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Campus News

Environmental activist Annie Leonard to speak at UB

By CORY NEALON

Published February 20, 2014

Annie Leonard
“As long as we keep putting toxins into our industrial production systems, we’re going to keep getting toxics in the stuff we bring into our homes, workplaces and schools. And — duh! — our bodies.”
Annie Leonard, environmental activist

Millions of people have seen her animated Web videos. She wrote a best-selling book and she has testified before Congress. She has even appeared on Stephen Colbert’s show.

Now, Annie Leonard will visit UB.

Leonard, who became a star among environmental activists when her “The Story of Stuff” video went viral in 2007, will be on campus March 10-12. She will give the Sustainability Academy keynote lecture at 7 p.m. on March 11 in the Drama Theater in the Center for the Arts, North Campus.

Leonard’s speech, titled “Moving Towards Zero Waste and the Story of Solutions,” is free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to RSVP online.

The Story of Stuff” is a 20-minute video that criticizes excessive consumerism and promotes sustainable living. It relies on playful, yet poignant, cartoon drawings of the Earth, a factory and other images to explain such complex issues as “externalized costs” and “perceived obsolescence.”

Leonard — the actual person, not a cartoon — appears in the video’s foreground, explaining how the materials economy works as the cartoon depicts forests burning, factories discharging pollutants and stick figures pushing shopping carts.

“As long as we keep putting toxins into our industrial production systems, we’re going to keep getting toxics in the stuff we bring into our homes, workplaces and schools. And — duh! — our bodies,” says Leonard, who despite the brutal assessment of excessive consumerism, manages to keep the video’s tone light-hearted and informative.

Leonard’s speech at UB will include information from “The Story of Stuff,” as well as a counterpoint video, “The Story of Solutions.”

In addition to her speech, Leonard will be meeting with students from the university’s Sustainability Academy, which launched last fall and is one of five Undergraduates Academies that enable students with shared interests to live and learn together at UB.

A former Greenpeace employee, Leonard spent nearly 25 years traveling the world investigating environmental health issues and promoting sustainable living. She had little name recognition, however, until she posted “The Story of Stuff” online.

Since then, the video has been viewed more than 30 million times, according to Leonard’s website. It spawned other videos in which Leonard tackles such issues as bottled water and cosmetics. It also led to the 2010 book “The Story of Stuff,” which prompted television interviews, including a sit-down with Colbert.

“You must think this economic downturn is fantastic,” said Colbert, who joked that, in Leonard’s viewpoint, the recession was a good thing.

Leonard didn’t miss a beat: “I’m excited about the potential of the economic downturn to get us to think a little more critically” about working an extra job to buy a new car or that “15th pair of shoes.”