A Green Activist Tells Hollyw’d What to Do

“It would be nice to see one show up to the Oscars in recycled clothing.”

Last Updated: April 22, 2009 @ 11:11 PM

As the founder and president of the natural cleaning product line Seventh Generation, Jeffrey Hollender has long been an outspoken environmental activist. On Earth Day, Wednesday, he’ll also host "Big Green Lies," which seeks to separate ecological myths from reality. It’s set for 9 p.m. ET on the Fine Living Network. TheWrap grilled Hollender on some of these myths, on how celebrities can help dispel the misunderstandings and on ways that movie studios can go green.

 

What are some of the environmental myths you try to dispel on "Big Green Lies"?
That tap water isn’t safe enough, so we need to drink bottled water; that the best thing we can do is go out and buy a hybrid; that the air inside the home is safer than outside of our homes. The show takes six different myths and, in an entertaining way, goes out to discover the truth. It isn’t a lecture or a documentary.

Which of the myths do you think will most surprise viewers?
The one about indoor air quality was shocking — particularly because we shot that segment in L.A., and people there have such a strong belief about how bad the air quality is. The difference is pretty mind boggling. Indoor air usually contains more pollutants per cubic foot than outdoor air. Typical households contain levels of pollutants 2-5 times higher than the air outside — in extreme cases, 100 times more polluted.

A lot of people think films about the environment or conservation are boring. How do you combat that?
Our goal was to make sure people laughed while they watched. I really liked how "Super Size Me," Morgan Spurlock’s documentary about McDonald’s, used entertainment in a positive way to reach out to more people. When you laughed, it didn’t mean you weren’t learning.

What are some easy things people in Hollywood can do to reduce their carbon footprint?
The two most important things are transportation and diet. Grass-fed beef is not a bad option. Eat local, and choose organic. And I know this is difficult in L.A., because public transportation is limited, but: choosing to use energy-efficient transportation is a critical choice. Most people in Hollywood are aware of these things, but the challenge is to be more aggressive in using the influence they have. 

A lot of celebrities are already involved in environmental issues. What more could they do?
Celebrities too often stand for enormous amounts of useless consumption. It would be nice to see one show up to the Oscars in recycled clothing instead of the newest dress that was just designed for the occasion. Come with your mother and grandmother’s dress, or your father’s tuxedo. It would be so symbolic. 

How else can they best use their influence?
They need to educate themselves so that they really know what the best choice is. I don’t want to tell anyone not to drive a Prius, but there are clean diesel cars today that get 60 miles to the gallon that are arguably more efficient than a Prius. But because diesel has a bad reputation, you don’t see celebrities driving around in them.

Many, many celebrities say they’re vegetarian and that beef is bad for the environment. That’s true 90 percent of the time. But it turns out that grass-fed beef is actually good for environment. We need to move beyond symbolic green acts to thoughtful and deeply considerate green acts.

How can the industry itself become more green?
Using green cleaning products to clean the set. Recycling. Looking at some of the lunches that get served in disposable containers — you end up with a mountain of garbage. I was just talking to the band Guster, and not only is their bus fueled with biofuel — so they’re using a mixture of vegetable and petroleum — but at every concert, they put up tents around the perimeter to educate college students about environmental issues.

What’s your answer to people who come up to you and say, “What difference is using Seventh Generation over Windex really going to make?”
The biggest danger we face is cynicism — that we can’t make a difference. You have to find something that touches their life in a very personal way. When I tell these people that traditional cleaning products are likely to trigger an asthma attack and they realize what they’re doing could be harming someone they love, it’s effective.

Living a green lifestyle has become very trendy. Have you seen any downfalls to this?
We want the attention because it gives us opportunity, but with the attention comes the challenge of ensuring that what people are learning is accurate. And if the only thing that happens is that people walk around in organic T-shirts eating organic strawberries, we won’t have addressed the more serious problems.

Flat-screen TVs, computers, cell phones … the new technologies use a lot of energy. So is it really hurting or helping us?
You can’t turn back the clock — we’re not moving into caves or giving up our cell phones or computers. Unfortunately, turning off our computer isn’t even enough because most computers use energy even when they’re shut down. We have to be more thoughtful about buying these things in the first place. You should think about whether you really need those things. The most important thing to buy is nothing.

Do you use public transportation?
I live in a place where that’s difficult because it’s way out in the country. I used to have an old Mercedes that ran on vegetable oil, which was a good solution, but it wouldn’t start in the winter because it was so cold. Ultimately, I switched to a hybrid. I want to put a windmill up above my house so I can power my car electrically and have a zero footprint.