5 questions with Annie Leonard (& competition)

Filed in Blog, Guest Posts by on June 22, 2010 67 Comments
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Annie Leonard from the Story of Stuff

Annie Leonard from the Story of Stuff

I had the privilege to interview Annie Leonard while she was touring the UK. Annie is creator of the fantastic film “Story of Stuff” which has been viewed over 10 million times.

As a result of the increasing interest and success in her film, Annie has written a book based on the film.

I wanted to pick her brains on consumerism and here’s what she said:

Extracting resources

In the ‘extraction’ part of your book, you cover trees, water and rocks. If people feel they can only work on one part of this, which do you feel is the most important and why?

I think it’s crucial that people work on the part that excites them because we are going to need to put these changes in place for a long time! It’s much easier to keep going at something you love.

For me my passion is garbage, waste and fighting against incineration. For others it might be health, food or safe neighbourhoods, so I say look at where your passion lies and start there.

Visit your dump!

Although we live in a consumer society, why do you think people don’t already know about how the stuff they buy is produced and the damage that comes with it?

It is impossible for people to think about where stuff comes from because it’s hidden from view. We’re told that if we continue to buy things we will have more success, happiness or love but we also have an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ lifestyle. I’ve been lucky enough to visit factories and communities all around the world, but most people don’t have this opportunity.

I would encourage people to visit their local dump. In fact it should be a mandatory thing to do before being allowed a credit card! Once you’ve seen a dump site, you think much more carefully about what you buy and how you dispose of it. The responsibility is on us as consumers to dig deep and find the answers about what is really involved in getting goods to the shops for us.

Should I buy it?

I often find myself powerless to make an informed choice. One product might tick one box but might not tick others. How can we, as consumers, make the most ethical choices when there don’t appear to be many ‘ticks all boxes’ choices out there?

We need to think beyond the ‘I should buy’ attitude. Sharing and borrowing is a great way to support local organisations such as the library and helps to rebuild communities. In my local library, we also have a tool library – so I can borrow a wheelbarrow, power drill or ladder!

Another thing to do is buy used where possible. This helps reduce virgin materials and all the other processes involved in making new stuff.

There are some great online databases to help us make choices. Two of my favourites are the Skin Deep database and the ‘Good Guide’ which is an iphone app developed by Dara O’Rourke. With the phone appΒ you can find out the environmental, health and social impact of an item just from the barcode of an item in a shop!

There is no one answer to making an ‘ethical ‘choice – it depends on your individual passion and finding the products that are most suited to that. But above all it’s about using less stuff and using less toxic stuff.

The future’s bright

What was the overall aim of writing your book?

The overall aim was to share information and inspire people that things COULD be different. Tens of thousands of people contacted me through “The Story of Stuff” video asking for further information. I took those emails, answered their questions and it became a book. I was surprised too how many people truly though there could not be another way; I wanted to show that there IS! I believe that people are inherently good, want the plant to survive and want to know their neighbours. This are the key areas I wanted to bring out in the book.

Love the stuff you’ve got

I’m your fairy God mother and I’m lending you my magic wand. What will you use it for?

That was the toughest question of all as there are so many things I would love to do. What I think I want most of all is for people to develop an internal metric of satisfaction. I want them to feel satisfied with their life, their furniture and their body instead of outworking that through consumption.

Oh, and I’d like to stop incinerators too because they cost lots of money and once they’re built we’re encouraged to keep producing waste to feed it….

Your chance to win!

If you want to win a copy of Annie’s Latest book “The Story of Stuff” leave a comment below. This amazing book can be sent anywhere in the world, so leave your comments and we’ll pick a winner at random in a week’s time.

Good luck!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (67)

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  1. Clair says:

    Ahhhh stuff – I spend my life wondering how we got so much, and trying to reduce (reuse) what we have – but am sometimes less sucessful than others. I’m great at taking old books/clothes etc to the charity shop, we regularly borrow instead of buy (a very kind friend just leant us a load of first reading books for my daughter). Where I fall down is hording “stuff” to reuse – jars (for jam, sweets and presents), boxes and packaging (for art projects and to reuse as packaging), bubble wrap and other packing materials (to reuse), fabric scraps etc. I seem to have a house full, it is all useful and will be reused but it adds to the feel of stuff and clutter! Maybe I need a system, but will that involve buying storage to store my stuff – argh it’s all a bit of a quandry!

  2. CAROLINE says:

    the book sounds great! and i know plenty of people i could lend it to once i have read it πŸ˜‰
    holding back from buying things is really difficult and not something i find that easy!

  3. Dawn says:

    Ah lovely that Anne has written a book now too, I really enjoyed the film.
    We’re pretty good on not buying stuff, but are hoarders of things we think we can use, but it does mount up if you’re not careful.

  4. Sharon says:

    I am definitely guilty of “too much stuff!” I do try to shop more sensibly now, and I do recycle / charity shop unwanted stuff rather than dump it.

  5. Lara Bricknell says:

    now that we are moving house we are very aware of the ‘stuff’ we have, stuff you buy early because you will need it, store in a safe place then re-buy because you cannot find it! Stuff we have kept to re-use, am currently making a sock creature because I don’t want to throw the scraps away but can’t justify paying someone to move scraps that may or may not be used, so glad several charity bags came through the door and Emmaus take so much, that feels better than taking it to the tip.

    At least when we move we will be walking to school every day πŸ™‚

  6. Kate says:

    Oh i would love to read this……we are fighting an incinerator being built on the fields behind us, so would really enjoy the views of someone like minded.
    Sounds like a fab book, thanks for highlighting it and I shall still buy a copy if I am not lucky!

  7. Eunice says:

    I can totally agree that everyone should visit a dump before getting a credit card, the sight is really shocking and quite unbelievable.

  8. Matthew Popplewell says:

    please enter me into the prize draw πŸ™‚

  9. korky says:

    good luck all πŸ™‚

  10. I thought I was relatively conscious about waste and making effort to reduce, but seeing The Story of Stuff opened my eyes on a new level. I’ve been much more careful about buying anything, rather than just thinking about recycling what I do buy. I also love the way simple images are used to powerfully convey the messages.

  11. Dawn says:

    I must admit my weakness is hoarding. I have designated 2010 ‘clear out the crap year’. Currently working on clothes that no longer fit. Freecycle is great for passing on things that are too good for the dump and that others may find very useful. Watching the Turkish Nomads on Tribal Wives on tv recently made me realise how much ‘stuff’ we have in our house.

  12. Mike Korner says:

    I hadn’t seen Annie’s video. Thank you for sharing it! If that video doesn’t wake you up and get you taking action, you are either dead or living happily as part of the problem. 99% of the stuff we buy is trashed within 6 months. That is scary.

  13. toni quandt says:

    I love the film and am sure the book will be great too!

  14. Nicola says:

    Please enter me into the prize draw. I would love to read the book.

  15. Marie says:

    Great stuff !

  16. Solange says:

    Great comp!

  17. Alan Watson says:

    Looks a good book – I’m absolutely certain I will find it useful.

  18. lisa says:

    I would love to read this book please enter me into the draw

  19. Georgina Ball says:

    Sounds like a great book. A perfect gift idea for my mum!

  20. Heather Shaw says:

    Looks like a good read and i could donate to the park and read after i have read it πŸ™‚

  21. Robyn Clarke says:

    Would love to read this!

  22. David Sweet says:

    Sounds a good read

  23. Denice says:

    Please enter me into prize draw, what a wonderful book that would be very well read and passed around.

  24. Carol Henshaw says:

    Would be a fabulous resource for my monthly recycling and green living column in my parish magazine plus the book itself would be passed on after my read. Am gradually reviewing all the stuff we have and have sent lots to charity shops, putting stuff on Freecycle and trying to persuade my church to start a list of things people have that they are happy to lend out to others – there is another way!

  25. Alice Hindley says:

    please enter me into the prize draw πŸ™‚

  26. Living in the land of too much milk and not enough honey, a video such as ” the Story of Stuff” can have a tremendous impact upon the conscientious..A book of same concept will surely make the rounds of local libraries and find a path to the gift giving circuit.
    …Now, how do we sneak it into every curriculum in the blindest corners of the most wasteful areas of the map?

  27. LJayne says:

    Our dump is a real eyeopener. I have to go there to recycle Tetrapaks and foil as these are not collected kerbside. So I get regular reminders of where stuff goes. There really is “no such thing as away” as I was once told about throwing things “away”.
    Am off to show the film to my 7 year old son. If we are going to tackle the problem we have to start with the next generation as soon as we can as well as doing everything possible ourselves.

    Oh and I’d like the book too please πŸ˜‰

  28. I love the idea of taking everyone to see a dump. I know a lot of recycling centres do tours so we can see how much is being recycled, but seeing the dump would be excellent. We heavily promote compost (www.wasteawarescotland.org.uk and http://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk), and find it very effective to get people to smell landfill and then smell compost to really notice the difference.

  29. Teresa says:

    I’ve heard about this book before and seen great reviews of it. It sounds like an inspiring read! I’d love to win a copy.
    On slightly differnent note: I read an article recently from the Saturday Telegraph about a company called TerraCycle that makes products out of un-recyclable wrappings etc. A friend gave the article to me thinking I would be interested and I was, but not in the way she intended. It is such a huge company and as such seems to encourage the production of the materials they collect, and big companies use them to allay their concsiences (or pay lip service to public opinion as I doubt some of them have consciences) and even as advertising. So, far from being impressed, I was a little depressed about it all. We should be (as you do) encouraging companies to produce less packageing and for what they do produce to be biodegradeable. The article mentioned, boastfully, how the plastic they recycle was going to increase from 30 million lbs to something like 100 million lbs in a couple of years. Now thats frightening!! There’s also a lot more to the subject but, to me, the whole ethos seemed wrong!

  30. ANNE TIERNAN says:


  31. sandy says:

    I know I would find it very useful, we have found an amazing place to dispose of our old stuff, its called Phoeniix furniture, and they even pick up our stuff, and recycle it for people who cant afford new furiture, theyn a;lso employ less able people than my self.

  32. Andrea says:

    looks interesting, like to win !!

  33. Phil D says:

    Please enter me….but be gentle

  34. Jane P says:

    This sounds just want I am looking for I need to be more green minded than just using the standard issued green boxes/bins although I do take alot of our old stuff to charity shops or pass it on to friends, I would love to learn more, and know plenty of people who would love to read this too – well done not enough is done in relation to green issues – time to make a stand (recycle wood) – Sorry corny I know!

  35. hollie says:

    can i enter?

  36. Victoria Boland says:

    I would love to win this. Please enter me in the draw.

  37. Nicky says:

    I read Not Buying It by Judith Levine and it really helped to curb my spending and to save money.Looking forward to more inspiration when I read this one.

  38. Amber G says:

    We just had a garage sale last weekend and I realized how much stuff I had accumulated! Living sustainably means not having so many wasteful possessions and I’d love to read Annie’s book to better educate myself and improve my lifestyle.

  39. michelle moloney says:

    stuff is the bane of my life! great questions and answers. i so need help to declutter as i fail at it lol

  40. alycep says:

    Yes STUFF! George Carlin had it right so many years ago-we are driven by our obsession to die with the most toys. his is a subject near and dear to my heart and I would love to read this book.

  41. JULIE PANNELL says:

    great web site. i would love to win this

  42. Annulla says:

    I live in large apartment building and it is just amazing the amount of stuff that goes into the trash daily. Even though we recycle, the sheer volume of nonrecyclable materials we throw out is mindboggling. I wish more people understood the principle of repurposing and reusing.

  43. Karen M says:

    I think eventually the majority of the world will see the error of our ways and find ways to prevent some of the harm we are doing to the planet. I hope it is sooner rather than later. Thanks.

  44. Diane K says:

    I desperately want to read this book. Waste of any kind is a huge peeve of mine. In this consumer-obsessed country (US), I feel like I’m alone in the battle. I’d love to start a business doing this type of thing (lending tools, and occasionally needed household items, or collecting unusual recyclables to turn in, etc).

  45. Jane says:

    I’ve re-watched the Story of Stuff as a result of your article and found bits of it more significant than I did the first time round. I also watched the the youtube vid on bottled water that she did which I hadn’t seen before.

    This the end of Recycling Week 2010 which was centred on reuse and WEEE but which many Councils have ignored and so lost some free publicity). Without this publicity it is hard to get people to throw away their stuff responsibly let alone persuade people to slow down and choose better.

  46. SANDY says:

    ok I have to read this because I am going through we have enough stuff and it drives people crazy- do I need or want this, can we use something else we already have, – if we don’t need it can we donate it, repurpose it…. I agree stuff stuff stuff

  47. Denise says:

    This sounds like a very interesting book and I’m always looking for new ways to do without stuff.

  48. Reg Herzog says:

    Sounds full of great ideas. I’d lend it to some of my non-recycling friends.

  49. Judith says:

    I’d love to read this. I’m always on the lookout for new ways to reduce waste.

  50. Kim H. says:

    I agree there is too much “stuff”. After my husband lost his job we weren’t able to buy as much ‘stuff’ and I now see that were were getting stuff that we really didn’t need and didn’t want that badly. I’m now trying to sell a lot of this ‘stuff’. No wonder A&E is able to have a show completely about Hoarders. That’s what we’re becoming.

    Now we compost as much as possible, take cans to the scrap metal place for money, and try to reuse as much as possible.

    Thanks so much for the book giveaway!

  51. Jaclyn Reynolds says:

    This book sounds really interesting, I’d love to read it!!

  52. Brandon Ralston says:

    Please enter me into this contest.

  53. Shirley Hodge says:

    I think the current trend to accumulate stuff is just one more of the dangers of unregulated capitalism because capitalism relies on people buying stuff at prodigeous rates to keep the factories operating to produce the profits on which capitalism thrives. This urge to accumulate is fed by incessant advertising and positing the idea that one cannot do without a particular thing. There are TV shows such as HGTV channel shows which hype the idea that a home without all the bells and whistles is not worth having and anything in your home that is more than 10 years old must be replaced even if it does still work well. Selling channels such as QVC continue with the idea that a person must have such and such to be happy as a clam. It is about time that someone started advertising that less is more. If in some future century people from another planet should arrive here they would probably think they had stumbled on an ancient garbage dump.

  54. Louis says:

    enter me please, thank you for the giveaway

  55. Mary M says:

    I am guilty of having too much “stuff” although I have to say, most of it is not due to “trying to keep up with the Joneses” or thinking everything will be “better” if I just have this item. Much of my “stuff” is either sentimental or is something I’ve tried to sell that hasn’t sold — but is too good to throw away.
    Most everything in my house was purchased used –clothing, household items, furniture, etc. I personally have never bought a new piece of furniture in my life (besides a mattress and box spring) and have not purchased new clothing for many years. So I’ve kept my fair share of stuff out of the landfill πŸ™‚
    I saw the author on BookTV in the middle of the night one night and loved her! I’ve told many people about her and her book already, even though I haven’t read it yet.

  56. Jason says:

    I could definitely use this book. I have to admit that I am a offender


  57. Deborah Wellenstein says:

    We would all be better off with a more deliberate approach to consjmption. Thanks!

  58. Kris T. says:

    Thanks for the chance to win a copy of Story of Stuff. With the constant bombardment of advertisements, I need all the help I can get to resist the siren song of consumerism!

  59. Jessica says:

    Fascinating subject, I’d love to learn more. Thanks for the great giveaway!

  60. Nienke says:

    Hope I’m still in time to join this… I was amazed when I saw the story of stuff for the first time and I believe I could learn a lot from this book. Thank you for the interview and the giveaway!

  61. Regina M says:

    We’ve been recycling for years, but I’m sure there is always more to do.

  62. Breanne says:

    This sounds like a really great book!

  63. susan smoaks says:

    we all have too much stuff

  64. Ed Nemmers says:

    I like her perspective ( on runaway consumerism? )!

  65. Melanie says:

    This actually seems pretty interesting!

  66. dawn says:

    This sounds great for me because lately I am having issues getting rid of things almost to the point of hoarding and its scary. I actually think I can learn from this, very interesting sounding.


  67. Compostwoman says:

    I would really like to be entered into the draw for the book, the video is great, as is the latest one on Bottled Water.

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