Interview: Graham Hill – LifeEdited

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Graham Hill belongs to a new generation of entrepreneuristic visionaries. In 2005 he founded Treehugger.com, a media platform promoting green issues, which he then sold off to Discovery Communications.

When he realised that millions of dollars also bring with it a million things to worry about, he started a new movement called LifeEdited, advocating that ‘less stuff equals more happiness’. What differentiates his campaign to others is that he lives by example.

To establish a lifestyle based on meaningful consumption, he had his 420 square foot apartment in New York’s Soho district redesigned to the lowest possible carbon footprint while maximizing the space using quality products that fit the purpose: the sofa turns into a bed; the dishwasher uses four gallons less water than an average machine; all the books and music live on the cloud. His new site features items and inspirations for living more sustainably.

The Curve interviewed Graham Hill to find out more about his vision for sustainability and business working together.

Curve: What brought you into sustainable business?

Graham Hill: I started out Treehugger.com because I always had a passion for the environment. To be wasteful bothers me. Living with less stuff on the other hand makes me feel good. I’ve just spent the last three months in Maui and only had two pair of shoes with me, a couple of shorts, a few T-shirts and my laptop, so I could work. Maybe to some people I am a bit on the extreme side but I personally don’t need more than that.

Curve: Do you think people are ready to adapt to a ‘radical’ change like this just yet?

GH: The apartment I live in is by no means a standardized model. We can tailor it to higher end customers to fit their needs. We’re also not saying don’t have any stuff - we’re just saying have less and be more thoughtful of what you buy.

For instance, in my kitchen I have three good knives. You don’t really need 10 knives and a chunky knife block. And I use space-saving nesting cooking utensils that compactly stack cups, strainers and bowls.

Curve: How has the environmental movement changed in the past decade? What direction are we headed towards now?

GH: The main problem is that we are still not doing anything significant yet. Carbon emissions continue to skyrocket. In the bigger picture not a lot has happened; but having said that, there are quite a lot of things happening with regards to investments in clean-tech or the clean web. From that perspective there is a lot more going on than 10 years ago. One thing that looks a little more promising is putting a break on carbon. There is technology under way such as better battery technology to electrify transportation or advantages in solar, which, if it works out, could change the game entirely.

The American population by and large still thinks that ‘green’ is recycling. However this is only a tiny fraction of the picture. It seems our behaviour has changed only minimally. I think not until we offer super-easy, cost-effective green options, much is going to change.

Curve: How have big corporations changed their communication and involvement in sustainability in this last decade?

GH: It feels like to me - from a consumer’s perspective - it is more integrated. But it also feels like it had more momentum five or 10 years ago. It obviously varies from company to company - some do amazing things, some others just won’t.

Curve: Is 'sustainable development' for businesses becoming more important considering that we are living in times where tools like social media bring about more transparency?

GH: I think social media will put absolutely more pressure on companies. At least in the early days, which I think we are still in, it seems to concentrate that power at ‘shaming’ some larger companies and getting them to change their behaviour.

Although the power is disproportionate to what it should be. I think companies are still putting too much value into one tweet if you are looking at it from a number’s perspective.

Curve: Can you think of five sustainable business ideas?

GH: Airbnb and zipcar for example. Then there is zimride and Zaarly, an online platform that connects people with others in the community who offer their services and products from home cooked meals to iPhone repairs. Overall I think the sharing economy will become a big thing in the future.

Curve: Why do you think so?

GH: Well, it is for a number of reasons: first of all, they are using technology to enable better sharing. Smartphones and the internet open up a new way of thinking. We can efficiently share more stuff than we were able to before. It makes a lot of sense financially and environmentally as well. Now that a number of people have shown the way - like Airbnb or zipcar - it is just opening the gates on that. Airbnb is a billion dollar company.

Also, what sharing systems like zipcar indirectly promote is good quality, as you don’t want to have a car that keeps breaking down after every hundred miles. It is an idea whose time has come. Already back in 2005 when people asked me what’s next, from a Treehugger perspective, I believed in the sharing economy.

Take a look at a selection of images from our collection representing the sharing economy and collaborative consumption

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