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.

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