Activist Filmmaker Discusses ‘The Story of Stuff’

eBay Inc. Staff

Annie Leonard talks to Green Team members about environmental leadership

Activist and filmmaker Annie Leonard visited eBay’s North campus in San Jose on June 13 to talk with Green Team members about her work raising awareness of environmental and social issues.

Annie’s animated short film, “The Story of Stuff,” takes a look at the way we make, use and throw away stuff. With over 15 million views since 2007, it’s one of the most watched environmental-themed online movies of all time. There’s also a companion book, which was published in 2010. Before making the movie, Annie spent nearly two decades investigating and organizing on environmental health and justice issues. She traveled to 40 countries to visit hundreds of factories where our stuff is made and dumps where our stuff is dumped.

At the eBay Green Team Lunch & Learn event, Annie told employees that she got the idea for “The Story of Stuff” because she wanted to "experiment with talking about the issue in ways that might engage people and get them interested. Traditionally, environmentalists are a whiny and wonky bunch, complaining with charts in our pockets – and then we wonder why we're not invited to parties!”

The three big issues, Annie said, are:

  1. We’re trashing the planet: “All of the stuff we have has a life before us (factories) and a life after us (dumps).”
  2. We’re trashing each other: “Toxic chemicals are in our food, our toys, our clothes, even newborn babies.”
  3. We’re not even having fun doing it: “Our stuff now comes at a great personal cost. Leisure time, time with family, having a greater purpose. We have more stuff than ever before, but fewer friends.”

In regards to a company like eBay, Annie said, “What does it mean to be a business with values? So many people look to you for leadership, to understand how to do business in the world."

The company could use its green leadership in several ways, she said:

1. Turn the volume up on the conversation about reuse.
2. Educate buyers and sellers about hazardous materials and preferable choices. Get those toxic things out of chemicals.
3. American Sustainable Business Council – alternative voice to Business Chamber of Commerce
4. Engage staff and users to be more engaged citizens. 

Annie has made seven other movies, including “The Story of Broke” and “The Story of Cap & Trade.” She touched on all of them during the Lunch & Learn event at eBay, speaking passionately about bottled water, electronics, the FEC and the dangers of flame retardants.

Annie’s latest movie, “The Story of Change,” about how to create deep, lasting social change in the world, comes out July 17 on the Story of Change website.

"Change is definitely coming,” Annie said. “The question is not if, but how – design or disaster? Will we have time to change by design? If we start now and be strategic and compassionate – then I absolutely think yes."