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The Perils Of Acting Green

Celebs have gotten plenty of mileage riding the eco-bandwagon. But now that the heat's on, no lifestyle choice is safe from scrutiny.

September 02, 2007|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

No, it's not easy being green, least of all for Hollywood A-listers living in jaw-dropping decadence. Solar panels on a 50,000-square-foot manse in Malibu just don't scream "Live simply!" Ditto hopping onto a private plane to get to the Live Earth concert.

Of course, celebrities don't let their lavish lifestyles stop them from preaching to the rest of us about temperance. Eco-friendly living isn't about great sacrifice, they contend, it's about making small but powerful changes. It's about voting green. It's about buying green. Besides, they say, they're doing their part by using their fame to broadcast a pro-Earth message that reaches millions of people. Isn't that enough?

It might have been, a few years back. But then, rather quickly, the green movement became part of the mainstream. For the rich and famous, the competition to stand out, to out-green the next guy, got so fierce that the next logical place to take the Greening of Hollywood was the exposé: sussing out the hypocrites. Every media outlet and website (green or otherwise) has upped its scrutiny of green-speaking stars. As a cause, environmentalism is now all about personal choices -- your teeth-brushing ritual is tied directly to our dwindling water supply, for example -- so the lives of green stars are expected to be especially transparent.

Even passive support of the cause -- say performing at a pro-Earth event -- is reason enough for a celebrity's carbon footprint to be inspected. Laurie David, once a green beacon for the glitterati, is now a media target whose every perceived indiscretion is somehow undermining the veracity of her activism. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie can adopt three children from impoverished nations, travel the world to promote humanitarian aid, and still have to answer for a helicopter ride they took last weekend from Manhattan to a Hamptons fundraiser for Pitt's green-home-building project in New Orleans.

On the surface, celebrities have become prickly and defensive when the subject of their green habits comes up. The new standard mea culpa is "No one's perfect." "We're all trying the best we can, truly we really are," said an exasperated Leonardo DiCaprio in May. But even the subtext of that quote reveals a good bit of genuine confusion out there. When you're extravagantly rich and high-profile, just where is the line between flat-out decadence and mindful, green luxury? Does one cross-country ride in a private jet cancel out the vegetarianism and the bamboo floors? Is the only answer total asceticism?

This is the next phase of Hollywood eco-chic: earnest self-assessment, with a side of anxiety. Everyone wants to find a comfortable place in the growing divide between the biodiesel-driving, rainwater-collecting Daryl Hannah-Ed Begley Jr. model and the carbon-offsetting, private jet-riding Laurie David-Al Gore approach. It's no wonder the new Hollywood must-have is the eco-lifestylist. It takes a real professional to navigate the increasingly murky middle ground and guide an Earth-conscious star to his or her natural spot in the spectrum of green.

Eyeing every kilowatt

There's no shortage of outlets eager to chronicle every green move a celebrity makes in the now-standard "green issues" of general interest magazines and green-centered TV shows and websites such as, and, a well-established eco-news site. Some activists even say the increased scrutiny is actually a boon to the cause. Green gossip tells us that Julia Roberts brings her own metal cup to coffeehouses, that Pitt and Jolie bought an organic vineyard, that Rosario Dawson refuses to date non-recyclers, that Adrian Grenier is insulating his home with recycled denim, that Matt Damon bought his entire family Priuses and that Metallica is funding a rain forest reserve.

But to many, much of this now looks like mere window dressing.

Take the green website, which launched a year ago. The primary mission of the site, co-founded by Ithaca, N.Y.-based Michael d'Estries and Rebecca Carter in Miami, is to track the green habits of celebrities. "If people in the spotlight are going to get up there, they're going to have to come prepared," said D'Estries. "They're going to have to look at their own lives first. Otherwise it's just green washing."

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