In their quest to find companies that aggressively promote environmentally friendly, “green” business practices, the directors and producers of the documentary “So Right So Smart,” which will be screened at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival at Princeton Public Library on Tuesday, January 5 (the festival starts on Saturday, January 2), didn’t expect to encounter Wal-Mart in their gunsights.
But the much-maligned mega-retailer has indeed set the tone for green business in many ways, says Justin Maine, one of the filmmakers.
The company “certainly” has an image problem, agrees Maine. “The reason we included Wal-Mart in the film was that many of the people we were interviewing, that we were involved with, were dealing with them and were inspiring them.
“Wal-Mart is the biggest company in the world,” he says. “If they are doing anything at all, it’s a huge thing. I’m not giving them a pass on all of the things they are doing that they’re flawed in — I’m just pointing out something positive that they’re doing.” The company had told the filmmakers that it had begun to explore sustainability “almost as a PR Band-Aid,” says Leanne Robinson Maine, Justin Maine’s wife and one of his collaborators. “When they started to get into it, they really got on board.” The company, with 61,000 suppliers, has the potential to induce its suppliers and competitors alike to think in a more green manner. And that helps them and the rest of us, the filmmakers say.
“So Right So Smart” is a story of change, and a story of inspiration, says Justin Maine. “It was our chance to show that there’s a reason that business should be changing and going green — because it’s good for business and good for the environment.”
Going green, adds Maine, “is also a way to make change.” Change, as in money.
The fourth annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival will run through Sunday, January 17. At the Tuesday, January 5, 7 p.m. screening of “So Right So Smart,” Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, who is interviewed in the film, as well as filmmakers Justin Maine, Leanne Robinson Maine, Guy Noerr, and Michael Swantek will hold a post-screening discussion.
Susan Conlon, young adult services library and organizer of the festival, say the 2010 festival will be the biggest ever, with 50 films being screened over a two-week period. While the festival is a local event, says Conlon, its reach goes beyond the Princeton area. “We have lots of people coming from New York, Philadelphia, and beyond to see the films and hear people talk.” She says that 2010 also will be the first festival to include programming for children and their families.
Conlon says that many Princeton area organizations that focus on green topics bring a presence of their own to the festival. For example, Tom Szaky, head of the pioneering green business TerraCycle will be among the presenters. On Thursday, January 14, at 7 p.m., “Garbage Moguls,” a National Geographic film that focuses on TerraCycle, will be shown, and Szaky will be on hand for a post-screening discussion.
Conlon points to another point of pride for her and the library. Last year’s film festival brought the library a National Library Award “for excellence in innovation in library programming.”
“Over the last couple of years we have really looked to find films that have a positive message and inspire people,” says Conlon. For example, she had known about Ray Anderson, the carpet-tile mogul who transformed his business into a green business, gaining international acclaim, and wished she could find a film about Anderson. Coincidentally, Anderson is a central figure in “So Right So Smart.”
“The overall message of the film is that there are people who care about the bottom line but they took on a personal ethical commitment and made it work from a business perspective,” says Conlon. “I think that the stories you see in the film about these people are inspiring for anyone. The film is a really good fit for our festival.”
The arc of the story, says filmmaker Justin Maine, does indeed follow the story of Anderson and Interface Inc., the world’s largest commercial carpetmaker. Anderson, based in the Albany area, told Maine that his goal was to make his company 100% sustainable — with no carbon footprint — by 2020, and that he had been working on this goal since the 1970s.
Anderson, says Leanne Robinson Maine, has since inspired many other companies to follow suit. “Through his journey of change, he has become quite an example, even a hero for some people, and his journey has really inspired a lot of other companies along the way.”
In addition to Wal-Mart and Interface, other businesses featured in the film include the band Barenaked Ladies, Stonyfield Farm, as well as a brewery and clothing company. “It was a combination of stories of change within their organizations, or stories of companies that have employed these values from the beginning,” says Robinson Maine. There were even some companies the filmmakers wanted to focus on that did not want publicity about their efforts to be green.
The actress Daryl Hannah narrates the $1 million documentary, which has already received such accolades as Best Feature Film at the New Zealand Film Festival. “Justin suggested that we get a celebrity narrator, and we all thought he was crazy,” said Robinson Maine. “But we figured that we’d just go for it. We decided that we definitely needed a female, because there were so many males among the CEOs and higher ups that we were interviewing. So coincidentally I had been chatting with one of my friends about this, and she told me that (Hannah) was going to be at an event in Albany. So a couple of us were able to go to this event and chat with her, and she told us she was a huge fan of Ray Anderson. She got really excited about it. So it was really coincidentally fortuitous.”
The Maines, who were married in 2006 and live near Albany, work together at MagicWig Productions in Schenectady. The company chiefly makes industrial films. Justin Maine, 35, says he has wanted to make films since he was four years old. The son of a federal employee dad and an executive assistant mom, he graduated from Sage College in Albany. Most of his education in film came from working on industrial films.
Leanne Robinson Maine, 33, is a theater producer by trade who met her husband because she had been a writer for many of the projects produced by MagicWig. A Long Island native who moved to Albany as a child, the daughter of a banker and a stay-at-home mom, she met her husband after earning her undergraduate degree in theater at Notre Dame in Indiana and her master’s of fine arts in theater (acting and costume design) from Ohio University.
“We met with a camera in between us,” she says. “They’ve always been part of our relationship.”
Princeton Environmental Film Festival, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. Saturday, January 2, through Sunday, January 17 Visit website for complete schedule of films and speakers. Free. 609-924-8822 or www.princetonlibrary.org.