Adrian Grenier: Small but 'extremely impactful' ways to save money—and the planet

Adrian Grenier.
Courtesy Adrian Grenier.

Adrian Grenier is celebrating a milestone: He’s been plastic-water-bottle free for two years.

Grenier, who was born in 1976 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an entrepreneur, environmentalist, and a popular actor, best known for his roles on films like "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Drive Me Crazy," as well as TV shows such as HBO’s “Entourage” and new Syfy project “Cipher.” He's been spreading the message that shifting to reusable water bottles, rather than plastic ones, is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to help the planet.

Americans use a lot of plastic. In 2015, 34.5 million tons of plastic waste was generated in the U.S., according to the American Chemistry Council, and only around 9% of it was recycled. A lot of that plastic waste winds up in places it shouldn’t, such as our waterways and oceans. If you consider your own plastic consumption, that figure makes sense; you likely use plastic forks, cups, or bottles on a regular basis, and even when you take a shower, your shampoo and soap come in a plastic container.

That doesn’t sit well with Grenier, who is trying to break the mold. He’s been successful, too: In 2018, he was instrumental in a campaign to persuade the city of Seattle, Washington, to ban single-use plastic drinking straws. The ban eliminated an estimated 2.3 million straws from the city.

And he’s just getting started.

6 earth-friendly ways to save money

Along with his day job as an entertainer, Grenier is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme and cofounded Lonely Whale , an organization dedicated to protecting the oceans and marine life.

For Earth Day 2019, Grenier spoke with Grow about how mindful consumption can save money and the planet, and the trick to becoming a “halfetarian.”

Note: This interview has been edited for length.

Grow: You’re most well-known for being an actor, but you're also an environmentalist and entrepreneur. How would you identify yourself, first and foremost?

Adrian Grenier: I don't really see my acting or my environmental work as being in conflict with one another — to me, it's about storytelling and communication. What I find most fulfilling as an actor is the work that actually communicates big ideas, transforms the audience, and inspires them. And with my environmental work, it’s meant to get people excited about what's possible and get them to question the things that they take for granted.

Since time immemorial, that's what storytelling has been about. Shakespeare says, “The play's the thing.” As far as I can see, the work that I do in both my acting and for the environment is to try and reflect a part of humanity and see if the audience can embrace some bigger potential.

How environmentally friendly or eco-conscious is the entertainment industry? Is there room for improvement?

I think there's a lot of room for improvement within the entertainment industry. [But I’ve] actually seen a lot of improvements that are encouraging. For example, I just did this pilot for Syfy. They gave everybody [reusable] water bottles and they had water dispensers that they provided so that everybody could refill their water bottles. That was a big deal.

But I mean, there's always room for improvement, and I think until there's a concerted effort by the industry at large, change is going to be very difficult. It's sort of on a larger scale, the same as our society. You know, you can expect individuals to do so much, but at the same time, what we need are rules that go across society so that we don't have to work so hard to do the right thing.

If we expect individual businesses to make the right choice, they’re bearing the greater burden of that choice financially, while bad actors, who are just going about business as usual, aren't.

I think good legislation and industry-wide rules are the best way to get the biggest, most positive impact.

What’s something you do on a daily basis to live a more sustainable life?

I'm plastic-water-bottle free. I haven't used one in two years. That's something that's been a commitment of mine. [I’ll use] my reusable bottle every day, and if not I'll just put my face underneath a sink.

But also, reducing my plastic consumption any chance I get. I don't use single-use plastic bags. I've been reducing the plastic that I use in my bathroom, too, so I don't buy plastic tubes of toothpaste. I find either glass or there are some brands that do metal, or I'll just make my own toothpaste. Also floss: You can find floss that comes in the glass dispenser. Deodorant also comes in a glass little jar. Then, using bars, bars for my shampoo. Anywhere I can, I'm looking to just reduce my plastic consumption.

Does reducing plastic consumption, such as purchasing products in metal or glass containers, make things more expensive?

I think, at a certain point, we have to get real with ourselves. If we think that things are cheap, we're not aware of all of the hidden costs that we're not actually paying for. When you look at the price of a piece of plastic, it may seem very cheap, but that's because we're not accounting for how many subsidies we've given to the oil industry to make that oil cheap enough to make that cheap plastic.

We're also not adding the cost of what it's going to cost to actually clean up all the plastic in the ocean. We're not adding the cost of how the production of that piece of plastic is contributing to climate change, or toxins in the air that make us sick, and then we have to pay for it in increased health-care costs. Yeah, things are gonna cost more up front, but in the long run, it's much, much cheaper to do the right thing.

I think we need to start thinking holistically. I think we need to reeducate and retrain ourselves to think holistically, because an unnaturally cheap product is ultimately going to cost us, in the end, a lot more.

You mentioned subsidies. We subsidize a lot of industries that make affordable products but use unsustainable or environmentally unfriendly methods. What can people do to try and live more sustainably while still sticking to their budgets?

I think it's a deep systemic issue, but from an individual standpoint, we can do something very important: We can vote.

We can vote for people who are talking about these issues, and that's how we're going to make the change, through the way we engage — not only how we consume and being more conscious, but also how we vote. Don't beat yourself up if you're not a perfect citizen, because we're all part of a broken system. I can't be as environmentally friendly as I want to be because I'm part of certain necessary systems that are part of my society.

Then on the opposite extreme, you have this cynicism. You have those that want everybody to be perfect, but that's nearly impossible because our society isn't set up for that. Then you have those that want to just give up, and point the fingers, and be cynical about it, because you want to change the world for the better in terms of climate, and yet, you hop on a plane, and then it's permission to just give up entirely.

Somewhere in between, there’s a balance, and that's what I look for — that sweet spot where you can participate meaningfully. We have to work together to take incremental steps.

You mentioned cutting back on plastic consumption as one way to be more mindful or conscious when spending your money. Are there others?

Spend your money on experiences rather than things. Share. Share more. Do you have something you don't need? You can share and use used or vintage stuff. Also when you go out to eat, split a meal. Not everybody has to have their own 30-ounce steak, you know? We can reduce our consumption.

I created this thing called Halfetarianism.


Yes. The idea is if we can reduce our meat consumption by half, it would be as if there are 4 billion people on the planet, not 8 billion, and that would make a huge positive impact on the planet, environmentally, because we overconsume meat. We don't need that much meat to live healthy lives. In fact, too much meat, I think, is unhealthy. If you reduce by half, you'll do so much, not only for your personal health, but for the environment.

You don't have to give up entirely. You don't have to become a vegan — you can do something very moderate but extremely impactful. What I do is eat a plant-based diet on even dates and then on odd dates, I give myself permission to have some animal protein. What that does is throughout a year, I reduced my consumption by half.

Is there a small purchase that most people can make that would improve their lives and help them live sustainably?

A reusable water bottle. It’s a good gift — for yourself and the planet.

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