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Josh Dorfman on Going Green
The words “lazy” and “environmentalist” don’t typically appear in the same phrase, and Josh Dorfman is smart enough to know that combining these two ideas would be an attention-getter. His book and Sirius Satellite Radio program of the same name, The Lazy Environmentalist, coach people on how to implement changes to their lives for maximum impact through minimal, incremental effort. Dorfman also founded Vivavi, an eco-friendly home furnishing showroom, and Modern Green Living, an online green building portal. Here, Dorfman shares his tips for going green.
What does “going green” mean?
We are all consumers, and many of us aspire to high-quality lifestyles. Today you can use the power of consumption to make choices that you're going to enjoy, that are better for the environment and that can provide you with an amazing quality of life. And there are other choices you might not even notice once you've made them, but they'll still have a huge impact. For example, we can power our homes with green energy, a choice provided by more than 600 power utilities throughout the U.S., for a few dollars more per month than we pay right now. In some instances green power will save you money.
What roadblocks did you encounter when you started living green and what did you do to overcome them?
There were two major roadblocks. The first was mental. I was overwhelmed and extremely daunted by the awareness that either I was going to choose to take steps to realize my dream or I wasn't, but that the choice was entirely up to me every single day. That's the reality for any entrepreneur. I overcame it by creating a checklist of steps to take each day and then working the checklist. It got my mind off the big picture while I went about taking the small concrete actions needed to move forward. It's much easier to focus on one small task than it is to focus on the larger vision of saving the world.
The second roadblock stemmed from the fact that in 2003 my vision was ahead of its time. The idea that you could have well-designed, beautiful products that are better for the planet than the conventional choices was still a few years away. It was hard to get people to see what I saw, and therefore hard to convince them that it would be a good idea to fund my venture. I kept tweaking my message and adjusting the language I used to describe my vision until I discovered how to communicate it in ways that resonated with others and got them excited.
What prompted you to go green and what hurdles did you face?
I really started to consider the choices I was making starting in 2001, about a year before I entered the Ph.D. program at George Washington University in political science. At the time I was researching quite a bit about economic globalization and its environmental consequences. The more I understood the issues, the clearer it became to me that the purchasing choices we make as individuals amount to votes for the kind of world we choose to live in. I wanted to vote more effectively with my dollars to support companies that were environmentally responsible and helping to create the kind of world in which I want to live. The major hurdle at the time was that the choices available to lead a green lifestyle meant sacrificing aesthetics. It’s ultimately why I eventually started Vivavi, because I realized I could help other people vote with their dollars by offering them eco-friendly products they’d actually want to buy and make part of their lifestyle.
What advice do you have for people who feel overwhelmed as they are in their first 30 days of going green?
It's time to get excited about green living because many of the best choices available to all of us are green choices. I wrote my book to pull all these resources together in one place so it will be easy to start down the path. And it is a path. You make one choice and it naturally leads to the next. Also, avoid people who use guilt trips and focus on gloom-and-doom scenarios to get you to go green. They're unhelpful. Instead, find allies with whom you can celebrate small victories. Creating positive reinforcement in your life is the best way to continue down the eco-friendly lifestyle path.
What are some of the steps people can take during the first 30 days of going green?
First of all, viewing our purchasing decisions and our actions as somehow separate from one another is totally artificial. One thing we do just about every day is buy stuff. Maybe it’s the ingredients for dinner. Maybe it’s a new pair of shoes. Regardless of what it is, we make shopping choices all the time. So the easiest and most critical green lifestyle action to take is to consider how to make each purchase more environmentally conscious.
You might also consider how you actually go shopping. You can limit your carbon footprint by shopping online instead of driving to stores. Or you can consider walking or biking more to the store, which is great for reducing your output of greenhouse gases and also a lot better for your physical and mental health. I’d also suggest attending a monthly Green Drinks happy hour. They take place in most cities throughout the world, and are a fun, relaxing way to meet folks who share a similar environmental point of view. It will help you tap into the green community, which can be an awesome resource for sharing green ideas and staying inspired to continue on the environmentally conscious path.
What advice do you have to offer people after their first month of adopting this lifestyle change?
Be careful. You might start feeling too good about yourself. My entire point is that it's easy to go green and you don't have to change your lifestyle to take substantive environmental steps. The solutions can plug directly into your current lifestyle. Just remember, however, that perfection is not necessarily the goal. Making conscious choices while being tolerant of the less conscious choices of others, and also still being pleasant (and not preachy) company for others to be around, is probably a pretty good goal instead. Ultimately, you'll be happier and you'll gradually start to influence others in a positive way too.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
That change brings growth and eventually makes me stronger and wiser.
The best thing about change is…
…that it opens up new possibilities and makes life an adventure.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Switching from playing soccer to football during my freshman year of high school. It was the first decision that went against the wishes of my parents and was really my own. Through football I learned discipline, perseverance, the value of teamwork, goal setting, how to accept constructive criticism and how to get back on my feet after getting repeatedly knocked on my butt. I discovered inner reserves of strength I never knew I had. Those lessons and knowledge have underpinned many of my subsequent choices and have provided me with a deep-rooted confidence and belief in my ability to take on big challenges and prevail.