Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Documentarian Leonard pushes for active waste reduction

<eator of the 20-minute short film “The Story of Stuff” Annie Leonard delivered the May 13 convocation speech detailing her 20 years traveling to over 40 countries tracking factors that manufacture products we use. Her mission, both as an environmental activist and expert on waste, is to “turn up the volume on the discussions concerning production and waste.”

Leonard recalled beginning her career path as a forest conservation activist after seeing a huge site of deforestation as a young teenager. After becoming a university student in New York City, she recalled her shock at the level of waste produced on a daily basis, particularly products that could have easily been recycled. She said that “even when recycling has now become a household word for two to three generations, about 40% of garbage is paper.” 

Leonard argued that we produce so much waste because our country has built an “unsustainable model of production.” She highlighted that the flaw is at the design procedure, where many products are not assembled or created with the intention of lasting and are meant to be disposed and replaced after a short period of time. Leonard illustrated the poor track record of the United States in this area. Specifically, she described working with other environmental activists on a global ban of waste exportation to third world countries,  in which the U.S. was the only developed country that refused to sign on. 

Leonard also commented on the study of environmentalism and its deep relation to many different academic fields. She emphasized that its goals and missions have been hampered because “we’ve decided to separate it” into many different subareas that are tackled independently, such as social activism or poverty. To her, this approach has “retarded the accomplishment of our goals” and has ultimately denied us progress that we could have otherwise made.

She also discussed the issue of happiness in the country, noting that for a nation that has “so much new and better stuff” than the rest of the world, we are – according to research – only ranked as the hundred and fortieth “happiest” country. The conclusion that we are not more content even with higher consumption of goods and stuff led her to argue that what really makes us happier is the quality of our social interactions and relationships, the fulfillment of goals, and having a sense of purpose and meaning in life. As it stands, we devote so much of our time and attention to our stuff that we end up ignoring these important social interactions. Leonard therefore hoped we would “choose liberation and joy over stuff.”

In conclusion, she highlighted the enormous range of solutions that exist to help deal with the issue of waste production. She pointed to examples such as biomimicry where scientists and designers are looked at nature to help with the creation of more durable products. In addition, she noted that students in college become aware of the issue of environmentalism with each academic subject they study, for it is deeply related to many disciplines and fields. She encouraged students to take action, arguing that they “are always at the forefront of historical and influential movements for social reform.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *