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Can Annie Leonard Help Greenpeace Reach beyond Diehard Greenies?

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On Tuesday, Greenpeace USA announced that Annie Leonard, the force behind The Story of Stuff Project, will take the reins as the organization's new executive director.

Leonard first made a name for herself in 2007 with the release of her 20-minute web video The Story of Stuff, a clever animated explanation of where our stuff comes from and where it goes after we throw it away. It quickly went viral, and that led to more explainer videos, a bestselling book, and a successful nonprofit. So she has plenty of experience engaging audiences on topics that might seem mundane or off-putting, but in fact have far-reaching and large-scale consequences. (For example: where your iPhone comes from, and where it goes to die when you spill beer on it. Whoops!)

We got to talk to Leonard about how her work with The Story of Stuff Project has prepared her to take on new challenges at Greenpeace. First and foremost: helping more people realize that they are environmentalists - whether or not they identify with the dirty word itself - and they need to fight for change accordingly.

Q. What's first on your to-do list when you start work at Greenpeace in August?

A. One big priority is building connections between other organizations not only in the progressive moment, but also beyond it - with organizations whose success is intertwined with our own. The more we look systemically at the problem, we see that issues from economic inequity, to women's rights, to civil rights, to environmental justice are so interconnected. I think that for many years we've obstructed the progress of our collective movement by seeing these issues as different from each other. So I'd like to reach out to what I call "unlikely partners," to figure out how we can help each other, because it's just increasingly clear to me that we are all going to succeed or fail together. And if we can work together, we will have a smarter and a stronger overall movement.

Personally, that goal has especially grown because of my experience with The Story of Stuff. When I released the first Story of Stuff film, I got hundreds of thousands of emails from people who said, "I'm not an environmentalist, but I really care about these issues." They said they'd never responded to environmental messages before, but they shared the same concerns and values. And I thought, "Gosh, what are we doing that people think they can only work with us if they're a self-defined environmentalist?" And the fact that people had to actually distinguish themselves from environmentalists - I thought, "That is a problem." So we're figuring out how Greenpeace can do its incredibly good work in a way that's more inviting and accessible and relevant to a broader number and diversity of people.    
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