The Story of Broke: New Video and Interview with Annie Leonard

by chris eaton

November 8, 2011

Are you sick and tired of corporate polluters not only destroying the environment but actively blocking the creation of a green economy for the 21st century?

So is Annie Leonard, the film maker who has inspired millions with the “The Story of Stuff,” an incredible film about how our “throw away economy” is trashing the planet. Her new film, “The Story of Broke: Why There’s Still Plenty of Money to Build a Better Future,” challenges the illusion that we don’t have the resources to build a sustainable society; instead of giving tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies with massive profits, we could be creating green jobs for all.

While the film is a must see, I am also super excited to present it to you because Annie worked for Greenpeace for almost ten years! And even though she is incredibly busy with the launch of “Story of Broke,” she was able to answer a few interview questions over email. Thanks Annie!

You used to work for Greenpeace. Could you tell us about your history with the organization?

Annie: I learned much of what I discussed in The Story of Stuff while working for Greenpeace. I worked with Greenpeace International for almost a decade, based first in Washington, DC, and then in South Asia. I was part of the Toxic Trade team; we were fighting against the exports of toxic waste from the world’s richest countries to less industrialized countries. We wanted to stop waste exports both because dumping waste overseas threatened public health and the environment in the importing country, but also because it undermined efforts to prevent pollution at source. We wanted to solve our waste problem, not export it.

At that time, the U.S., Europe and Australia were exporting all kinds of waste to the developing world. A team of us at Greenpeace ran a multiyear campaign to get a global ban on international waste trafficking. We did achieve that agreement, called The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. While most waste trafficking ended, unfortunately some continues. And there is still one industrialized country which hasn’t ratified the Basel Convention: the U.S.

Working with Greenpeace, especially collaborating with allies in other countries, taught me that environmental issues can’t be separated from social and economic issues. To really solve waste, or any other environmental problem, we need to make some pretty fundamental changes to our throw-away economy.

What have you been up to since working for Greenpeace?

Annie: While working for Greenpeace, I visited dozens of factories where our stuff is made and dumps where it is dumped all over the world. I got to see firsthand the often hidden environmental, social and health impacts of the way we make, use and throw away stuff. When I left Greenpeace and came back to the U.S. , I was frustrated by how the real impacts of our stuff was hidden from our view. We are bombarded all day with messages encouraging us to buy more and more, without honestly showing where all our stuff comes from and where it goes after we’re done with it.

I wanted to figure out an engaging and accessible way to invite people into conversation about this. So, in 2007, I joined with Free Range Studios to make a 20 minute cartoon, The Story of Stuff, which is available to watch and download for free at I had hoped that 50,000 people would watch it. To my amazement, over 50,000 saw it the first day! Today, over 12 million people have watched it all over the world, it has been translated into many languages and has inspired more movies, a book and study guides for schools and faith based communities. I am very happy to have been able to help spark a much needed conversation about how we make, use and throw away stuff and how we can do it better. We’ve gone on to make other films examining the wastefulness of bottled water, toxics in personal care products, the disposability of today’s electronics and other issues, all available to watch at

Can you tell us a little bit about your newest movie and why you chose to make it?

Annie: Our latest film, The Story of Broke, is a response to the bogus forced austerity programs that the US and many other governments are forcing on our communities. We are being told that we can’t afford clean energy, and that environmental protection is too expensive because we’re broke. But we’re not broke! There is plenty of money to start building a better future, but that money is being hijacked.

At the same time that governments are telling us that we’re too broke to invest in environmental and public health, they are handing out all kinds of subsidies, from tax breaks to infrastructure and direct payments, to big corporations which are part of the dinosaur economy: oil and gas, big coal, nuclear reactions, garbage incineration, giant chemical companies and more.  It’s going to be very hard to transition our economy to be clean and green and healthy as Greenpeace is working for all over the world as long as governments are using public money to prop up the obsolete businesses of yesterday. Instead, let’s use our shared public money to build a better future for everyone. For more, please see

By chris eaton

chris is the Senior Digital Campaigns Manager at Greenpeace USA. He's passionate about building movements and connecting change makers through digital storytelling. Follow him on Twitter at @chr15_eat0n.

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