Josh Dorfman's great green epiphany struck while he was in China selling Kryptonite bike locks to the masses.
It was 1996 and Dorfman realized that his sales beat was on the cusp of a consumer explosion. The country was developing at breakneck speed and very soon, millions of bicyclists could very well be driving cars instead. Dorfman could hear mama nature weeping.
Inspired by his reckoning, Dorfman returned to the United States, earned an MBA in international business at Arizona's prestigious Thunderbird and set a goal: To find a balance between preserving nature and our insatiable desire to shop, shop, shop. No small task.
"I realized the one thing we do every day is consume," Dorfman says. "And rather than guilt trip or moralize, why not find a way to make the alternatives attractive enough so people will be drawn to it?"
So Dorfman began with shelter, selling eco-friendly furniture and home furnishings through his newly created company Vivavi. Eventually he became a highly successful eco entrepreneur and spokesperson for environmental change, appearing on Martha Stewart's show, writing columns and giving talks.
Someone close to Dorfman, however, felt he was more talk than walk. "Are you really an environmentalist?" she challenged. "You talk like one but you don't behave like one." She felt Dorman's personal habits, like taking long showers, did not line up with those of a true environmentalist. "She really ripped into me about this," he remembers.
"So two days later I wrote a blog called 'The Lazy Environmentalist.' I realized, like so many people, there are some areas in my life I'm not giving up. I still take long showers because I do my best thinking in the shower. And I don't want to drive a Prius; I'd rather have an Audi convertible, if I can afford one. It came down to this: What can I do to help people have the quality of life they want without ruining the planet? Guilt tripping does not move us to action.
"So I set out to find ways to take environmental action that also appeals to our self interest. We want to save money and we want to find the alternatives that are convenient."
Thus "The Lazy Environmentalist" boom began. The blog led to a Sirius radio show, more speaking engagements, a commentator gig on Sundance Channel's "Big Ideas for a Small Planet," and two books: The Lazy Environmentalist: Your Guide To Easy, Stylish, Green Living and The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget: Save Money. Save Time. Save The Planet.
Premiering June 16, Dorfman hosts The Lazy Environmentalist series on the Sundance Channel. If you want to follow Dorfman on twitter, he's Lazy-E, or check out lazyenvironmentalist.com, a hub for greensters, offering up advice and product reviews.
thedailygreen: What are the best ways to be green and save money?
Josh Dorfman: The Internet is a great way to start. Sites like chegg.com rent college books to students, saving 65-85% of what textbooks cost, while reducing environmental impact. They even include a prepaid shipping box to send books back when done. We're starting to see this model extend to a lot of businesses: trading and swapping sites like swapstyle.com, where you can update your wardrobe without buying anything new; paperbackswap.com, and CD/DVD trading sites. Or Zipcar, a car sharing service that makes it possible to never own a car.
TDG: Any favorite sites?
JD: Goozex.com for gamers where you can trade games for a dollar. It's all about consuming less, reducing your impact, but still having the things you want.
TDG: Wow, that's helpful ... what else?
JD: Digitization is big. Like zinio.com, which offers magazines in digital format, but they do it right, they have cool features and archives. The subscriptions are usually more affordable without the paper or shipping costs involved.
TDG: How about a non-Internet-based tip?
JD: Renting solar panels. The cost savings bears this model out and we'll see more of this in the future.
TDG: When will the green market develop cleaning products that really work?
JD: I think the products work, but maybe not for every single application. Like Greenworks, a company we feature on my show, it works, smells good and my counters are clean. It represents the best of what's available and from a budget point of view.
TDG: Is money always an obstacle for people attempting the green life?
JD: Almost across the board it's one of the biggest pushbacks, which is why I wrote the book. In some cases, green products do cost more, in others, it's just perception. I was speaking to an affluent community where people showed up driving Mercedes Benzes and all they could talk about was how expensive it is to buy organic, or install solar panels. And this was before the recent economic crisis began.
TDG: Do you preach value over price?
JD: I try to find alternatives that meet people's price points. In one episode we helped a woman find a nontoxic toy for her dog. It was a little more expensive than the tennis ball she was using, but nontoxic and healthier for her pet. It was a personal learning experience for her to come to the conclusion that it was ultimately worth the cost. People need to go through the process.
TDG: What do you see for the future of America's auto industry?
JD: What concerns me is how so slow it is to change. There are management systems in place that impede the companies from running efficiently. They're in crisis mode now so it might change. They have the engineers, the bright minds, and can develop the technology, that's not the issue. If you're going to cast blame, Washington is just as guilty because they've protected the car companies. Now we're asking the car companies to change very quickly. I don't know how possible it is.
TDG: Are you happier with our current regime in terms of environmental policy?
JD: President Obama supported the raise in fuel economy to 35 mpg by 2016. That's a 40% increase! I think that's just awesome leadership. How this is all gonna shape out, though, I don't know.
TDG: Is America moving fast enough to solve environmental problems?
JD: We're moving faster but we're still like a deer in headlights. The cultural reality is that there's a certain pace we're capable of going. We have all the solutions we need; we don't need to invent anything else. It's really a question of will.
TDG: How so?
JD: Well Obama is talking about a high-speed rail system for our country. In Boston they put free Wi-Fi on a commuter line to see if more people would take the train. The manager running the program said it was, by far, the best thing they'd done to increase ridership. The lesson is that you move people to environmental action cheaply with technology that already exists rather than spending hundreds of billions of dollars.
TDG: What one habit can Americans change to make a difference?
JD: Eat less meat. I'm not saying turn vegetarian, which can be a politically charged word, just don't eat meat, maybe one day a week. Like adopt a meatless Tuesday. It will save money and make you healthier.
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