The Lazy Environmentalist – An Interview

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The Lazy Environmentalist: Your Guide to Easy, Stylish Green Living is a new book by Josh Dorfman and at Life Goggles we like it, a lot. Josh is an environmental entrepreneur, author, speaker, and radio personality – with his show of the same name as his book. You can listen to him on satellite radio (here) or visit his eco-friendly furniture store he started in 2003 in Brooklyn (or here).

Last week he kindly agreed to talk to us about his book and environment issues in general.

Life Goggles: An obvious question or two to start with – what’s the book about and where did you get the idea for it from?
Josh: The book captures the environmental innovation underway that’s making green living super attractive, practical, and realistic. It mirrors the radio show I host on Sirius Satellite Radio here in North America, and it stems from the philosophy behind my eco furniture company, Vivavi, which merges contemporary design aesthetics with environmentally conscious materials to offer consumers green options that not only fit their lives, but often improve them.

LG: You’re a first-time author. Was the process daunting to you?
Josh: I lived in a perpetual state of panic for the three months it took me to write it. I was given five months but blew it off for the first two because I thought it would be easy. Evidently, I’m not the naturally gifted scribe I took myself for at the outset.

LG: When I read the title of the book, for some reason I expected it to be lazy too with just pictures and links, but it’s incredibly detailed and no pictures save for the illustration at the back. How much research did you have to do?
Josh: I knew most of the companies because of my work as an environmental retailer and radio producer and host. But I didn’t understand all the issues and debate surrounding, say, the merits of cellulosic ethanol or renewable energy credits or bamboo harvesting techniques in China. I wanted to fully understand these issues so that I could write about them in really accessible terms and make these somewhat dry, dense, and undecipherable topics interesting enough to appeal to folks who still think that anything enviro-related is somehow vaguely Communist.

LG: In a way, the book could have been called The Easy Environmentalist as I think one of the main messages is how easy it has become to be an eco-friendly shopper – am I right?
Josh: Yes, but it’s not quite as catchy, is it? It is easy to be an environmentalist, if by environmentalist, we mean taking steps that are better for the planet. For example, almost anyone in the U.S. can get green energy to power their homes directly through a local power utility. A quick visit to http://www.epa.gov/greenpower lists the providers. I have 100% wind energy powering my apartment in Brooklyn, and all I had to do was click a few boxes on a website and hit “submit.” It costs a few dollars more per month but I think it’s worth the pricing knowing that every time I turn on my TV or power up my computer, my electronic devices are all running on wind energy. That kind of possibility is really cool, and it’s here right now.

LG: It’s a very US focused book, for obvious reasons, but there are companies in the UK and rest of the world mentioned too. Is it a global trend to move to more eco-friendly products or is it focused in one country?
Josh: It’s a global trend though I think that from a consumer perspective it’s most prevalent in the U.S. and the UK. The Northern European countries clearly take the environment very seriously. As does Japan when you consider the steps the country has taken to improve energy efficiency and increase solar power usage. But when it comes to say, eco-fashion and other design-driven, eco-friendly consumer products, the designers and entrepreneurs are most often located in the U.S. and the U.K. With that said, I also recently heard about hydrogen-powered taxis on the Streets of Shanghai and factories being built entirely of bamboo on the island of Bali. Global Warming is by its nature global, so I think it makes sense that solutions will come from every part of the planet.

LG: What surprised you most when you were writing the book?
Josh: That so many of thousands of talented people are working to create environmental solutions that people will want to be embrace. The sheer magnitude of eco-innovation underway in the marketplace is awe inspiring. It far surpasses governments’ willingness to match it through legislation – especially in the United States.

LG: Is it a problem when writing a book like this that new things are invented or new announcements are made all the time?
Josh: Certainly the pace of eco-innovation and product introductions is accelerating which is incredibly exciting. That’s also why I listed lots of internet and media resources as well as eco-minded retailers who will consistently carry the latest products. The book also provides a comprehensive, guilt-free framework for all of us to engage in eco-solutions which I hope will stay relevant for a long time.

LG: You mention a lot of small companies and labels, but also some big ones like Nike, Macy’s and Dell. Do you think those big firms are as committed to ecological goals as the small ones, including yours, Vivavi?
Josh: No, I don’t. The reason is that if it weren’t possible to offer high design, eco-friendly products, I’d shut down Vivavi and do something else to be part of the environmental solution. However, I’m not very concerned with the motivations behind the behavior of big companies provided they’re offering eco-friendly solutions to customers. I love the fact that doing what’s better for the planet can also be better for the bottom line. I see no reason why protecting the planet and solving Global Warming must be couched in moral terms. Is saving the planet the moral thing to do? Of course. It always has been. But now that it’s also good business, we’re much more likely to see results.

LG: When researching the book did you meet any resistance or is everyone happy to talk about environmental issues these days?
Josh: Everyone is happy to do it though big companies are still less happy than small companies. They make you jump through a lot of hurdles before you can actually talk to someone, and then they want that person briefed beforehand to make sure he or she stays on point. I lived in China in the mid-90s. I was a university English teacher and then the Chief Representative of a U.S.-based bicycle lock company called Kryptonite. In those roles, I had a lot of interaction with Chinese Communist Party members. I see similarities between talking to corporate spokespeople and talking to Communists. They both adhere to the party line laid out by the internal communications department and refrain saying anything that you don’t already know. If you want original insight you have to try to get the person in charge who won’t necessarily be fired or shot for saying what he or she really thinks. Then again, he or she might be.

LG: Is it really possible to be a lazy environmentalist? Or to be truly environmental do you have to put some effort in?
Josh: I suspect at some point we may have to be a little inconvenienced given the magnitude of the Global Warming challenge. But in the meantime why bother composting manually when you can get an automatic composter that is super-sleek and does the work for you (FYI they’re from Naturemill and we sell them at Vivavi)? Why not get wind energy for your home through your utility (see answer above) and avoid carbon emissions altogether? How about Vacancy Sensors from a company called Wattstopper that automatically shut lights off for you when you leave the room? How about driving an electric car that charges at night in your wind-powered garage to avoid automobile-related carbon emissions? I see that NICE Car Company already has this program set up in London through a partnership with Ecotricity. Embracing our inner lazy environmentalist can move us pretty far along the path toward environmental solutions. Not only is it rather painless, but many of the choices are also enjoyable and improve our quality of life.

LG: There are a huge amount of designers, architects and business people in your book that seem committed to the green cause. With all this people about are you hopeful for the future?
Josh: I am very hopeful. We got ourselves into this mess while successfully raising the standard of living for hundreds of millions of people on a scale that had never before been achieved throughout human history. It’s called the Industrial Revolution and, environmental degradation aside, you’re really got to give it props (I hope that translates). So now we just have to get smarter about how we continue to raise the standard of living for billions more people in ways that the earth’s ecosystems can sustain. We have the know-how. We have the entrepreneurial spirit. I believe that soon we’ll also have the political will, and once all these forces align, we’ll solve the challenges in front of us. It’s going to be a pretty amazing adventure.

LG: And finally do you have a Toto Washlet at home?
Josh: Nope, I still have to use toilet paper. It’s such a drag.

And that’s it. You can buy a copy of the book here, for only £3.99 or here for $10.17 at the moment (where it’s rated 5 stars). Thanks again Josh.

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