Eco stylist Danny Seo is often regarded as the Martha Stewart of the green movement. His work—which includes penning books (he’s written six of them), coming up with endless decorating ideas, and making television appearances—blends style, economy, and fashion into an eco-friendly package. His latest publication in his Simply Green series, Do Just One Thing, emphasizes tangible choices you can make everyday to improve the planet and enhance your own life. Plenty caught up with Seo to talk about celebs, activism, and how green living can be glamorously low-impact.
You were an environmentalist from a young age. What made you switch from the activist side to the design side?
I wouldn’t say I switched, but evolved. As a child, I was just as concerned with good design, great style, and good food as much as I was about the environment. For a very long time, I thought those two things were very contradictory. The two worlds collided when I moved into my first home when I was eighteen. I had the ability to decorate it and live in it in a certain way. Little did I know, it would eventually become the entire type of work that I do today.
Have you installed green systems in your home?
I’ve done a lot to limit my carbon footprint. The house is a 1,100 square-foot, 1920s bungalow above the Delaware River. The utility bills are $30 to $40 a month, and it’s on a well system. Plus it’s in the woods, so there’s nothing to water. But I did implement things that made sense for the house, like composting, choice of paints, and renovations. The kitchen renovation was completely green. Right now, all recycled glass tile is being put in the bathroom. The next house, which is going to be a farm in Bucks County, will be a little more interesting. The property will have enough room to do solar technology on the roof, a grey-water system for the gardens, and a few more projects.
I always loved your attempts to get celebrities to go green, like Paris Hilton wearing the “Club Sandwiches Not Seals” sweatshirt, which you designed. Now that you’re a celebrity yourself, do you think these celeb messages are effective?
Our country is celebrity-obsessed. We love pop culture. So I always thought that while someone’s getting a lot of attention for going to rehab or for what they’re wearing on the red carpet, why not use that attention for a greater cause? It’s not the only solution, but it’s a different way of reaching a broader audience. I literally remember taking a Sharpie pen and a stencil kit and writing “Club Sandwiches Not Seals” on an Old Navy sweatshirt and giving it to Paris Hilton. That one photo has received more than one billion media impressions. If there’s a guerilla way of doing it, why not try it?
What’s your opinion of green fashion today?
Green fashion is one of the last frontiers of the green movement. Green fashion hasn’t really shifted yet. It’s very conceptual still. The problem with fashion is that it’s a very selfish and vain industry—people buy clothes to look good. No one buys dish soap to look good, they want it to clean well. Companies design green fashion backwards. They think we’ll create a product line with organic cotton or hemp, and then we’ll make the design second. It really has to be the other way around. Behnaz Sarafpour just announced she’s going to be doing a capsule organics collection. Stella McCartney integrated her ethical concerns organically into her line. But we have a long way to go still.
Who do you think is going to influence the mainstream in terms of green fashion?
A mainstream player in the retail marketplace needs to announce sweeping changes. It would be something like we are eliminating PVC from all of our shoes and raincoats, or all the tanning processes for leather will be chromium-free. The strategy would be for a company to embrace a sweeping change and then keep adding to that.
Do you have any eco-guilty pleasures that you enjoy?
I drink a sugar-free Red Bull almost every day. If you read the chemicals in it, here are the ingredients: carbonated water, sodium citrate, caffeine, and then aspartame. There’s nothing natural in here. But I find that helps me get over that sleepy hurdle at the end of the day.
Story by Jeff Hardwick. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in October 2007.