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The Recyclist: Celebrate Earth Day from your recliner with 'The Lazy Environmentalist' [Updated]

April 19, 2010 |  1:55 pm


Brace yourself. The media began hammering the Earth Day angle weeks ago. Eco-friendly totes! Eco-friendly meals! Eco-friendly gardening tips! Eco-friendly pets! By this measure, it would seem, the only way to go green is to spend green. And you can expect the real pummeling to begin in earnest this week, as we all roll toward Thursday, April 22, Earth Day.

But I would like to offer some counter-programming that won't cost you a dime. Assuming you get the Sundance Channel.

"The Lazy Environmentalist" is back for a second season starting Tuesday at 8 p.m. (It's also available on iTunes.)

[For the record: An earlier version of this post misstated the show's start time. The show will air at 8 p.m.] 

For the uninitiated, the show is hosted by Josh Dorfman, a self-styled "environmental entrepreneur" who tracks down eco-skeptics and tries to persuade them to go green.

It doesn't always work.

But even when it flops, the audience gets a front-row seat to the economic forces that dictate green trends, and the effects of our consumer choices. If that sounds boring, it's not. One example audiences will see this season comes when Dorfman walks into the showroom of Los Angeles fashion designer Nony Tochterman, who relishes vibrant colors and rich, luxurious fabrics. Tochterman is not opposed to making her business more green -- as long as it makes her more money.

And here's where I think "The Lazy Environmentalist" excels: We get a 360-degree view of the issue, a nuanced approach that will keep you thinking long after the episode is over. We learn a bit about textiles, about how traditional fabrics and, in particular, vibrant colors can take a brutal toll on the environment with  toxic dyes and the mind-boggling water usage. We also learn how eco-friendly fabrics, such as hemp, are superior in some categories and where they fall short: The colors tend to be more muted, dark and earthy. And the drape of the fabric is often stiff. Tochterman sees these fabrics and recoils. Customers just won't go for it, she fears.

Tochterman proves to be a sport and designs a few dresses using these fabrics. By the end of the segment, she has found something that she -- and her long-legged customer -- can live with. But this isn't a hallelujah  moment. We certainly aren't left with the feeling that Tochterman is about to revamp her lines. But it's empowering TV. I, personally, had never considered the toll that fabric and clothing took on the environment. The next time I go shopping, whether it's for a dress or a T-shirt, and I come across something I like and notice that it's eco-friendly -- I'm buying it. Will this single act change the world? Not a chance. But I can vote with my purse and let everyone from Tochterman to fabric manufacturers know that there is a market for this stuff. And, hopefully, the desire to make money off this market will lead to the development of eco-friendly fabrics with drape and color vibrancy that do Tochterman's designs justice.

Dorfman said he conceived of "The Lazy Environmentalist" when he was writing on his personal blog and acknowledged what the rest of us were too embarrassed to say. "I was like, 'Look, I'm like a lot of people, I'm really busy, I want to make the right choice, but I have so many other competing priorities. Taking care of the planet is important. But there are all these other competing pressures.' I said, 'I'm an environmentalist, but I'm a lazy environmentalist.' "

The admission stuck a chord.

And Dorfman realized he was on to something. "I realized that we could help people by doing the heavy lifting," doing the footwork necessary to give them the information they needed to make eco-friendly choices. And then leave the final decision -- to buy or not to buy -- in their hands.

"The goal is really to entertain and educate," Dorfman said. "It's not that people can make informed decisions -- we want them to want to make those informed decision."

He said the test cases were real and never staged so that a green product or service came out on top.

"The bottom line is that with anything that gets presented, we try to build in all these levels of real-world evaluation and testing. If the client likes [a particular product] and the business likes it, then the consumer at home will say, 'Hey, that thing probably works for me too.' "

But "it's critical that the show allows for the fact that some things will fail or that the green alternative is just not that good," he said. "We want to explore those issues as well."

-- Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch

Photo: Josh Dorfman, left, during an interior design challenge. Credit: Sundance Channel