Interview: Greenpeace USA’s new executive director, Annie Leonard (Part 2 of 2)

by Jason Schwartz

May 9, 2014

Annie Leonard, a veteran environmental campaigner and the creator of the influential 2007 web video 'The Story Of Stuff' has been named as the new Executive Director of Greenpeace USA on May 6, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Leonard began her career at Greenpeace International in 1988 and is returning now to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together.

© Erin Lubin / Greenpeace

Annie Leonard is Greenpeace's new executive director! We could not be happier. What follows is part 2 of our interview with Annie. Part 1 is right here. JS: You have stated that success in the environmental arena requires working across a range of causes. What does it look like for Greenpeace to work across movements? How can Greenpeace better build bonds across the progressive spectrum? AL: I have to say, THAT is the thing Im most excited about. My mind is just spinning as I think through all the unlikely partners we havent worked with before. I think its going to require us deepening our systemic analysis. And by that I mean: its easy to focus on what our passions are. But its not enough. My passion has always been pollution, environmental justice, and waste. Others might be climate, or forests, or oceans. Its so easy for us to focus on our passion areas, because thats what turns us on. But the better we uncover how all the issue areas were working on are symptoms of a deeper problem, the more we can see our success is interdependent with a broad range of groups on the progressive side. [caption id="attachment_26569" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Annie working on her passion as a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace International back in the day. Annie working on her passion as a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace International back in the day.[/caption] If we can see the connections between our environmental concerns and the concerns of, for example, inequality campaigners, we see that a collaboration is not just a tactically better thing. Its a much, much deeper acknowledgment that we really are going to fail or succeed together. I also think its important to realize that our movement is diverse. We have to offer a diversity of ways to be involved. Some people might want to chain themselves to a fence or tree. Other people might want to provide childcare for the people chained to fences or trees. Some people might want to act on social media to get the word out about the fences and the trees and organizing childcare. Finally, we have to have room for everybody in our movement, and that requires thinking more broadly about what it means to participate and embrace people for whatever they can contribute. Save the Arctic Ice Ride in Washington Theres this great quote from Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock that says, essentially, If you like everybody in your coalition, then your coalition isnt big enough. JS: You have proven experience establishing narratives that are inclusive, that permit lots of people to inhabit a movement and see it as theirs. As Greenpeace moves forward, it has got to find ways of harnessing that kind of inclusivity. What must we watch out for as online activists to make sure were being inclusive? AL: Environmental campaigns have a tendency to talk past people. We have to be sure were taking the time to think deeply about who our audience is, and then we have to experiment. For people who are feedback hungry and I think everybody at Greenpeace is feedback hungry, because thats how we get smarter social media platforms offer us so many ways to get feedback about what parts of our communications strategies are working and what arent. Too often environmental campaigns get stuck waving our data and charts in front of people, and when they dont respond we just yell louder or reprint it in color instead of black and white. [caption id="attachment_26592" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Annie took this photo of air pollution from a factory while doing campaign work for Greenpeace International in Bangladesh. Annie took this photo of air pollution from a factory while doing campaign work for Greenpeace International in Bangladesh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_26594" align="aligncenter" width="600"]She also took this one of a girl in Bangladesh applying fertilizer to a field by hand. She also took this one of a girl in Bangladesh applying fertilizer to a field by hand.[/caption] We sometimes think the responsibility and failure is with people out there, when what were not understanding is that the responsibility lies with us if were not making it relevant. JS: Permitting yourself to fail, to say: Oh well, that didnt work. Lets move on, thats not an easy posture in a fast-paced media environment. AL: I think that it is absolutely crucial that we are innovative and experimental. What we always said at The Story of Stuff and Id love to bring this culture with me to GP is, We embrace failing, but we have to fail quickly and cheaply. Its only a failure if you didnt learn something from it, or if you take too long to change course. My goal is to work smarter rather than harder.
Jason Schwartz

By Jason Schwartz

Jason Schwartz is a media officer for Greenpeace USA based in New York City.

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