writer for The Architect’s Newspaper, the Epoch Times, and any other publication that likes her stories. She’s also an organizer of de LaB (design east of La Brea) – part design lab, part social experiment for creative professionals who work, live or play on the Eastside of Los Angeles. She was first turned onto the idea of sustainable living when she worked with the Mapuche people in Southern Chile and hopes one day to move to the end of the earth to live in a green prefab pod writing torrid romance novels. For now, she focuses her energy on communicating through the media, training herself to be a good, green consumer, and not killing her tomato plants.