The green guru: Danny Seo was born to save the Earth.

October 17, 2016

the gospel of green. After all, the 31-year-old eco-living guru was born

on Earth Day, April 22,1977.

But that wasn't actually in his parents' plan. "My

mother had a closet full of furs, and my father was a doctor who

advocated animal testing," says Seo. "I just started getting

into environmental activism when I was little. I think my parents

thought it was just a phase." Well, don't they always?

Longbefore he started talking about nontoxic cleansers and

solar-powered gadgets on CBS's The Early Show and in the pages of

Country Home (where he's an editor at large), the out decorator

from Reading, Pa., started proselytizing in his own backyard. When he

turned 12, Seo told his conservative Korean-American family he wanted to

use his birthday money (a whopping $23) to found the environmental and

animal-rights advocacy group Earth 2000. With equal parts enthusiasm and

naivete, the adolescent Seo organized an antiwhaling demonstration,

provided vegetarian meals to people with AIDS, and rang up lawmakers to

harangue them about pending environmental legislation. Earth 2000

blossomed from barely a dozen members at its start to 25,000 by the time

Seo was 18--making it quite possibly the country's largest

teen-focused nonprofit. "The goal," says Seo, "was to

save the planet by the turn of the millennium. You know, nothing too

ambitious." (For an eco-warrior, Seo has a wicked funny streak.)

Despite the boy wonder's success at eco-activism, his path to

enlightened living rooms was hardly direct. After graduating from high

school with a D-minus grade point average--"schoolwork was not

where my priorities were"--Seo scored a book deal with Random House

to write a how-to guide for teen activists. The advance for Generation

React gave Seo the financial freedom to move to Washington, D.C., and

lobby for old-growth forests. But it didn't take long for him to

grow disenchanted with life on the Hill. "In D.C. politics is its

own end," he explains. "I wanted to reach people

directly." Even with that conviction in place, the shift from

lobbyist to lifestyle expert happened somewhat accidentally.

"'Green style' was an oxymoron in the 1990s," he

remembers. "But I'd find a great old sofa and hire someone to

reupholster it with this beautiful Polish hemp fabric or buy organic

cotton towels that were drab beige and custom-dye them the colors I

wanted. It was crazy stuff."


A reporter for The Washington Post, on assignment in 1999 to

profile Seo's activism, was so stunned by the greendesign

sensibility of his apartment--and the all-organic vegetarian snacks he

proffered-that she turned the piece into a lifestyle feature. The

e-mails and calls came soon afterward. "The more consulting I was

doing, the more I'd get asked to do. This whole world of stylish

sustainability opened up," he explains. And how: By the time he

turned 25, Seo had written four books, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and been named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful

People in the World.


hard to carve out a social life. (He's mum on the subject of a

boyfriend.) But when he's not consulting on the new eco-suites at

the Hotel Monaco in New Orleans or emerald-hunting in Australia with

Rosario Dawson, he bunks down in one of his two homes in

Pennsylvania's affluent Bucks County: a cozy bungalow on the

Delaware River and a midcentury-modern cabin in the forest (the ongoing

renovation of which Seo blogs about in the Huffington Post column The

Green House Effect.)

"My style at home is modern country," he explains.

"It's not gingham, plaid, and stencils, but it's

comfortable. Everything has a handmade touch but very clean lines and is

eclectic." And while it would be impossible for Seo not to practice

what he preaches, he doesn't skimp on flair in the name of

consciousness. So rather than use an eco-unfriendly cashmere blanket--high demand for cashmere has caused an increase in the goat

population in China, which has turned grasslands into dust bowls and

caused an upswing in pollution in Asia and across the Pacific to the

western United States--he bought an armload of downy-soft alpaca scarves

and had them stitched together as a bedspread.

Being creative (and adorable) has put Seo on Hollywood's speed

dial, though he's reluctant to dish about the stars who've

turned to him for eco-advice, chiding me that "it turns into this

whole gossip thing." Yet he clearly understands the benefits of

celebrities going green: "If a movie star does something good, even

a little thing, they can draw a ton of media attention," he admits.

"Something totally unsexy, like compressed hydrogen fuel for your

car or water treatment systems for your house, winds up being written

about in Us Weekly."

So while the A-list is important to his cause, Seo continues to

reach out to everyday consumers. In 2006, he published two successful

entertaining guides, Simply Green Giving and Simply Green Parties,

followed by the 2008 daily calendar, Do Just One Thing, which offers

simple eco-friendly household tips like unplugging cell-phone chargers

and turning old soup cans into makeupbrush organizers. He's just

returned from Palm Springs, Calif., where he was taping a new edition of

Red, Hot and Green, an environmental-design show for HGTV.

But Seo wants to really educate the public, not just regurgitate the same old green advice. "I'm trying to take it to the next

level," he says. "I'm not going to tell people to use

compact fluorescent light bulbs, because everyone knows that. But I

might talk about what to do with the old nasty nylon carpet you're

tearing out or how to recycle laminate countertops--things you

can't just Google."

Something of an eco-version of Martha Stewart (one of his idols),

Seo has also started extending himself as a brand. He's partnered

with mattress manufacturer Simmons on Natural Care by Danny Seo, a line

of earth-friendly latex pillows and mattresses available at JCPenney,

and his "Simply Green" stamp now appears on the department

store's line of organic cotton bedding and bamboo blankets.

"They've got all these really great colors and styles at all

these different price points," he says, momentarily slipping into a

sales pitch. But Seo isn't selling out. He's never apologized

for promoting the good life. "I've always felt strongly about

sustainability but, unlike a lot of activists, I also want to eat great

food, wear cool clothes, and be surrounded by beautiful things," he

says. What makes him different is that he's "worked hard to

make it so you can do that and still be responsible."

Now, that's something gays can get behind. Which gets me

thinking: Is green the new pink? "I honestly don't think

it's a gay-straight thing," says Seo. "What we're

seeing is a total cultural shift. If you don't like it, you're

still going to have to adapt to it. Eventually it becomes second nature

for everybody." And that, to borrow a line from a certain domestic

doyenne, is a good thing.


When you figure out how to do it, sure. Here are five of

Danny's favorite green thumb rules.

DON'T PANIC: With the wealth of green products flooding the

market, it can be hard to figure out what's legitimately

earth-friendly. But, Sea says, "companies are so scared of being

accused of green-washing"--making phony environmental

claims--"that. they're really doing their due diligence."

Of course, he adds, the greenest product is nothing at all. But

what's life without duvet covers and gravy boats?

DEFINE YOUR TERMS: "The use of the word organic is regulated

by the Department of Agriculture--it has to have been grown without

pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals," See explains. "So you

can rest assured if you see that label, it's the real deal."

If a product is made from postconsumer recycled materials, that means it

comes from the sort of things we put out on the corner--newspapers,

glass bottles, aluminum cans--that have been crushed or melted down and

turned into something new. Just be wary of adjectives like biodegradable

and ell-natural, which aren't regulated, says Sea.

"Technically, even a polystyrene cup is biodegradable. It just

takes 60,000 years."

CARRY IT OFF: Use your own reusable bags when you shop. "We

know to do that at the grocery store, but don't be afraid to bring

one to a department store," Sea says. And there's a bag to fit

every taste and budget: "You can get anything from a $1,000

reusable bag from Hermes to a 99-cent sack from Whole Foods."

KEEP AN EYE ON THE ROAD: "A lot of people don't close the

gas cap to their cars tightly enough," says the green guru.

"Over time, the gas evaporates as you drive." If you click the

cap three to five times to make sure it's secure, you'll

improve your fuel efficiency 1% or 2% a year.

BE A STAR: Sea says there are several government programs that help

point consumers in the right direction, like Energy Star, which

identifies energy-efficient electronics and appliances. Think of it as

"a green kosher symbol."

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