The Story of Annie Leonard: Her Take on Stuff, Bottled Water, Cosmetics and More

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Photo Credit: Christy McDonald

Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff project - a series of succinct animated videos explaining the systemic problems with some everyday items - has been a phenomenal success, reaching millions of viewers, sparking important thought and discussion and even causing its fair share of controversy. With her videos The Story of Stuff, The Story of Bottled Water, The Story of Cap and Trade and her new release, The Story of Cosmetics, what started as a simple video trying to explain the problems with modern day consumption, has turned into an incredible video series that keeps getting better with each new release.

Watch her videos and learn more about the project after the jump.The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff video above is where this all started. We first wrote about Leonard's Story of Stuff video back in 2007 and since then she and her project have gained a huge following and released a handful of new videos examining new subject matter in the same fun and explanatory way. See more videos at Story of Stuff Project on YouTube

I enjoy these videos because they do what many types of media regularly fail to do, explain something incredibly complex with such ease and clarity. Of course, simplifying anything too much will lead to experts and more-informed viewers criticizing the work for oversimplifying the subject matter - and as I'll discuss below, even TreeHugger has written about the problems with this oversimplification - but in order for anyone to understand something as complex as how global trade, manufacturing and consumption functions in modern society, it can be helpful to start with a basic overview so the average person can more easily digest the material. And ideally that basic intro will spark a curiosity in the viewer, who will then go on to digest more in-depth material to gain a more rounded understanding of the particular topic.

The Story of Bottled Water

This year, Leonard released The Story of Bottled Water, which aimed to highlight the destructive and wasteful practices of this industry. Here on TreeHugger, Jaymi wrote about how The Story of Bottled Water related to World Water Day and pointed to research that suggests consumers are buying less bottled water, which was welcome news.

The Story of Stuff Book

Leonard had been working on her project for many years prior to the first video becoming such a hit, so when her Story of Stuff Book came out earlier this year, we spoke with her about the project in one of our TreeHugger Radio interviews.

Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.

The Story of Cap and Trade

Explaining the seemingly complex policy of Cap and Trade is something we've tried to do here on TreeHugger and Planet Green, so I was glad to see Annie Leonard tackle the subject, as well. Like all her videos, there are areas where we might not agree and would like more explanation, but it is an okay overview for the uninitiated. See also Cap and Trade Explained on Planet Green.

The Story of Cosmetics

Taken as a whole, this project is an effective tool for educating young and old alike on the systemic problems with our current culture of consumption and manufacturing. And I think it is that effectiveness and the popularity of the project, as well as, the at times, overly simplistic explanation that led to the backlash from people who criticized the video as being anti-capitalist. Are the Story of Stuff videos anti-capitalist? Lloyd Alter attempted to address this concern on TreeHugger after the Story of Stuff video went viral and gained mainstream attention, writing, in a way, yes. Speaking of the original Story of Stuff video, Lloyd writes,

"He is right. It is biased, it is anti-capitalist, it is a bit of a screed. It makes some mistakes and distorts a bit. But overall the message resonates."

He goes on to address some of the other areas Leonard oversimplifies, but concludes:

"In the end, if we are going to keep making stuff, we have to encourage good design, clean production, producer responsibility and resource recovery. There is nothing commie and anti-capitalist about that. And nothing that our children shouldn't know about. It is just good business."

A quick aside: To those that get hung up on the idea that these videos are anti-capitalist, I would suggest viewing another great animation from The Royal Society of the encouragement of the Arts (RSA), which is based on a lecture from David Harvey on the Crisis of Capitalism (embedded below). He posits that we should be discussing the problems that led to the recent financial crisis and figuring out how to fix the system to avoid future problems. Filmmaker Michael Moore's video Capitalism: A Love Story is another good look at the problems with modern capitalism. Neither of these suggest we should rid ourselves of capitalism, entirely, but with the recent economic collapse and a slew of industry-related environmental disasters, looking critically at where the economic system fails and how we can improve those areas seems a worthwhile intellectual exercise and a key factor in moving towards a truly sustainable society. Also worth remembering that capitalism is not the same thing as democracy, for what it's worth. The Crisis of Capitalism animation is embedded below.

Now, back to The Story of Stuff...

So, where is the Story of Stuff project heading next?
On the Story of Stuff website it says there is a video telling The Story of Electronics to be released in Fall 2010. I'm looking forward to this one. Hopefully it will touch on important issues, such as conflict minerals, conflict-free electronics, e-waste around the world and proper electronic waste recycling and the current state of e-waste laws.

We'll be sure to add new videos from Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff Project as they are released.

What do you think of The Story of Stuff project? What areas would you like to see explained in this way? I would be happy to see other videos explaining The Story of Industrial Food, The Story of Off-Shore Drilling, The Story of Product Packaging and a whole bunch of other topics. Are there other ways of explaining complicated issues that you've found? Please share and discuss in the comments below.

More on Annie Leonard
Questions for Annie Leonard, Part 1: The Problem with Greensumption.
Questions for Annie Leonard, Part 2: What Can We Do About PVC?
Questions for Annie Leonard, Part 3: The Price of Our Stuff
Questions for Annie Leonard, Part 4: How Do You Deal with Planned Obsolescence?
Questions for Annie Leonard, Part 5: Where Do Our Stuff Cravings Come From?
Questions for Annie Leonard, Part 6: Why Green Folks Have More Fun
Bioneers 2009 - Annie Leonard Bringing Out More Stories of More Stuff

The Story of Annie Leonard: Her Take on Stuff, Bottled Water, Cosmetics and More
Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff project - a series of succinct animated videos explaining the systemic problems with some everyday items - has been a phenomenal success, reaching millions of viewers, sparking

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