Eco-Celebrity: is this a fad or the real thing?

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio in 11th Hour, Treehugger. Dicaprio’s climate change initiatives 11thhourtakeaction and dicaprio.org

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By Erin Dale

Thanks to a dose of star power, the green movement is enjoying the Hollywood spotlight. All you have to do is pick up the latest tabloid (“Stars—they’re just like us! Cameron Diaz gasses up her hybrid”) or check out sites like ecorazzi.com, and you can see just how trendy “celebrity green” has become.

From Cate Blanchett, who lives in a solar-powered home, to Leonardo DiCaprio, whose documentary The 11th Hour urges environmental change, the eco-trend only seems to be growing. But how can we tell if it’s anything more than that—just the latest La-La-Land craze, destined to fade like Uggs and leggings?

Just as it’s hard to discern whether or not a company claiming to sell “natural” or “organic” products is merely greenwashing, it’s impossible to know whether a celeb attaching himself to a cause really cares. But who are we to judge, anyway? If Brad Pitt is only globe-hopping and raising awareness to get attention, what does it matter, so long as he’s getting something done? Fad or no, celebrities calling attention to the green movement should do more good than harm.

Google “green celebrities.” I did, and various lists popped up. Many eco sites have complied lists of the “greenest” stars. While it’s certainly hard to say who indeed has the smaller carbon footprint, it was fun to make a list of my own. Rather than trying to decide who’s “greener than thou,” I’ve ranked my five favorites:

5. Hayden Panettiere. She’s only 18, but the Heroes starlet has already done a world of good. As a vegetarian, she’s passionate about animals and received PETA’s “Compassion in Action” award. She made headlines last fall for her in-ocean protest against Japanese whalers, risking her life as they slaughtered dolphins in dangerous proximity to Hayden and her fellow protesters (the act also earned her a Japanese arrest warrant!). Saving dolphins is a pretty green act; however, Hayden endorses companies like Neutrogena (whose products are not on PETA’s animal-safe list) and Candies, which produces not-so-eco-friendly fashion. Ah, well. She’s still young!

4. Daryl Hannah. Forget “tree hugger.” Daryl’s a tree crusader! Another blonde actress causing a ruckus to help the environment, she was arrested last year for her 23-day “tree-sit” to save L.A.’s South Central Farm. The arrest may seem extreme, but Daryl also walks the green talk; she’s known for her environmental activism and drives a biodiesal car.

3. Leonardo DiCarpio. Either I’m still getting over my Titantic crush, or there’s just something really attractive about a suave actor using his star power for global good. Sure, he’s not the only one, but Leo’s activism makes him stand out from the pack. And he’s been leading the eco pack for a while now—he started the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which raises environmental awareness, a decade ago. From driving a Prius to producing and narrating The 11th Hour, Leo’s working hard to preserve the environment. I can’t wait to see his next project, Planet Green’s “Eco-Town,” a reality series that shows the rebuilding – or, rather, green-building – of a tornado-ravaged Kansas town.

2. Alicia Silverstone. Remember Batgirl? She’s the second – but not the last – superhero celeb on my list that uses her powers for good, not evil. Alicia’s been a vegan for years, and in addition to being PETA’s Sexiest Female Vegetarian in 2004, she’s the first celebrity to do a nude endorsement for the activist group. But she caught my attention back in June 2005, when she and her husband, musician Christopher Jarecki, married in an eco-chic ceremony in Lake Tahoe. Everything, from the wedding favors to Alicia’s heirloom wedding band, came from recycled materials. She and her husband continue to live a green lifestyle in their solar-paneled home.

1. Edward Norton. It’s hard to get much greener than the Hulk! Norton is another actor who plays a superhero, and, in real life, works overtime to save the earth. He may appear greener than ever in this summer’s The Hulk, but going green is nothing new for Norton; he grew up with green living, thanks to his environmental-lawyer dad. It’s truly all in the family—Norton’s grandfather started the Enterprise Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps develop affordable homes throughout the U.S. (Norton has been involved since he was 18). Norton works on many environmental causes, the PBS series Strange Days on Planet Earth being his latest.

And when it comes to this phenomenon of eco-celebrity, Norton has the best notions. When asked by Vanity Fair (April 23, 2008, vanityfair.com) about using his star status to bring attention to certain issues, Norton said, “It is an opportunity. That is a good way of putting it. I have a very negative reaction to what I perceive as superficial involvement with things… personally I don’t like to get involved in things in which I don’t think I have a substantive expertise to the point where I can maintain an engagement… But given my background and the platform that I have available to me, I’d like to do a little more than that… I’d rather do something like this series that is a substantial, ambitious project that can bring a higher level of actual scientific rigor to questions, and beyond its broadcast goals can bring a far-reaching educational component. If I can do that, then it becomes worthwhile.”

Who is your favorite Green star? What are your thoughts on the matter? Tell us what you think through comments box below or email: greencottonblog@gmail.com

Climate Counts: Reflections on the 2008 Results

Photosource: Climate Counts

The NY Times recently reported the second annual Climate Counts’ results for 2008, and while a few companies showed improvement, the numbers remain rather discouraging. Currently 56 companies are included in their annual survey review crossing a wide range of sectors from media and apparel to electronics and shipping, food, beverage and the Internet.

Started by CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg, of Stoneyfield Farms, Climate Counts is a non-profit organization with the purpose of monitoring and reporting on corporate commitment to the environment. Gary reports, that while they are not measuring ‘emissions’ directly they are looking at ‘commitment.’ In reviewing some sample measures from the survey (see below), ‘commitment’ seems like it would be hard to objectively ascertain. Nonetheless it is the best survey we have to date (as far as I know) and the best one that is reported to the public.

Climate counts uses a 100-point scale to look at whether companies have:

  • Measured their climate footprint
  • Reduced their impact on global warming
  • Supported (or suggest intent to block) progressive climate legislation
  • Publicly disclosed their climate actions clearly and comprehensively

So how do we interpret the results? Well, the good news is that most companies scored higher this year than they did in 2007. Great. However at the same time, significant room for growth remains as the average score is a mere 40 points. According to a standard grading scale that would correspond to a D or thereabouts. Yikes – not good. Nine (9) companies showed no change, and Kraft and Canon were companies who dropped.

Disappointingly, Apple scored a mere 11 points out of a 100 (and that’s even 9 points higher than last year)! I guess the all-around ‘i’-coolness does not include the environment. Another disappointing low score came from Amazon. With a score of 5, the company brushed off the importance of their environmental commitment by saying that they ‘made significant progress’ from last year, according to the NY Times quote. So if you count the fact that they got a zero (0) in year 1, I suppose one can say there is improvement. Yet again, on the grading scale however that would be a clear and simple ‘F.’

I am compelled to commend Gary, as I did back in November for initiating this effort. There is nothing like public transparency and pressure to increase corporate commitment to the environment.

In the age of increasing green-washing, green-marketing and green-ification of all goods and services, it is important to see clearly through the haystack to understand and identify who is really taking steps to toward carbon emissions and reducing their environmental footprint from those who are simply jumping on the bandwagon and tooting their horn. Check out their site for more details and for a full report on all company scores.

Eco-Factory in Sri Lanka: The Cutting Edge of Green Manufacturing

Source: CS Monitor, courtesy of MAS eco-factory Depicts a rendering of the lingerie factory in Sri Lanka (now complete) runs on renewable energy and employs 45,000 workers.

CS Monitor announced last week the completion if the first ever eco-sustainable apparel factory in Sri Lanka. Built with evaporative cooling technology, solar panels and hydro power, the factory is the first of its kind in Asia (and perhaps even worldwide), setting a new standard in apparel manufacturing.

One problem with organic and sustainable garments today is that the fabrics may be green, but so often the manufacturing is anything but (not to mention a majority are still made in sweatshop conditions). The MAS factory solves this problem by greenifying HOW the clothes are made and dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of that part of the process.

With energy-efficient task lighting, low-emission permitting glass (which cuts down on heat transfer), and traditional applications such as courtyard design and tree plantings, the factory is an oasis of low carbon production amidst an industry of profuse waste (e.g. see Cambodian garment factory dumping its refuse in its backyard for passersby to scourge for materials).

Costing 25% more than the average garment factory, the MAS plant will cut and sew lingerie for a number of labels. So far according to the authors, there isn’t a mass retail company out there yet that has developed a full sustainability standard that accounts for the garment across every step of production.

We have the organic certification, but so often that is for the fabric itself and may exclude steps in the production process that occur after the certification. Furthermore, carbon footprint is not a factor separately considered in that certification process. For example, a garment may be made with organically grown cotton, but if coal-fired boilers and poor treatment of waste- water or toxic dyes are used later on, then the garment ultimately has a huge carbon footprint and potentially damaging effects on the environment.

As Linda Greer, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist who specializes in toxic chemical pollution in textiles production notes,

‘true sustainability requires independent certification, extensive consumer-education campaigns, and a desire and ability to review entire supply chains.’

I could not agree this statement more. With certification we move toward a more informed consumer base as well as regulated supplier market, and move away from haphazard ‘green and socially responsible’ labeling with little meaning.

We all know that green-ification of goods costs more and without the strict certification and labeling in place and high levels of consumer awareness, it is very difficult to justify those additional costs. So the question is, how is it that a company like MAS is able to afford and/or justify such a substantial up-front investment?

According to the author, ‘economies of scale is one answer’ but in addition, MAS will arguably save money in the long (and even short run) in energy costs. Furthermore, by being the first to commit at this level, they will gain credibility and loyalty among consumers who are increasingly Green and socially conscious.

Just as Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farms, reflects in his new book ‘Stirring it Up,’ nearly all of the green decisions he and his company made in its 25 year history proved economical and beneficial for the business in the long run. I might add, in an era of rising fuel costs, how can sustainable, energy efficient architecture and systems not be beneficial? By leveraging energy efficient solutions such as solar, hydro and other technologies, MAS will be ahead of the pack in less than a few years if energy prices continue on their current track.

See CS Monitor for more information.

Ode to StonyfieldFarm!

stonyorg.jpg

Stonyfield Farm (SF) is one of my favorite all-time companies. They make great yogurt, delicious ice cream and good quality milk. They happen to be the world’s largest supplier of organic yogurt, and had about $260 million in sales last year. They are profitable, incredibly GREEN and have been that way for the last 2 decades. SF is not only socially and environmentally conscious but they are ACTIVE participants in the environmental movement in at least half a dozen ways and pro-actively engage their customers in this movement as well.

While some might suggest Stonyfield is a deviation from Green Cotton, I would argue that this company is worth discussing for several reasons. Stonyfield is a GREAT example of a green company that has set a pioneering example since the 1980’s of what can be done to be more sustainable, green and socially responsible. Stonyfield’s latest move (in the news this week) also warrants some attention. Stonyfield just moved toward 100% organic (certified) in ALL of their product lines. For a company of this size (with worldwide distribution) this is no small feat!

What’s more, SF has figured out a way to do all this while remaining incredibly profitable, growing larger each year, and even investing 10% of all profits back into the environment!

I had the privilege of hearing Gary Hirshberg (President and CE-Yo) two years ago at a Baltimore City event on ‘farm-to-table’ issues at Symphony Hall. The event served to raise awareness on environmentally friendly and sustainable agriculture as well as local producers and companies who actively engage in environmentally sustainable practices. Gary was one of the keynote speakers and is one of the most inspirational, hard-working and articulate leaders in the green space that I have met. What he has done with Stonyfield is a truly inspirational story for anyone working in this field.

So while SF was already very GREEN, this week, they went even-Greener by rolling out their 100% organic certified product lines. As such, Stonyfield has just stepped up the precedent for large companies with a whole new gold standard of practice.

Top Reasons why Stonyfield is Remarkable.

  • Active engagement in preserving the earth. Stonyfield is a socially and environmentally conscious company that ACTIVELY engages their customers in the environmental movement. They promote sustainable agriculture, and work hard to protect and restore the environment.
  • Lids with a Purpose. If you have never purchased a SF yogurt, you may not be aware that each lid (which does not have ANY plastic by the way) has a message, and an issue on it. In some cases you can send in the caps to your senator or some other environmental group, or you send them back to SF and they will send ‘en masse’ to Washington or elsewhere to support a particular cause. In return you also receive, things such as an environmental action mug, or a grocery bag (alternative to plastic) and other useful gifts.
  • Recycling. Stonyfield has an amazing recycling program. They have teamed up with Recycline to make plastic household products such as razors and toothbrushes with SF’s used plastic. In addition, with polypropylene #5 plastic packaging, we use significantly less plastic than if their cups were HDPE #2 plastic. Some communities, however, don’t recycle #5 containers. If you can’t recycle #5’s in your community, SF allows you to send your cleaned #5 plastic cups back to Stonyfield Farm and they will recycle them.
  • Profits for the Planet. Stonyfield donates 10% of their profits to programs that benefit the preservation of the earth.
  • In addition, Gary Hirshberg recently started a group called Climate Counts in which they reviewing and then scoring prominent companies and their contributions to climate change (+ and -).
  • BLOGs. Stonyfield Farm also has two blogs – staying up to date on key issues and making sure others are as well.
  • Wellness: they have a wellness space on their site, which includes information on health and nutrition and interesting nuggets on how to stay fit, healthy and strong. Dr. Bill Sears is a part of this Wellness space and offers useful tips to loyal customers on how to stay healthy.

Finally, there is SO much more on their site, that I am leaving out. I encourage you to check them out Stonyfield Farm.
In addition to all this cool stuff they are doing, Stonyfield is STILL an incredibly profitable company and successful on all fronts. In 2006, they had an estimated $260 million in sales, and are the world’s leading producer of organic yogurt (owned by the Danone Group). They sell organic yogurts, smoothies, soy-yogurts, ice cream and milk to supermarkets, natural foods stores and colleges nationwide.

Go Stonyfield! May there be many an eco-fashion company that humbly follows in your footsteps….

Organic Cotton: The Footprint Chronicles of Patagonia

Patagonia recently launched an incredible consumer innovation: their Footprint Chronicles. This dynamic application, which uses video, text and imagery, walks users through the step-by-step process of product development from field to storefront. The organic cotton polo shirt is one great example on their site,

Much to my surprise, Patagonia has been using organic cotton since 1996. More than a decade ago, Patagonia began pushing its suppliers to not only coming up with a 100% organic cotton shirt, but also ensure that workers were fairly paid with socially, environmentally friendly conditions (as evidenced in thier video series).

I encourage you to check out the fascinating application – The Footprint Chronicles, which is one of the first significant moves by a major apparel company to demonstrate near 100% transparency in production processes and environmental disclosure. Patagonia even invites customers to review their supply chain process and send comments or questions. For a company of the size of Patagonia to be doing this, I would have to conclude that they deserve a huge thumbs up. Their holistic and transparent approach to the business, from design all the way though distribution is remarkable.

In the case of the organic cotton polo shirt, Patagonia begins their process in Ventura CA with the designers. As evidenced by the unscripted and live video, this design group appears highly committed and passionate about creating a perfect product in all respects. Next, Patagonia sources the organic cotton fiber in Turkey.

Apparently, 10 years ago few places in the world grew organic cotton. Turkey was then and is today one of the main producers of organic cotton for Europe and Asia. Next, the fiber moves on to Bangkok Thailand, where the fibers are turned into yarn at Thai Alliance Textile. This company pioneered with Patagonia ten years ago in learning how to process organic cotton, and they are still in business today as one of Patagonia’s lead suppliers. Unfortunately, not much more of their business (clientele) has gone organic. But hopefully that will change soon!

After the yarn is spun, the yarn moves on to another company in Thailand, Siam Knitwear, at which point the yarn is spun into custom ordered fabric and then sewn into the items choice. All orders are custom orders and again, Patagonia has been a loyal customer of this company for what sounded like to be at least a decade. Both of these Thailand factories appear to be on the high end of production in Asia, paying their workers a very reasonable wage, with health care on site in some cases as well as other benefits. Check out the Siam Knitwear Video:

Finally, after the shirts are sewn, they are transported to Reno Nevada, where they are sorted for distribution. http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/footprint/index.jsp

One last interesting feature on this ‘Chronicles’ piece is that Patagonia tells you exactly how much CO2 emissions are released as a result of the entire production and dissolution process. In the case of the organic cotton Tee is nearly 27lbs (or 12kg).

clipped from www.patagonia.com

Leading an Examined Life

Environmentalism: Leading the Examined Life™

Footprint Chronicles

The Footprint Chronicles is an interactive mini-site that allows you to track the impact of five specific Patagonia products from design through delivery.
Caveat: These examinations are partial and preliminary. Each season we’ll examine a few new products. As we learn more, the picture will gain more focus through the haze. And the more we see, and then give some thought, the more bad practices we’ll be able to change with all the speed we can muster.

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