The Story of Stuff

by Hyungjin Choi, BA ‘16 (7/5/13)

Hyungjin Choi, BA ‘16

Annie Leonard, sustainability expert, speaks about the Story of Stuff Project

Annie LeonardAnnie Leonard, an expert on sustainability and the founder of The Story of Stuff Project, was on-campus to speak at a film screening, co-sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, in April. Leonard’s 20-minute documentary The Story of Stuff addresses the origin and trajectory of everyday technology.

Leonard’s film opens with a simple query: “Where does the iPod come from and where does it go?” An expert in her field who has traveled to more than 40 different countries over the  last two decades, Leonard reveals that an everyday object like the iPod is in fact a conglomeration of elements from all over the worlds – a processor chip from South Korea, metals from Central Africa, electronic circuits developed in Europe, all assembled in China. But Leonard’s analysis was in no way limited to the iPod; the moment she stood in front of the crowd at Kennedy Hall’s Call Auditorium, she began an in-depth analysis of the microphone that projected her voice to the audience.

The Story of Stuff details the process of production and disposal of the products that people consume on a day-to-day basis. Leonard explained that production and consumption patterns are framed within a linear system, and Leonard warned, “You can’t run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.”  A further concern is that this system is innately unbalanced. People live and work along the system; some individuals will inevitably consume more than others.  

Leonard’s presentation covered a variety of topics within sustainability. The dumping of toxic chemicals that destroy nature, the exploitation of child labor and unhealthy working environments were among a handful of concerning issues that were addressed in her presentation. The central concern, however, was criticism of consumerism’s dominance. Leonard argued that in today’s age, we are accustomed to purchasing more and more stuff and setting aside less time to be happy.

In her critique of our obsession and addiction to consumption, Leonard extensively discussed the role of corporations. “Corporations come up with products that break easily but are attractive enough for consumers to purchase a new one,” Leonard noted. She also criticized how advertisements are simply ways to make us unhappy with what we have. Overall, Leonard called for a need to develop our citizen muscle, as opposed to our consumer muscle, which is already overdeveloped.

In the end, Leonard had a positive message to relay. She confessed that she often feels like a lone soldier in an impossible fight. Yet her passion and desire to see a more sustainable world drives her. She emphasized, “If we could do away with the old school throw-away attitude and instead adopt a closed loop production, we can create so many possibilities.”