By Ashley Schiller on Apr 12, 2010

The Lazy Environmentalist


"My anger, frustration and fear were alienating me from my family. I thought, 'I don’t want to be this person, and I’m not even affecting any change.' I knew there had to be a way for me to be happier and also affect change in society," says Dorfman of being an activist.

Josh Dorfman has a confession: He likes to take long showers. That’s where he does his best thinking, and he’s got plenty on his mind as a CEO, author and television show host.

The mission of his television show, “The Lazy Environmentalist,” is to make it as easy as possible for a person to reduce his or her environmental impact while maintaining a high quality of life.

This is where the long shower comes back into the story. Rather than stop doing something he truly enjoys, Dorfman mitigates the damage of his longer shower by using an Oxygenics low-flow showerhead that cuts water usage by 40 percent.

“There are product solutions that can help us with our environmental shortcomings,” he says.

Dorfman tries to get the word out about such products, whether they be eco-friendly winter boots, organic crib mattresses, or zero-down home solar panels. He teaches about these options through his books, Web site and television show.

“The lazy environmentalist approach is about determining what will turn Americans on to environmentally smart choices,” Dorfman says. “It’s about appealing to our enlightened self-interest that is very willing to do ‘the right thing’ provided there’s something else in it for us. It may not be laudable, but it’s reality, and I prefer working effectively within reality instead of engaging in a campaign of wishful thinking.”

Dorfman’s television show explores simple, green solutions for a variety of individuals. The second season of “The Lazy Environmentalist” will be debuting on the Sundance Channel on April 20, just in time for Earth Day 2010. Earth911 has a sneak peak of what to expect.

What’s new in season 2

Although the show maintains the same format, which highlights the green transition of an individual or family, the energy level is much higher in the new season, Dorfman says. His goal is to “not sugarcoat green.”

“We show lots of green solutions, but they are constantly being evaluated,” Dorfman says. “We honestly ask, ‘Can green solutions hold up in the real world?’ Sometime they do, and sometimes they don’t. It’s not just green show and tell. We test to see if the products really work.”

He is also excited about green myth busting. For example, the first episode involves greening a Hollywood interior designer, who has admittedly lied about looking into green options in the past. While at the store looking for zero VOC paints, Dorfman educates the store employee and viewers about the need to look closer at the label.

“Zero VOC doesn’t mean zero toxins. You have to check for both,” he says, explaining that sometimes consumers jump to buy the “green” product without verification.

The new season holds many surprises, including unique green candidates, such as a funeral director and an exterminator.

“We had a lot of fun filming, and I hope that translates to viewers,” Dorfman says.

From frustration to inspiration

Dorfman discovered his passion for environmentalism while living in China in 1995. One day in the crowded city, he pondered on how the world would be different when all the millions of Chinese people got cars. “I wasn’t even an environmentalist at that point, I just realized it would be really, really bad,” he remembers.

Dorfman shoots a promo for season 2 of "The Lazy Environmentalist." On the green screen, producers superimpose a scene of China circa 1995 - about the time of his environmental realization that a billion more people are about to ditch their bicycles in favor of cars.

As he began to learn more about unsustainability, Dorfman changed his lifestyle and became a green activist.

“I went through the normal activist stage of being angry for a number of years,” he says. “By 2002, I was just tired of being upset all the time. My anger, frustration and fear were alienating me from my family. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be this person, and I’m not even affecting any change.’ I knew there had to be a way for me to be happier and also affect change in society.”

Dorfman felt inspired to start his own sustainable contemporary furniture company, Vivavi.

He wanted to “help shift the way Americans think about green living and rebrand environmentalism as choices that are desirable and that tangibly improve our quality of life.”

Although Vivavi was a fulfilling venture, Dorfman became increasingly interested in engaging the average American in green living practices. He was invited to host a radio show (which he broadcast from his New York closet), eventually leading to his first book and later, his television show.

Over the years, he has mastered the technique of communicating green to all audiences. Unfortunately, many green organizations and companies do not practice this approach, he says.

Communication gap

“One might argue environmentalists are actually the worst advocates of their own message,” Dorman says. “We don’t have a solution challenge. We have a communication challenge. Until we start talking about green choices in terms of things that matter to all people and not just to other environmentalists, only environmentalists will hear us.”

Dorfman shares a story from the first season of “The Lazy Environmentalist” when he was trying to green a family that produced an enormous amount of trash. The father was hardest to reach. It was only when Dorfman began talking about the possibility that trash pickup prices might increase that the father opened up to his suggestions.

“We’ve got to talk about it in terms of things people are personally invested in and get away from this feel good-ism which the majority of Americans don’t believe in, even if I personally do,” he says. “It doesn’t compromise our integrity to communicate with people on their own level.”

He describes an increasing need for better green marketing,visibility and accessibility.

“I believe that green business ought to do a better job of making their products available where people really shop, make prices comparable, and make quality of products comparable.  The reality is that it is very difficult for people to change their behavior on their own volition, but if the green product is right there on the shelf next to the other product, people will buy it.”


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      • ScottAB

        Lazy environmentalist? Sounds like a me-first, environment-second attitude to me! As benign an article as this is, it exposes an unfortunate perspective from the so-called “activist”. Low-flow shower heads are great, unless you take longer showers and negate the positive gain. What is the point of working to convince others to do something that you won’t? Intended or not, this article is a very insightful look at the typical “activist”; you will do what is “environmentally correct” until it affects your own goals and desires. Most, like Dorfman, have come to the quasi-understanding of what the environmental movement is….a longterm, environmental perspective seen through their own needs. In case you’re wondering, I consider myself very much an environmental protectionist since I began work in the field 25 years ago. But I’m a realist: I like what life in America has to offer. Here’s how I look at it: let’s take on the biggest challenges that face us. Before we start preaching what we don’t practice, let’s save our energy for the real fights: preventing pollution of our water supplies; preventing the reduction of biodiversity; and stopping the destruction of ecosystems. By focusing on these issues, we should be able to climb one step closer to a sustainable livelihood for all humans.