Interview with Danny Seo: Eco-Living Consultant to the Stars

As you might imagine, Danny Seo gets a fair amount of press here at TreeHugger (see Top Five Eco-Celebs). His work as a sustainable lifestyle consultant is tremendously successful. He is bringing eco-style into the mainstream with all of the flair of his (in)famous counterpart in the world of stylish conventional living, Martha Stewart. As you'll learn in the interview, Danny's got a full plate; serving as editor at large for Organic Style, providing consulting and eco-living advice to Hollywood's green list, and developing a soon to be revealed television program on stylish sustainable living. In the midst of his crazy schedule Danny was kind enough to take the time to respond to this TreeHugger interview. His enthusiasm and optimism are inspiring - thank you Danny!For many of your clients, financial challenges to living more sustainably don't exist, so once they make the choice to "go green" what are some of the other obstacles that clients face? How do you address these challenges?

DS: I think the #1 question I get is "how do I know if something is eco-friendly?" One time, I walked into a home goods store and walked right up to a vase and said, "oh this is kinda nice for being recycled." My friends just looked at me like, "how can you tell? It's not marked!" I just knew from the color, texture and the air bubbles in the glass. I'm like an eco Rain Man.

Green living has to become intuitive. To get there---whether you're remodeling, traveling, cooking dinner, buying beauty products---you need to start of with some basic knowledge of green living. Over time, you just know what's the right thing to do. Many of the people I help will call me asking if, say, the forks they are using are eco. I don't recall there being forks that are bad for the environment (except of course disposable plastic!).

Do you have any examples of "star power" helping to push eco living into the mainstream?
DS: There are tons. Celebrities define our pop culture because, well, THEY ARE exactly what pop culture is all about. I always say this, when a celeb promotes something other than a new album or movie or TV show, it can only do good. When Cameron Diaz goes on The Tonight Show to gush over her Prius, it taught millions of Americans who thought a hybrid was a scary concept car that it was something cool, useful and efficient. I think she single handedly elevated Prius from concept to mainstream.

Hilary Duff---okay, stop laughing---banned confetti from her concerts after learning it was bad for the environment.

We launched the Kevin Richardson suite at Kimpton's Hotel Monaco in New Orleans. It is truly eco-friendly: the carpet, wallpaper, bedding, furniture, upholstery. It is very stylish, too. That's bringing lots of press to the hospitality industry and Kimpton's REAL efforts to be eco-friendly.

TreeHugger has a global perspective with readers from around the world. Is there any place in your travels that has struck you as having an especially intriguing "eco-style?"
DS: I was in Southern Australia for a photo shoot for Organic Style magazine. I brought along Rosario Dawson to uncover the hidden organic gems of Australia.

The Southern part isn't exactly Sydney, if you know what I mean. It's much more rural, unspoiled and unexpected. The green markets were filled with more organic produce and treats than conventional products; usually, the ratio is the other way around.

On a trip to Kangaroo Island, the guide brought us to a tented area in the middle of the Brush. Here you could see Koalas in their natural habitat, just munching away on eucalyptus. After he prepared lunch and served organic wines, he packed up all the waste in a tiny zip lock bag. "Not much waste, but I can do better," I remember him saying. For 8 people, we made less than a pound of waste. I can't remember being at a picnic and seeing that little waste.

You work in a glamorous world; there must be temptation to get caught up in all the glitter. How do you stay grounded and tuned-in to what really matters in life?
DS: Ha ha. You think I work in a glamorous world? I work 14 hour days! In the month of July, I was home for a whole 2 days—only to do laundry. I'm very hands-on with everything I do, so I am usually either working on a new book, hauling furniture through a hotel suite (for my eco-consulting work with the Kimpton Hotel Group), or moving boulders in a garden for a garden makeover story in Organic Style. I should seriously write a workout/exercise guide: The Danny Seo Workout. I think my job is both mentally and physically demanding!

Who inspires you? What about them impressed you?

DS: I find inspiration everywhere: antique stores, restaurants, even flight attendants (they shared a tip on using a sugar packet and lemon wedges from the drinks cart to make an instant hand scrub).

Martha Stewart, oddly enough, is inspiring. She really believed in her way of living and created a business out of it. No matter what her detractors say, she just keeps charging ahead. I am often called the eco-Martha , which my friends think I should be offended by. Why? That's so complimentary. If I can inspire people to live green as much as Martha has shown America to paint their rooms in hues from her hen's eggs, all the better, right?

In an interview with Grist Magazine you said that during your stint in D.C. working for advocacy groups you discovered that the political game wasn't for you. But obviously what happens in Washington has major implications for the environment. How do you characterize the relationship between lifestyle advocacy and political advocacy? What role (if any) do "green living" advocates have when it comes to policy?

DS: They are totally separate worlds. The environmental movement is UNIQUE, because it is both a political and a lifestyle movement. We need strong advocates on the Hill working on legislation for both ecological and animal issues. I just happen to not be suited for the situation.

When I was an activist, I kept telling people, "look, we are asking people to change the way they live their lives, but we aren't telling them HOW to do it. And when we do, it's awfully expensive or ugly or crunchy." I have become more or less a teacher of eco-friendly living; I do get involved politically time to time, but at the end of the day, I think my contributions on sharing decorating or entertaining solutions can be just as effective as passing legislation. I am obsessed with putting ebony colored bamboo flooring in my house. I know it will be GORGEOUS. If I can show the process on my TV show, in a book and in a magazine story, I know there are thousands of other homeowners who will choose it over hardwoods. We all need to do our part and—I think—collectively, it has a greater good.

None of us are angels. We all skip a step now and then, what are some of your personal environmental vice(s)?
DS: I travel a lot, which I guess is an eco-sin, as I like to call it, but a necessary one. When I'm in LA, I am usually hauling a lot of boxes of props or luggage or something for a photo shoot, TV appearances or a taping. Because of that, I find myself renting SUVs when I'm in LA. There is nothing I can do, and I usually find myself parking the SUV monster a few blocks away from where I'm meeting people to avoid the embarrassment. Yes, there is valet parking but I just can't imagine the horror of my friend's faces when I pull up in a gas-guzzler to chow down on organic cuisine.

I find that while 'green lifestyle' is a growing cultural phenomena, it is still like being caught between two worlds. My 'earthy' friends are puzzled by my enthusiasm for trends and fashion, but my 'conventional' friends consider me to be a nature-loving hippy. Do you ever feel that sort of tension?
DS: Well, it's not surprising. We are at a tipping point in the whole lifestyle. The good thing about eco lifestyle is that it's NOT a trend. It's where our society is moving towards because, truthfully, we don't have a choice. Do you think hybrid cars would've had a chance if gas prices didn't skyrocket? I think not. People need to see the direct connection before they change their minds.

I am starting to see people wonder about global warming only because they are tired of being so sweaty. If people can have a personal connection to a cause, they will change their views. Organic Style magazine is working with Laurie David on her global warming campaign. I bet the hotter it gets, the more people will sign the petition.

What's the one eco-action in which you are eager to engage your clients? If all America were your client, what action would you encourage them to get into?
DS: I very much dislike questions like this, but I think I can take this opportunity to be altruistically selfish. I am a big supporter of the Humane Society of the United States' campaign to end the clubbing of baby seals in Canada. It is HORRIFIC and TERRIBLE and DISGUSTING what they are doing in Newfoundland. When you see the footage of these seal clubbers killing baby seals—just weeks old—on the reasoning "they eat too much fish," it sickens me. You see them skinned alive, dying on the ice it makes your skin crawl. I support a FULL BOYCOTT of Canadian seafood until this hunt is called off. It just doesn't make sense to kill baby seals and I urge everyone to visit www.protectseals.org to support the campaign.

What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment?
DS: Oh gosh, I have no idea. I think being able to write the books I want to write is one. Perhaps raising money for the charities I love I guess being able to do what I love to do is probably the biggest accomplishment. I had a dream when I was a teenager to be an environmental lifestyle teacher, so to be able to run a successful business without giving up on my beliefs, is sort of significant in my eyes.

Any quick tips for those looking make a career in green lifestyles?
DS: Authenticity. If you don't TRULY walk the walk, then don't talk the talk!

Thank you Danny, your responses provide a lot of food for thought. Thanks also for the great work that you do. Stay in touch and keep us updated on all of your awesome TreeHuggin' projects!

Visit Danny's website to learn more about his work. Danny also invites you to check out CALL2RECYCLE, a nationwide program recycling cell phones at over 40,000 FREE drop off boxes around the conutry in stores like Target, Radio Shack, Best Buy, Home Depot and many more. You can view his public service announcements at the organization's website.