Crammed in a car heading across the Richmond Bridge to Sonoma for a three-day leadership training in early 2007, a group of us—long-time friends and colleagues—are catching up on each other’s lives. Annie tells us that she is about to start filming her new project The Story of Stuff, a short animated documentary about the lifecycle of material goods in our linear economy. Free Range Studios wants to film Annie doing her narration but she is having none of it. The story is not about me she says. Before she can rustle up more reasons why she shouldn’t appear in her own documentary, she is drowned out by a chorus of protests. We’re all unanimous that Annie’s passion and charisma is key to the success of the project and that she must be in the film. In the end, Free Range Studio prevails and Annie does become the storyteller. The film went viral with more than 40 million views.
In The Story of Stuff, Annie explains that in the US “we have more stuff than ever before but polls show that our national happiness is actually declining. We have more stuff but less time for the things that really make us happy—friends, family, leisure time.” And, we are cutting our forests, mining and trashing the planet so fast that we are undermining the planet’s very ability to sustain life. While the connection between our insatiable consumption and environmental degradation is clear, understanding and articulating how this is linked to the decline in human happiness is an uncommon but refreshing analysis. “We have become a nation of consumers,” says Annie. “Our primary identity has become that of being consumers—not mothers, teachers, farmers—but consumers.”
“Where others have documented countless challenges to the Earth and its inhabitants,” wrote Ray C. Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, Inc. “Annie Leonard has accomplished the rare feat of defining the systemic nature of the problems we face and offering solutions that get to the heart of the matter. Whether you are redesigning industry and commerce or simply imagining a better world for your grandchildren’s grandchildren, Annie’s work will engage you.”
Understanding the complexities of the social and political challenges we face will be crucial if we are to find our way out of this mess. So it gives me much hope to see someone like Annie now at the helm of one of the most effective and iconic environmental organizations, Greenpeace USA. Annie not only has a global perspective, having worked around the world on environmental and social justice issues, but she also has a deep political analysis and a well honed theory of change.
“Annie gets it,” writes Tom Newmark of the Greenpeace Fund Board. “She understands that our current ecological crisis results from a flawed mythology, namely, that humans preside over a planet with inexhaustible resources and the whole system was created to advance our consumption. That’s the story we’ve been living, and she captured its suicidal folly in her brilliant Story of Stuff. She has the humility to recognize that there is no one “right” story, but she’s secure enough to give space to all who want to reimagine our relationship to the planet. She is the voice and consciousness we urgently need, and we on the Greenpeace boards are confident that she’ll be a transformative leader.”
Annie’s infectious passion and modesty are what make her one of the most compelling leaders today. John Passacantando, former Executive Director of Greenpeace says, “I used to say that Annie Leonard is the best Executive Director Greenpeace has ever had without a beard. But watching her navigate some pretty big challenges in her first eight months at Greenpeace I have to drop the qualifier. Annie is the best leader Greenpeace US has ever had.”
“I am motivated by hope,” says Annie. “Despite the dire information coming out about the state of the planet, the state of our health, the erosion of community and the growing inequity, I deeply, deeply believe in my heart that people are good…that we are smart, that we care, that we are compassionate and that we are going to turn things around and get this planet back on track.”
Kudos to you Annie Leonard! Thank you for your tireless work on behalf of the planet and all its creatures.