• U.S.

Who’s Who: The Eco-Guide

12 minute read

The Designer Activists Ali Hewson & Rogan Gregory 45 & 33, Dublin & New York City

CLAIM TO FAME In the spring of 2003, New York City–based designer Gregory met with U2 stylist Sharon Blankson, who mentioned that Bono and his wife Hewson were thinking about starting a clothing line. A few weeks later, Bono paid a visit to the Rogan showroom.

BIG BREAK Gregory and Hewson (with a little help from Bono) launched Edun, a socially conscious apparel line for men and women, in the spring of 2005 with a mission to bring fair employment and trade to the attention of the fashion industry. They also wanted their clothes to look good. “We want it to be a business model that people will follow. People want fair trade, but they don’t want hair shirts,” says Hewson, who is involved in Edun Live, a project that aims to provide immediate job growth in African communities through a merchandising program selling organic cotton T shirts for use as promotional items.

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE The goal is for Edun to become 100% African and 100% organic without lowering the quality of the items. “There’s been a huge swell in the market for organic and fair-trade products, and the same thing is happening with clothes,” says Hewson. “People are reading the labels on their clothes. They’re asking themselves if they want to wear something that was made out of someone else’s despair.”

The Conscious Foodie Anna Lappé 32, New York City

CLAIM TO FAME Since co-founding the Small Planet Institute and Fund with her mother, author Frances Moore Lappé, the Brooklyn resident has been raising money for environmental organizations around the world, like a quarter of a million dollars for Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, which has planted 30 million trees since 1977. As a Food and Society Policy fellow at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, she travels the country educating Americans about the connection between food policy and public health.

BIG BREAK Raised in Oakland, Calif., Lappé studied education at Brown University and spent a year teaching history in South Africa. She earned a master’s degree in economic and political development from Columbia University, turning her thesis into a book about the root causes of hunger and poverty, Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, co-written with her mom. “Globally, we’re producing enough food not only to be well fed but to get chubby,” says Lappé. “If more citizens rather than corporations had a say in decisions being made about our food, there wouldn’t be any hunger.”

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE In her new book, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, she advises city dwellers on how to find fresh food: “Even if you live in a concrete jungle, you can be a farm shareholder by investing at the beginning of the year and getting delicious food you can trust all harvest long delivered to your door.”

The Urban Artist Ryan Frank 32, London

CLAIM TO FAME Rather than envision a final product, the Johannesburg-born furniture designer focuses on experimenting with materials. Frank’s eco-sensitive collection is inspired by the contrast of nature and urban deterioration, corrosion and decay. “I grew up in Africa with big open spaces and came to London, where the bridges and canals are over 100 years old and the buildings are recycled, reclaimed and patched up,” he says. “This city has just enhanced my desire for nature.”

BIG BREAK After studying product design in Cape Town and in Zwolle, the Netherlands, and working at Dutch design studio DenHartogMusch and at Alsop Architects, Frank settled in London, where he sells his “free-range” products made of urban detritus (think brick accessory bowl). Soon he plans to relocate to Catalonia, Spain, for the warmer clime. He hopes to teach his sustainable-design techniques to poor South Africans and help them organize a free-trade work group.

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE “For me, products don’t have to be shiny and new,” says Frank. “They can be worn and rusted, and that adds character.” His latest creation: Inkuku, a chair made entirely from plastic shopping bags, following a traditional African practice of using everyday discarded plastics to make objects for the home.

The Green Groomer Joshua Onysko 28, Boulder, Colo.

CLAIM TO FAME “In the organic market, in personal care at least, most of what’s available is in hippie packaging,” says Onysko, founder and CEO of Pangea Organics Ecocentric Bodycare. Onysko can spot a hippie from a hundred paces, considering that his life as a junior high dropout and global drifter has put him in contact with more than a few of them.

BIG BREAK Onysko’s interest in the business started as a “fun project” to do with his mom. The two bought some supplies at a natural-foods store and made a small batch of soap. It wasn’t until he used a spare bar from his backpack to take a memorable outdoor shower in Goa, India, that the inspiration for Pangea struck. Back in the U.S., he started a business that has expanded to a 10,000-sq.-ft. factory and sales at Whole Foods Markets across the country. Onysko is passionate about the impact of grooming habits on the environment (the average shower gel takes 200 to 300 years to biodegrade once it’s rinsed down the drain).

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE “Ultimately, you can’t really convert people unless they like the way the products look,” he says. So Onysko worked with Ideo, a design firm based in Palo Alto, Calif., to give mass appeal to the organic lifestyle. Result: a great-looking soap box made of 100% postconsumer materials. “You can throw it in your yard, and it will just melt away,” says Onysko.

The Earthy Fashionista Linda Loudermilk 41, Los Angeles

CLAIM TO FAME Don’t let her environmental intentions fool you. The designer is known for her tailored clothing made from sustainable fabrics, like soy- and corn-based fibers, but her “Luxury eco” collection is all about style. “I want to make it easy for a high-end client to walk in and know what lifestyle this is,” says Loudermilk. “It’s very outside of hippie and hemp.” Her creations including organic silk–charmeuse gowns, men’s bamboo suits and women’s separates made from an antibacterial Japanese fabric called sasawashi are sold around the world at stores like Atrium in New York City and Villa Moda Lifestyle in Kuwait.

BIG BREAK After designing couture in Paris, Loudermilk returned to the U.S. to start a line of clothing that would help the environment and “do more than feed the female ego.” She developed a high-end T shirt line made of organic cotton, which she sold in Europe. “People were really into what we were doing then,” she says. “There was a real void in the market.” She calls her customer a “metro-naturalist: someone who is artistic and urban, self-expressive and makes choices out of the norm.”

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE Loudermilk credits the environment for influencing her punkish, rock-‘n’-roll style and hopes her clothing will help people bond to the earth. “Nature has more edge than we can ever create,” she says. “I want to help people feel a connection to it on a daily basis.”

The Healthy Hardware Hawker Timothy Taylor 55, Seattle

CLAIM TO FAME As CEO of Built-e Inc., Taylor has presided over the growth of Seattle’s Environmental Home Center, a one-stop shop for building an eco-friendly house. The 30,000-sq.-ft. space functions as a warehouse, showroom and design center. “We marry good information about a product with convenient access to it,” says Taylor. “It’s all under one roof in a high-style setting.” Some of the sustainable products for sale include 100% organic-wool carpets, nontoxic paints and home-insulation units made from recycled denim.

BIG BREAK The longtime businessman met company founders Matthew and Alison Freeman-Gleason in 1996. At the time, they had a 12,000-sq.-ft. showroom in downtown Seattle. Taylor, who predicted that home building was going green, jumped on board in 2000 to help expand their vision.

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE Taylor understands the importance of style. “Good aesthetics are a key attribute in sustainability,” he says. “When you have something beautiful, you’ll use it for life.” The center carries materials at a range of price points and tries to sell local brands. Taylor stresses that it does not, however, skimp on quality. “Our goal is not to have 57 different hammers,” he says. “Our customer appreciates the selection process we go through.”

The Cleanup Team Adam Lowry & Eric Ryan 31 & 33, San Francisco

CLAIM TO FAME In 2000 Lowry and Ryan, high school friends from Detroit, decided to contest the idea that stronger chemicals make for better household cleaners. They introduced Method, a mass-market line of health-conscious and aromatic dish and hand soaps, bathroom cleansers, surface cleaners, laundry detergents, floor-care products and air fresheners. “It’s been pounded into our heads that you can’t have safe and effective products in one,” says Lowry, who studied chemical engineering and environmental science at Stanford University. “That isn’t true.”

BIG BREAK Method positions itself as a brand that benefits, above all, personal well-being. The company’s mission, “People Against Dirty,” points to the harmful ingredients in cleaners as the real pollutants in our homes. Two years ago, Method came out with a triple-concentrated biodegradable laundry detergent and now the competition is catching on (Unilever launched its version, All Small & Mighty, last fall). Lowry says that if all detergents were to switch to concentrated formula, it would save 400 million gal. of water and about 200 million lbs. of plastic a year.

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE Method is not only health conscious, but the brand’s sleek packaging, conceived by award-winning industrial designer Karim Rashid, also redefines the category with scrubs and sprays that actually look stylish on countertops.

The Modern Hippie Graham Hill 35, Toronto

CLAIM TO FAME The proprietor of treehugger.com a for-profit online magazine and store, wants to make sustainability mainstream. He employs 25 staff members around the world to write news and reviews of modern yet green products and services. “No one has three hours to search for a pair of organic jeans,” says Hill. “So we created a prolific blog that people enjoy reading while increasing their eco-smarts.” With 20,000 visitors a day and a searchable archive of 5,500 posts, it’s the largest green-lifestyle website out there. And there are TreeHuggerTV weekly videos and podcasts, with one episode documenting plans for an electric pedicab in Long Island City, N.Y.

BIG BREAK After earning an architecture degree at Carleton University and studying industrial design at the Emily Carr Institute, Hill started ExceptionLab, a product-design firm (imagine lamps made from old blinds) that, along with Treehugger, is a subsidiary of his holding company, Utopia Manufacturing.

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE Some of the “clever, innovative, creative and sleek” design featured on the site: a Galya Rosenfeld modular scarf handmade from reclaimed ultrasuede scraps from the upholstery industry, an iXi bike with an oil-free chain and David Ellis speakers made from dried gourds.

The Domestic Do-Gooder Danny Seo 29, Reading, Pa.

CLAIM TO FAME Dubbed the “organic Martha Stewart,” Seo is creating a fresh, eco-friendly aesthetic in event planning, interior design and fashion without sacrificing style. “I don’t want to sleep on the floor,” he says. “I like having a nice home, a stylish wardrobe, nice things to eat. Green can be chic they’re not mutually exclusive ideas.”

BIG BREAK Last year Seo founded the multimedia brand Simply Green. His goal is to show the public simple and stylish ways to help the environment. “The biggest issue with people is that they think living green is too hard, that it costs too much,” he says. “I am providing solutions. I am teaching them how.” Seo is the host of two shows, one on Sirius satellite radio and another on Lime Television, and he has written four books. His fifth one, Simply Green: Parties, will be published in June, and provides recipes and party-planning ideas with a focus on sustainable living. Tips include how to make a lantern out of a used paper bag.

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE Seo’s creations evoke a Zen-like simplicity, and he is resourceful, making chair covers out of old cashmere sweaters and picking rocks from his garden for dinner-party place cards. But it all looks sophisticated, and that is the rule. “If you don’t have a stylish home, you’re going to be disappointed,” he says. “You won’t care how green it is, because it’s all about style.”

The Comfort Creator Robert King 50, New York City

CLAIM TO FAME King is the founder and CEO of Humanscale, a maker of ergonomic office products. Most high-performance desk chairs depend on a maze of knobs and levers to control the settings. Humanscale seat positions are based on the sitter’s weight, so the chairs require fewer parts and use fewer environmental resources.

BIG BREAKTHROUGH King founded Humanscale in 1983, but it wasn’t until 1999, after partnering with designer Niels Diffrient, that he introduced his first chair. Today Humanscale accounts for approximately 20% of the market for high-performance seating.

DESIGN TOUCHSTONE “We try to boil our designs down to be as simple as possible, with fewer parts and less material,” King says. The company’s Freedom chair, for example, has 132 parts. A comparable chair from the competition has 275. King is lobbying to bring to his industry the kind of regulation that exists in the food business. He would like to see chairs labeled with sustainability scores based on their content. Humanscale would fare well: about 62% of the material in its Freedom chair is recycled. That’s not material that is recyclable (although it’s that too) but material that has been recycled.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com