As the Editor-in-Chief of TreeHugger, Meaghan O’Neill works to teach people about sustainability in its many forms, from architecture to fashion, restaurants and more. The goal of TreeHugger is to make sustainability mainstream, and with livable green technologies being forefront in design these days there seems to never have been a better time to be a tree hugger.
We talked with Meaghan O’Neill about the correlation between trend spotting and eco-friendly living.
12 Questions with Meaghan O’Neill
1. How did you start with TreeHugger and what motivates you to continue?
I met Graham Hill, founder of TreeHugger, through a mutual colleague during the summer of 2004, just as he was launching the site. I signed on as one of the site’s first writers, then came on full time in 2008 as editor-in-chief of TreeHugger and PlanetGreen.com, shortly after TH became part of the Discovery Communications family.
Two things stand out as motivators for me: The first is the amazing people that I work with. Their passion and hard work are really the driving life forces behind both TreeHugger and Planet Green, and I am remarkably lucky to work with them. The second is our mission: to drive sustainability mainstream. I believe that our society is on the brink on making the leap to a more intelligent way of functioning, and I think our sites can play a role in that movement.
2. How significant is the topic of trend spotting to TreeHugger?
To remain culturally relevant yet cutting edge, it’s very important for us to spot trends in both the green movement and in our culture at large.
3. How do you define a trend?
Officially, I would say a trend occurs when you see something repeated three times. But more loosely, I think a trend can be labeled when we see a noticeable slice of the population embrace a new habit, idea, practice, or value.
4. How do you define cool?
That’s kind of a hard question, even though I use the word--and mean it--a lot. I suppose I apply the term "cool" to anything that excites me in a positive way intellectually or visually or appeals to my sense of humor. I’d say stuff that’s cool typically has some cultural currency, too. In jazz, the term refers to music that’s restrained and relaxed; likewise, stuff that’s cool doesn’t try too hard to be so.
5. Do you need a culture of innovation to create something that is cool?
Probably. Because for things to be cool, they typically have an element of surprise. No innovation, no surprises!
6. What is the best way to create an infectious idea, product or service?
I don’t think anyone truly knows what makes an idea or product go viral, but here’s my secret recipe for success:
1. Create a situation where you allow creativity, transparency, honesty, and teamwork to thrive.
2. Listen to and value the input and ideas from all members of your team.
3. Listen to and value the input, ideas, and comments from your audience and community.
4. Add a dash of hard work. Don’t forget good timing and promotion!
5. Add final and most important ingredient: Luck!
7. What is the key to innovation?
Freedom to think.
8. What are your ambitions for TreeHugger?
There are so many, but probably the first and foremost is to grow our audience widely. We never want to to be preaching to the choir and we want people to realize that environmental issues are not isolated; the green movement touches on everything from education to healthcare to technology to fashion.
9. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
I only rarely set time aside time to "be creative;" instead I’ve learned to glean the flashes of creativity and ideas that come while I’m conversing, watching TV, riding my bike, walking the dog, or am otherwise engaged in day-to-day life. But I do think that recharging your batteries is uber-important. Stress is a total creativity killer. To combat it, I like to sail, kayak, snowboard, walk, practice yoga, and hang out with my friends and family. Eating fresh foods and getting lots of sleep is really important, too.
10. Professionally, what do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I hope that I can always be doing work where I don’t have to check my values when I punch the time clock.
11. What are your most important hobbies?
The ones I do with my husband, especially sailing and snowboarding. I also like photography and yoga.
12. What is an example of a time where you have thrown away an existing idea to force yourself to find something new?
I'm working on throwing away the idea that shinier-newer-faster-more is better and I’m forcing myself to embrace a slower lifestyle that focuses on minimalism and quality—whether I’m considering a social event or pair of shoes.
It’s incredibly liberating to just say no--to that cocktail party, that plastic toy truck, or that ridiculously affordable sweater. Disassociating happiness and comfort from material possessions and social status allows us to ask which actions and goods truly improve quality of life, and which in fact degrade it.
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