REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Neal Conan is on vacation.
Remember when it was cool to have a car with a souped-up engine and a spoiler on the back? Yeah, well those days are over. Now, the coolest car on the block is a Prius. The hottest jeans are hemp. Environmental issues are the newest, trendiest cause celeb. Company after company markets everything from high heels to chainsaws as green. And everyone from superstar Cameron Diaz, to the carbon-conscious girl next door is on the bandwagon. Bandwagon, of course, has a fuel-efficient hybrid engine.
This weekend's "Live Earth" concert, hosted by Al Gore, is the most current example. With 100 acts in eight cities around the world, it's easily the biggest benefit ever put on, and hopes to use celebrity musicians to inspire the rest of us to protect the environment. But how green is green? And what does all this marketing actually do for the environment, if anything?
We'd like to hear from you. Are you feeling the push of the new eco-chic and making small changes? We have an e-mail challenge for you. What is the one habit or product you refuse to give up? Disposable diapers. That address is email@example.com. Of course, you could join us on the phone, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Send us your comments to the blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.
We were scheduled to speak with former Vice President Al Gore in this hour, but earlier this morning, he canceled the interview by way of explanation. A spokesperson sent us a statement that said, unfortunately, Mr. Gore had to cancel his appearance today on TALK OF THE NATION. He's a fan of the show and looks forward to rescheduling an appearance in the future. We'll take him up on that offer as soon as possible.
Joining us now is Alex Williams. He's a reporter for The New York Times. He recently wrote an article, "Buying Into the Green Movement." He's joining us from our New York bureau. Welcome.
Mr. ALEX WILLIAMS (Reporter, The New York Times): Welcome.
ROBERTS: So, as a trend spotter, how long do you suppose this green trend has been going on?
Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, it's certainly been building in the last two or three years. I think it got kicked in the high gear last year after the Al Gore movie came out. And I think in some ways, that's brought about an unprecedented amount of success for the movement. I think a lot of people have been very heartened to see that for the first time, arguably, since the late '80s or early '90s, maybe even since the '70s, green is starting to go and trying to hit mainstream.
But there are some critics that are saying that the nature of this movement in green right now is becoming a bit consumerist, that people are starting getting - their focus is a little bit turned around, that, really, the fact that this is a consumerist moment is interfering with some of the traditional goals of the green movement.
ROBERTS: Right. That - I mean, that inherent in the green movement is, you know, using less and consuming less. So it's not just like the commercialization of, you know, yoga. It's something that is particularly antithetical to what it means to be environmentally conscious.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Exactly. The green movement was traditionally about sacrifice. And the downside of that was that there was always sort of this hint of the hair-shirt mentality. And I think that the greens have been wise to lose that because they know that they're going to turn off the mainstream, and they're never going to achieve their goals if they make their option, basically, unattractive.
But there are those that don't want this to become sort of a modern update of the Christian idea of indulgences, where you can basically buy your way into heaven.
ROBERTS: Does it work as a marketing tool, do you think? Does a green label help sell things?
Mr. WILLIAMS: I think we're a little too early to say whether it does or not. Certainly, it has - perceptions of green help. We can see that to the sales of Toyota Priuses and some of those other items. But I think we're a little bit too early in this to really tell for sure. It's only in the recent year or so that Wal-Mart and Home Depot have been starting to adopt this label. And really, we'll see where it goes.
ROBERTS: Well, you know, I think the Prius is an interesting example because there was also a recent study of Prius drivers who said one of the main reasons they drive it is because it makes a statement about them, not necessarily for the mileage. And a car like, say, the Honda Civic hybrid, which just looks like a regular Honda Civic that doesn't advertise your eco-consciousness isn't as popular. And in some ways, I suppose, if the impact on the environment is the same, it doesn't much matter what the motives behind it are. But do you have some sense of how much green consumers actually care about the environment and how much they're just trying to look cool?
Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, I think it's hard to say. It might not matter that much if they're just trying to look cool as long as they're doing good. I think they are definitely - those in the green movement would say that. But I think the real concern is that people lose sight of the fact that you're better off, say, having a Toyota Corolla that gets 40 miles to the gallon on the highway than you are a hundred and four thousand dollar Lexus hybrid, which is technically a hybrid, but it gets to 22. I think you have to really look at the final impact of things and not just the label of hybrid. Not all green products are created equal, essentially.
ROBERTS: But there's no actual standard for that, right? I mean, there's no way for a consumer to know?
Mr. WILLIAMS: No, there's not. But - so you do have to - you have to cut through the hype.
ROBERTS: Is there any movement to impose a standard?
Mr. WILLIAMS: That I don't know about, actually. And I think that we're probably too early in the curve to know. Mostly, what I'm hearing is people that - long-time greens who are happy that they're moving and starting to break into the mainstream, but they are concerned that the soul of the movement is getting a little bit lost.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Or essentially the concept of sacrifice.
ROBERTS: Right. Also, you know, and a lot of famous people are spokespeople for these products. You know, the Live Earth concert that's going on this weekend, certainly, with some huge stars. To what extent has the celebrity endorsement made green cool do you think?
Mr. WILLIAMS: I think it's helped a lot. I mean, I think that you're looking over all of them at the covers of Vanity Fair magazine and many others. I mean, we've got magazines popping up, you know - I mean, just in the same way that celebrities made Africa a popular issue last summer, it's continued. I mean, you know, you can be cynical and say that, well, there's just popping in an issue and trying to make themselves seem righteous in the process, but, you know, I think there has been demonstrable good that's come for Africa in the course of, you know, aid from just the mainstream populace.
And I think the same thing is happening with greens. I think, you know, whether or not people buy a Prius because Owen Wilson has one or whatever. I think that, you know, there is actually some demonstrable effect that we're starting to see, although again, it's early.
ROBERTS: Which certainly brings up the question of how long it will last.
Mr. WILLIAMS: That's the million-dollar question. I mean, if green is the new black, then, you know, like any fashion, it could change next season. And I think that's what some long-time environmentalists worry about.
ROBERTS: When you were researching this article, I'm thinking of things like organic cotton clothing or hemp clothing. It seems, sort of, cynical on the point of the clothing manufacturers to be tapping into this particular fad or trend with that sort of thing. Or, are there actual practical advantages to making products from those materials?
Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, that's a good question. I mean, it holds - it (unintelligible) the biggest question here, which is can you have your cake and eat it too? I mean, whether or not - it's quite arguable that the fact that Levi's is making organic cotton jeans is actually a plus because, in fact, organic cotton is slightly been a fit for the world than non-organic cotton, you know, with these pesticides and that sort of thing. Of course, still a lot of water is used and there are all sorts of environmental consequences from the growing of cotton. The argument that I hear is from some people saying, well, maybe it's better just to have one pair of regular jeans than five pair of $250 organic jeans.
ROBERTS: Which also brings up the, sort of, who is taking advantage of this question. Is this just rich, white, hip urbanites?
Mr. WILLIAMS: That's a good question. I don't see any demographic service on the matter, but certainly it takes a certain amount of money to buy us some of these products.
ROBERTS: Let's hear from Lacy(ph) in Tallahassee. Lacy, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
LACY (Caller): Hi. Thanks.
LACY: My comment was similar to what you guys are talking about. I was going to - want to discuss the rise of green hypocrisy, where businesses and corporations are riding the green wave just to pat their respective bottom line while misleading the masses. I'm a mechanical engineer student, and, you know, green practices have been around for a very long time. And it just seems like recently, it's everywhere, from television to the magazines and everything and it just seems like there's a little bit of green hypocrisy bit going on.
ROBERTS: Lacy, thanks for your call. I actually want to turn your question to Ron Jarvis. He's senior vice president at Home Depot. He joins us by phone. Home Depot is one company that gives shoppers a chance to buy eco-friendly products. Mr. Jarvis, welcome.
Mr. RON JARVIS (Senior Vice President, Home Depot): Oh, thank you.
ROBERTS: So what is it worth to Home Depot to have an eco-friendly line? Is it a marketing ploy? Is it something that company believes in? Where do you stand on that?
Mr. JARVIS: Well, we definitely tie in to part of marketing when you're trying to educate the consumers on the products that you carry. But we look at it as -there's a certain number of American consumers that want to buy products that have less of an impact on the environment than the standard products. And what we're trying to do is make it easy for those consumers to walk into a store like Home Depot, make the purchasing decision and walk out with a price - a product that's price-right, competitive and has less of an impact on the environment.
ROBERTS: So you were hearing a demand for these products from your clients or customers?
Mr. JARVIS: Yes. Yes, we are.
ROBERTS: So how do you decide what gets sold under the Eco Options line?
Mr. JARVIS: Oh, we have a couple of different ways. There's - some of the products we consider to be low-hanging fruit, products that Energy Star rated to, you know, reduce the consumption of energy inside of the homes, products that are organic and have the organic ratings from the organic - different trademark societies. We're also looking at certified wood, products that are managed under sustainable forestry practices like the Forest Stewardship Council. And also looking at products that have low VOC paints. Low VOC emissions like low VOC paints and stains.
ROBERTS: And do you see yourself as being in the education business? Are you hoping that people will take the opportunity of having these options to learn more about the impact of other products, or are you just selling products?
Mr. JARVIS: No, we think you have to educate the consumer as we're educating ourselves and our store associates as we go through this onto what the features and benefits are of products that have less of an impact on the environment. I think a lot of people understand these issues somewhat that they look for areas to learn more about these products, which is one of the reasons that we have the information or sign package in our stores and also have an enhanced Web site that if someone's sitting at home and he want to learn more about the product, they could go to our Home Depot Eco Option's Web site and learn more before they make the purchase decision.
ROBERTS: Have you had some of the Home Depot suppliers ask to be included in the line when you don't think they deserve to be?
Mr. JARVIS: Yes. We have that every day. I had a couple today, actually, that sent over information for products that they felt needed to be in the Eco Options lineup that did not make the cut.
ROBERTS: And why do - why - what is it worth to them, as suppliers, to do that? Do they gain sales from being listed as eco-friendly?
Mr. JARVIS: I think they see the potential to gain sales as being listed as eco-friendly. They also end up in additional newspapers and catalogs that we send to the consumers. We have product knowledge classes on Saturdays and Sundays where we educate consumer on things like organic gardening and low VOC paints. And they see this as a way to get, you know, their products in front of the consumers, you know, pretty quickly.
ROBERTS: So what happens in Home Depot if this turns out to just be a passing fad and the demand goes way down? Are you committed to Eco Options?
Mr. JARVIS: Oh, yes. Yes. Now, we're committed to Eco Options. It's part of our continuing merchandising procurement policies as far as looking for products that have this. We have about 110 merchants that are, you know, scanning the globe on a daily basis, finding products, and it's part of, you know, their responsibility to come back with products for each one of the categories.
ROBERTS: Ron Jarvis is senior vice president at Home Depot, where he oversees the company's Eco Options campaign. Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. JARVIS: Thank you.
ROBERTS: And Alex Williams is a reporter for the style section in the New York Times. His article, "Buying Into the Green Movement," was in the paper last Sunday. Thank you.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Thank you.
ROBERTS: I'm Rebecca Roberts. More about eco-chic when we come back from a break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington.
If what we see in stores and on the newsstands is any indication, Americans are definitely buying into being green. There are hemp shoes and hybrid cars, and several major magazines have come out with special green issues. Suddenly, it's very chic to be green, and big companies are trying to cash in on the movement.
So how green is green? Does all this marketing actually do anything for the environment? Let us know. Are you feeling the push of the new eco-chic and making small changes? And remember, we have that e-mail challenge - what is the one habit or product you refuse to give up? The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or give us a call, 800-989-TALK. Send your comments to the blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.
We mentioned it earlier, but if you were expecting to hear our conversation with former Vice President Al Gore in this segment, he cancelled earlier this morning. We were told it was a schedule in conflict and we will try to reconnect with him soon.
Let's hear from a caller. This is Ellis in Davis, California. Ellis, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
ELLIS (Caller): Thank you.
ROBERTS: You're on the air. What's on your mind?
ELLIS: Well, you know, I've actually been researching this issue for the last five years. I'm at UC Davis, and I've wrote a book and put up a Web site. And I think that the real issue here is an issue of information that all of this green washing that's happening on the backs of these new green products that are coming out are unexpected response. Pretty much like in the political realm, politicians often make promises that they don't carry through with.
What we really need as consumers is we need objective sources of information that can evaluate these claims and give us reasonable, honest assessments of whether these products are green or not, because it really is important to people who believe in upholding environmental values that they are able to channel their consumer dollars in a way that helps the environment. Because without these green options, what we end up doing is channeling our consumer dollars into all of these ways that hurt the environment. And that's also not on the labels.
ROBERTS: So you would like some kind of good housekeeping seal of approval for an eco-friendly product?
ELLIS: I think, ultimately, what we need is like nutritional labels. Just like when you turn over a cereal box, you see the nutritional label on the side that tells you the lowdown on all of the nutritional aspects of the product. And ultimately, that's what we need. But in the meantime, all we have are, you know, research and nonprofits and so forth in that. And I put up a Web site betterworldshopper.org and a book, and trying to get all of these information in a way that consumers can use it right now and get an unbiased assessment of what's out there.
ROBERTS: Ellis, thanks for your call. Let's turn this idea over to Josh Dorfman. He's someone who pays close attention to so-called green eco-friendly products. He calls himself the lazy environmentalist. He has a book and a radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. He's also the founder of Vivavi Contemporary Sustainable Furniture & Design.
Josh Dorfman joins us from our New York Bureau. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. JOSH DORFMAN (Founder and CEO, Vivavi Eco-Friendly Furniture & Home Design Services): Thank you, Rebecca. Great to be here.
ROBERTS: So how do you decide what's an eco-friendly product?
Mr. DORFMAN: Well, I think, I actually - I've met Ellis, and I think he raised a lot of good points. Right now in 2007, it's a very interesting time because more and more people do want to shop for green products, so that does raise the question - well, if we're going to do it, how do we really know?
And I think, as Ron Jarvis said from Home Depot, he talked about things like the Forest Stewardship Council, FSC, for wood products or GREENGUARD, which is the third-party verification that certifies that certain products are better for indoor air quality.
And then there's the Energy Star program of the, actually, the Environmental Protection Agency, which attest to products that are 30 percent more energy-efficient in appliances, electronics; even the homes built to those standards. So we look for those kinds of certifications. I think they're important and they're definitely coming.
ROBERTS: So why do you call yourself the lazy environmentalist?
Mr. DORFMAN: Well, it stems from the fact that I really think, you can - it actually - it's something very personal. When I start at Vivavi, I was selling product that I felt was exceptionally well designed and also made from eco-friendly materials.
And I felt that that proposition would make it very easy for people to want to make a better choice, because the better choice would be some of the best furniture available in the marketplace. And one of my employees immediate -well, I shouldn't say immediately - after about a year and a half of working with me, called me out and said, all right, look I know you're selling this stuff, but, like, you're really lame.
You know, you're always in the shower, it's a pain for you to recycle; like, you're going to throw your bed out and take it to a homeless shelter on and on and on. You don't act like an environmentalist. You don't talk like an environmentalist. You're just selling the stuff. So - and I took it, you know, I knew where she was coming from. So through this that I wrote this blog entry called "The Lazy Environmentalist."
And basically what I was like, I really do care, but I take really long showers because frankly, I do my best thinking in the shower. So I'm not going to stop taking that shower. I love for someone to invent a way for those same five gallons of water be filtered so I can just use less water, and let's run a solar panel to want to heat it. I'll buy it. I'll use it.
But if I'm really, really honest, I'm not going to change my behavior as much as I care about the environment. And I just felt let's start to have a very realistic conversation about what we're willing to do instead of keeping it in this place of like what we should do, which we're never going to do. Let's talk about we will do because there's so much good stuff to do right now.
ROBERTS: Like what?
Mr. DORFMAN: Well, for example, you know, I mentioned that there's Energy Star program. We bring all these guys - investors onto our show everyday to talk about what they're doing. We recently had someone on, who invented something called the (unintelligible) water system. Now this doesn't basically, it's like a little container that goes beneath your sink.
And it runs a tube from this container that captures, like, water when you're brushing your teeth and it channels it to the toilet tank. So when you flush the toilet, you're now using gray water instead of using like clean potable water like we normally do. And this alone saves like 5,000 gallons of water for just one bathroom, and it cost about $295. It repays for itself about three or four years in savings on water and sewage costs. And it's like you can be, you know, you can conserve water and now you're doing the same thing you're doing before, you're just flushing the toilet.
ROBERTS: I want to bring Joe Romm into the conversation. He blogs at climateprogress.org and he's a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington. He served as the acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy. He's here on studio 3A. Welcome to the show.
Dr. JOE ROMM (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress): Hello.
ROBERTS: So what do you make of these sort of incremental small things the so-called lazy environmentalists, can do? Do you think they really make a difference?
Dr. ROMM: Well, I think, if your - main issue for me is global warming, and I think that will become the delaminate(ph) environmental issue and I think that the people are becoming more aware of the environment because of global warming. If you want to deal with global warming, you were talking about energy.
And, you know, there, it's really big things - your car and your house. A hybrid car - that's like the first thing to do; getting renewable power for your home, that's, you know - you can do that in most places. And in places where you can't get renewable power, you can buy something called green tags, which is other people's renewable power.
And then, as you just heard, the Energy Star appliances. But I tend to focus on the big things because those three things will do more probably than everything else you could do combined.
ROBERTS: But those are still consumer choices. That's not, you know, lobbying for different cafe standards?
Dr. ROMM: Right. Right, and you know, cafe standards is a very important point - spent 30 seconds on this. When you buy your Prius, you are reducing your emissions, but you're not really reducing nationwide emissions because there are fuel economy standards. So Toyota can sell a less efficient car to someone else when they sell you more efficient car because they just have to meet an average.
So the most important thing is to raise fuel economy standards. Yes. I mean, there's no question that if we're going to solve global warming, it has to be done at the level of national policy.
ROBERTS: Josh Dorfman, short of solving global warming, are there things -other things you like to do or like to recommend or find that are popular from your "Lazy Environmentalist's" audience that people find actually make a little bit of a difference, and how they feel about things or in their electric bill?
Mr. DORFMAN: You know - absolutely, Rebecca. One of the things that I would say is what you mentioned with the disposable diapers. There's a company called G Diapers, which actually makes biodegradable, flushable diapers, so we don't have to keep sending diapers to the landfill, which you could find them at gdiapers.com, and they're really cute and easy to do. And actually - so when you flush the interior, like, the soiled part down the toilet, it actually - it biodegrades and then the sewage system actually captures the component that's been biodegraded.
And then, that's used as fertilizer now in tree farms. So there's like this full usage of the actual product. And people loved these G Diapers because they're really convenient. You don't have that like nasty smell in the corner of your baby's room.
And there's a lot of stuff like that that's out there because - and entrepreneurs and designers are recognizing that we have a responsibility to design better products. And we also do have an opportunity because people do want to make these products part of their lives.
ROBERTS: Josh Dorfman brings up disposable diapers because I admitted to it as one of the not particularly eco-friendly products that I won't give up. He admits to not giving up long showers. We have an e-mail challenge going on to find out what other people will not give up.
Mary(ph) says, plastic garbage bags and plastic storage bags and plastic sandwich bags. She said I'd give up plastic grocery bags without a fight, but don't touch the garbage bags. I remember the days before the bags we have today and I do not want to go back there.
Brooke(ph) in Cincinnati will not give up regular deodorant or antiperspirants and Sue(ph) in Albany, California, says Kleenex brand tissues. I know they are made of virgin timber and, thus, not great for the environment, but I have allergies and can't bear the recycled brands and carrying around cloth handkerchief seems like too much trouble. I do drive a Prius, so I hope that helps compensates for any tissue usage.
It does seem that people want to, sort of - if they're not doing right. They do feel a little guilty and what to find ways to offset their guilt, Joe Romm?
Mr. ROMM: Well, I think that's important. I mean, I will say that there's nothing wrong with disposable diapers. I, in fact…
ROBERTS: Oh, thank goodness.
Dr. ROMM: On climate, on my Web site climateprogress.org, I posted a link to a place that does life cycle analysis. And disposables are basically better than cloth…
ROBERTS: Because of the water usage.
Dr. ROMM: Because of the water usage, absolutely. And I mean, and because energy uses - you know, global warming is a bigger problem than landfills. I like hot showers. I'd wrapped my water heater - you should do that. I also have a solar hot water heater system. Now, that's a little expensive, but it does pay for itself over the long term.
So you can, I think, find accommodations if people like, you know, you work at home, use a lot of electricity at home, get green power; get a flat panel display for your computer, because flat panel displays use a lot less energy than the cathode ray tubes. So there's always something that you can do.
ROBERTS: What about paper or plastic?
Dr. ROMM: Paper or plastic is a very interesting one. Again, I think the best life cycle analysis says that there's nothing wrong with plastic. Paper uses a lot of energy.
A lot of it has to do with recycling. Probably, the best thing to do is to get one of those cloth bags and just keep reusing it. I know that that can be a hassle for some, but if you really want to do something about the environment, you want to recycle, reuse or get one of those cloth bags.
ROBERTS: Let's hear from Salawa(ph) in Boulder, Colorado. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
SALAWA (Caller): Yes. Hello? Basically, I think one of the things I've heard in this broadcast and I've been hearing it a lot is the idea that it's just fashionable, it's just a fad, it's the new black. But I really feel, essentially, this is a life-saving thing for the planet. It isn't just a fashion statement.
And I think there are a lot people out there is that frustrated not knowing what to do, and having this available on a large scale is really important and very valuable.
ROBERTS: So you think it will stay?
SALAWA: I think that people have just been dying to get a hold of things more easily that will be good for environment.
ROBERTS: What about the message of consuming less and sacrificing more? Do you think that people will be willing to buy less instead of just making different choices?
SALAWA: Well, I don't think that everybody buying more and more is that old a practice. I think it happened over the last 20, 30 years where it was - buy the disposable, get everything free, go quickly. And now, we're realizing that we have piles of quick disposable things around us, you know. A tissue wipe is going to last longer than my lifetime. And I think that's scary. And, you know, I also think as far as elite people being able to buy this stuff, It always seems as though products are available to rich people first and then as it become more popular, it filters down. I don't know. Is that true? Does that seem true?
ROBERTS: That the more popular something becomes, the more the cost comes down. Sure, it's basic supply and demand.
ROBERTS: Salawa, thanks for your call. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Joe Romm, what do you think about that message of self-sacrifice of that contradiction, sort of, inherent in the term green consumers?
Dr. ROMM: Well, I think it's a very tough issue. If we're going to deal with global warming, we're going to have to do everything. We're going to have to need green products and we're probably going to have to, you know, find ways to do less, you know.
I worked for Amerie Lovens(ph) for two years and he was really the guru of doing things smart, or doing things more efficiently. And we use to have these debates. Can you do everything you want to do and just do it greener? Or do you have to do things differently?
To solve our global warming problem, we're going to need to reduce emissions like, 80, 90 percent. So when you get down to that level of emissions reductions, it's hard to do it all just with green products.
ROBERTS: Well, but is it that, then, end of the wedge? If a Prius is cool, does that then lead to people paying more attention?
Dr. ROMM: Well - look, a Prius - I own a Prius. It's twice as efficient as the car that I replaced. But I'm - I also work at home, telecommuting that sort of a classic suggestion. I think, I tend to agree with the caller that this environmental awareness, which may seem like a fad is not really a fad.
I think it's the beginnings of a movement on global warming because like a lot of environmental problems, global warming isn't going away. I mean, this isn't like cleaning up Lake Eerie. It is going to take decades and decades, and the weather just keeps getting stranger and we get these heat waves and droughts and flooding.
So I think more and more, you know, everyday people are understanding that the climate is changing and that we're going to have to take strong action to avoid it.
ROBERTS: Well, while the problem of global warming may not be a fad, I mean, it is possible that labeling something as green, making it hip is a fad.
Dr. ROMM: That's true. That's possible. I think it will be if we don't do what I guess Josh said to have independent people certifying it - I mean, like organic food. There's no - you can just call anything organic food.
And, you know, the other point people should know about things like organic food is organic doesn't mean green, right? I mean, if you fly in your avocado from Chile, then that, you know, that's not green. It may be an organically grown, but it using a huge amount of energy.
And if you buy, you know, an organic cotton T-shirt from China, again, it's being flown on, you know, are shipped an awfully long way using a lot of energy to do so.
MARTIN: Do you think there's a prospect for some sort of standard, some sort of seal of approval that would help consumers make those choices?
Dr. ROMM: Well, it's tricky because you'd have to know how the products were made. So it's not just like Consumer Reports, which can go out and test a car, or even EPA, which can do the Energy Star labeling. This is - where do they get the materials from? Do you believe them? Is someone going to go and audit and find out yes, they actually got their material from China or from some faraway place?
So I think that for a lot of products, it's going to be very hard to have a clear labeling system. I know that a lot of people are pursuing, trying to develop them, but it's going to be tricky.
ROBERTS: Josh Dorfman, when you're choosing products for the "Lazy Environmentalist," in addition to their eco-friendly level, do you have sort of a style standard? I mean, is there something that's just too ugly to be featured?
Mr. DORFMAN: Yeah, definitely. And it's not just a style standard. It's a standard of saying will this product be appealing to someone who doesn't care about the environment, granted that it has all these eco-friendly attributes?
But I'm really looking for products and trying to talk to people who don't even necessarily care about the environment. We're trying to tell a story of innovation. So everyone's going to be, like, oh my God, I heard about clothes from bamboo. What? Is that possible? Do you hear about that?
ROBERTS: Yeah, but you doesn't sound like it's going to look all that cool, I have to tell you, you've been…
Mr. DORFMAN: I know. But, yet, the - like so many of the latest fashion designers actually gravitate, gravitating toward bamboo because it has a great drape, it has a lot of just wonderful qualities in terms of wicking away moisture. It's an awesome, awesome material.
So it's the question of saying what is really going to work for everybody so that we're going to get excited about these choices and we're going to want to make these choices?
ROBERTS: We're talking about how cool it is to be green these days. Coming up this weekend is the big 07-07-07 wedding day. I bet some of you are headed to green weddings. Have you ever been to one? What made it green? 800-989-8255. Or e-mail email@example.com. The author of "Eco-Chic Weddings" joins us in a few minutes.
I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
ROBERTS: Speaking of global warming, we're wrapping up our conversation about the popularity of being green. Call it eco-chic. Josh Dorfman is still with us. He's the author of "The Lazy Environmentalist." And also Joe Romm, senior fellow, Center for American Progress and blogger for climateprogress.org.
With all the talk of being green, are you making changes in your life? Is there still something you just can't stop doing or give up in order to be more environmentally friendly? Call us at 800-989-TALK or e-mail talk at npr.org.
I also want to turn now to Emily Anderson. She is the author of "Eco-Chic Weddings." And she joins us by phone from North Carolina. Welcome to the show.
Ms. EMILY ANDERSON (Author, "Eco-Chic Weddings"): Hi. How are you?
ROBERTS: So, what is an eco-chic wedding?
Ms. ANDERSON: Well, an eco-chic weeding is a wedding where you think about where your dollars are going and how your impacting the global economy, the environmental issues, and as well as your own personal experience with regards to how you spend your dollars for the planning of your wedding. Today's wedding is on average, $27,000 in the U.S. and it's, you know, by some estimates, a 120 billion to 200 billion dollar market. So, really, it's having the conversation of being a conscious consumer within the context of, you know, this major experience on most people's lives.
ROBERTS: And do you think most people choose that out of environmental concern or because it's, sort of, in vogue?
Ms. ANDERSON: Well, you know, I like to say if it's in vogue, that's fine with me because I think it's like you can't un-ring a bell. And once people start to learn about these issues - if it happens to be with their weddings - then that's great because, you know, I do think that it will trickle down into not only their own individual lives, but within the companies and the brands that they happen to purchase their products from. You know, businesses are reacting to sort of the push within the marketplace from the consumer for more sustainable option.
ROBERTS: So what sort of choices does one make to have an eco-friendly wedding?
Ms. ANDERSON: Well, It's not just eco-friendly. For me, it's sustainable. So it's the reuse, reduce, recycle mantra of, you know, like where are your flowers coming from? You know, the flower industry has, you know, a terrible reputation right now within, you know, the ecological community. But most people don't realize where those beautiful, perfect, red roses come from. And it may just happen - it may just be a hothouse flower-growing facility in Ecuador where the workers are, you know, exposed to unhealthy levels of toxins and - you know, it's just really starting to ask the questions. Okay, I want those flowers but where will they come from if I have them?
I want to have my wedding at this location, but you know, does this location operate in a responsible manner? Do they give back to the community? Do they compost, recycle and all of these practices that were starting to do within our personal life? Why not ask the same of the businesses that we patronize.
ROBERTS: And are there companies that provide, say, you know, recycled paper invitations, that sort of thing.
Ms. ANDERSON: Well, yeah. And actually that's a perfect point, because a lot -most wedding invitation companies or businesses do not have not recycled, post-consumer content papers available. It's really hard, actually, to find a nice, you know, invitation that hasn't caused the Earth, you know, in terms of cutting down more trees and not being recyclable or perhaps being made with, you know, bleach that can, you know, that then goes back into landfill and leeches back into the ground.
So - but why not? I mean, recycled paper is readily available. So - and there are so many wedding invitations printed every year. It's just, for me, it's -when people ask why weddings, well, the automotive industry markets to weddings. The insurance industry markets to weddings. Why not the environmental market as well?
ROBERTS: Emily Anderson is the author of "Eco-chic Wedding." She joined us by phone from North Carolina. Emily, thanks so much.
Ms. ANDERSON: Okay. Thank you.
ROBERTS: Joe Romm, how much of a difference does something like that make, do you think?
Dr. ROMM: Well, if a lot of people did it, it would make a big difference. I mean, individual action by itself obviously doesn't come too much, but, you know, you take a company like Wal-Mart, when it starts to go green, it has the power to really purchase a lot of renewable power and get a lot of renewable products. So I - you know, I don't tell people to do green things because it's going to change the planet. I think people should do green things so that they can understand that it isn't going to destroy their lifestyle and that they can live quite well. And then, they can support and convince their neighbors and support political action at a higher level.
ROBERTS: Let's hear from Rana(ph) in San Francisco. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
RANA (Caller): Thank you. Not actually a perfect point about what I wanted to bring up. I am familiar with the gentleman by the name of Van Jones, and he is president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California. And also is a chairing a campaign called Reclaim the Future, which is intended to make Oakland one of the first green cities in America. And he is also an avid writer and speaker and makes the point and coined the term of the unbearable whiteness of green, which I think is a quite apt point that he's making with this movement and just who the demographics are and who can afford this chicness.
And his point is that, although there is, you know, it's a respectable and appreciated thing that people are doing as consumers to think about where they spend their money to make different choices, that as a larger movement, the green movement needs to raise everyone's vote. And this cannot be about maintaining as certain sect of our society's lifestyles, but actually really thinking about who climate change is affecting. As we follow Katrina and as we see all over America, where, you know, the waste of industry affects predominantly poor communities throughout our country far more than they do, you know, other communities.
And I appreciate individual consumers and do think there's a power to it, but I kind of wonder if we're at a point as a nation where government needs to get involved and actually force big business and consumers to make different decisions regarding SUVs, gas emissions, et cetera.
ROBERTS: Rana, thank you for your call. Josh Dorfman, do you think some of these choices are just the luxury of people who have plenty?
Mr. DORFMAN: Certainly, some of them are. But some of them are available to everybody. I mean, you could go to Wal-Mart today and you can get a set of 300 thread count organic cotton sheets for about $50, which is really about the price of a sheet set for - you know, for conventional cotton. You could get the organic aspect. You could go to Target. You could get method cleaning products, which are biodegradable, nontoxic, and some of the coolest-looking cleaning products on the market and they're cost to sell at Target.
You know, you could go to Home Depot and you can get - well, I think it's called TerraCycle organic plant food, which is actually made - it's the most eco-friendly product on the market. It's made from worm poop that's sold in 20-ounce reused soda bottles from Pepsi and Coca-Cola, and it works really well. And when these guys went to Home Depot, they said, look, this is the most eco-friendly planet(ph) on the product. This is the last time we're going to talk about that because it works great and it's just as cheap, if not cheaper than what you're selling right now.
So I, you know, I share that critique, but I also think that it's a little bit misplaced because when we do a little bit more research, there are a lot of options in the market. And to Van Jones point, I think it's a terrific point. And there are things that the private sector is doing.
For example, we just did a show on "The Lazy Environmentalist" with a company called Going Green USA, talking about an organization called Green Collar Vets. A consumer at greencollarvets.com know what they're doing is they're creating jobs for vets coming out of the military to actually work in the green-building industry, learning how to apply and install green-building products like something called earth plaster from American clay, creating green collar jobs for those who are a little bit - who don't necessary have all of the opportunities handed to them, and these are our vets who are serving our country.
So there's a really exciting story going on out there. Innovation is taking place at a lot of different levels. And certainly, a lot of that's been driven by the market.
ROBERTS: Joe Romm, what do you think of this class criticism, that this is an argument among the privileged?
Dr. ROMM: Well, you know, I think the caller's last point was critical, which is that the people who going to suffer the most from global climate change are going to be the poor. It's going to be Africa and developing nations, people who live along the coastlines, people who already live in hot, arid countries. So, yes, some of the high-end products may be, you know, a bit elitist, but I think the movement is now going very mainstream, and anybody can go out there.
The energy efficiency stuff will save you money. It may cost a little more upfront, but it will pay for itself within a few years in energy savings. So, you know, I would say anyone out there on any sort of a budget would want to be energy efficient.
ROBERTS: We have an e-mail. I think this is for you, Joe, from Theresa who says, should I replace my existing refrigerator with an Energy Star model? Should I trade in my current vehicle for a hybrid? Doesn't it take as much energy to build and transport those new products, as I will save once I have them?
Dr. ROMM: No. Usually, manufacturing energy is only like one year's worth of energy. I would certainly, if you have an old refrigerator, particularly if it's like 20 years old, you're going to save a lot of money and do a lot of good for the environment. And, you know, trading in a car, absolutely. I think everyone needs to start with, you know, their own personal responsibility.
ROBERTS: We also have an e-mail from Peter in Fair Oaks, California, who says, what do I refuse to give up to be green? My wife and I live in a solar house for 12 years in the 80s. We drive a Prius. We buy food locally at the farmer's market. We conserve energy at home but I cannot conceive of giving up air travel. Some people I know thought Amtrak. All I have to say about that is please, that is so hopeless, a 19th-century way to travel.
We also have e-mail from Becky Hall(ph) who says, I'm a mom of three kids and have driven a minivan for about 10 years. I'm trying very hard to reduce my family's environmental impact. My next car will be a hybrid. The problem is my kids and all their gear will not fit into a Prius and it's hard to get three kids and friends in and out of an SUV like a Highlander that doesn't have an easily accessible third row of seats. When will automakers give me the holy grail, a hybrid minivan? I've read that there's a Toyota in Japan that will meet my needs. How will they bring it the USA?
Amen, Becky. Do you have any inside line on a hybrid minivan, Joe?
Dr. ROMM: Well, Toyota said they're going to make all their vehicles hybrid over the next five years. So, you know, hold out for it, absolutely. And getting back to the air travel, that is a tough one. There's no question air travel is one of the toughest. I'm glad that, I guess, Richard Branson has launched a big initiative to try to green air travel. We need biofuels frankly for air travel and more greener planes. But, you know, if people want to, they can always find some greener thing, greener way to do what they're doing.
Mr. DORFMAN: You know, Rebecca, I've also heard that Continental has the most fuel-efficient fleet of airplanes of any airline in the United States. And you can track that by checking what their planes are. And planes get more fuel-efficient with every generation. So if we think about driving in a fuel-efficient car, we may want to think about flying on a fuel-efficient airline.
And there's another airline in the U.K. called Flybe, which is actually now letting customers check out the different routes that their planes will fly because some routes are going to use less energy than others that are actually going to be more energy efficient. And the planes that will be on these routes are going to be more energy efficient too. So airlines - some airlines…
ROBERTS: I need to interrupt you just to say you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
I'm sorry, Josh. Continue.
Mr. DORFMAN: No, it's all right. So the point is that people - that airlines are catching onto this and I think, you know, it's true that I mean, Richard Branson announced that he's investing billions of dollars to look for a fuel that could be a solution for all planes. And again, this innovation, I mean, it comes from the market. If Richard Branson wasn't incentivized to say I can make some money off of this fuel, he probably want to do it just out of, you know, the altruistic nature of his personality.
And when you look at the long-term viability and you say, is this going to be a fad or is this going to be a trend? Is this going to last? I think one of the places you can look is what's happening in Silicon Valley, where the same venture capitalists who invested basically in companies like Google and Amazon and gave us the information revolution by being the investors in these companies, are the ones who are investing literally billions of dollars in what's called clean tech, which are the next fuels, which are going to be cleaner fuels for our economy in the 21st century. And these guys, also, don't make philanthropic bets with their money. They believe that this is the future and these are some pretty savvy investors.
ROBERTS: Well, you know, when you're talking about that sort of catch-22 of -the technology is expensive so people don't buy it; people weren't buying it so it remains expensive. Venture capital is certainly one way to break that, but government investment is another. Cities seemed to be leading the way more than states or federal governments on that. Do you think, Joe?
Dr. ROMM: Well, I think there's no question that a lot of mayor have got it starting with Seattle's mayor and has really created a whole movement around the country. I'm sure you've had them on. I think that people are frustrated that the federal government's been doing nothing for an incredibly long time. So we've seen governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and mayors like Bloomberg in New York City and elsewhere, and individuals taking action. I think a lot of this individual action represents a frustration that the federal government seems unable to come together on obvious solutions.
Now, the good news is the Senate has passed tougher fuel economy standards and I'm hopeful the House will, too. So I expect we're going to see some movement, but to be honest, we may have to wait a couple of years to see some real movement at the federal level.
ROBERTS: We have e-mail from Martha, who says toilet paper, washing machine, ceiling fans, the pump that delivers our well water - everything else is a frill. But doing without all that, it would be hard to accomplish. We already gave up air conditioning in 1988 and I hope my little truck is the last internal combustion engine we have to buy.
We also heard from Adrian. He says I would have to say that one thing I would not give up would be regular toilet paper. Sheryl Crow was way off on that one. And we heard from Anne, who says your discussion of clothing from bamboo brings to mind the issue of unintended consequences. When looking into wood flooring options, I was directed to bamboo as a green alternative because of its quick growth. However, I found out that using bamboo was still impacting old growth forests because the bamboo farmers were clearing more space to grow the now chic bamboo. What to do?
Do you have any advice for Anne, Joe, in terms of building materials?
Dr. ROMM: Well I think you want local materials, you know, an item - I'm not certain where a bamboo comes from. I have a feeling it comes from awfully far away. So I sometimes think people are talking about one green attribute and may be missing a little part of the (unintelligible) the forest for the trees. Find local materials wherever possible - local craftsmen - craftswomen, absolutely.
ROBERTS: Joe Romm is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington and he blogs at climateprogress.com. He joined us in studio 3A. Thank you so much.
Dr. ROMM: You're welcome.
ROBERTS: And Josh Dorfman, the lazy environmentalist joined us from our New York bureau. Thank you, Josh.
Mr. DORFMAN: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Tomorrow it's Science Friday. Ira Flatow will be here and Neal Conan is back on Monday. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington.
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