- 14 June 2006
Roberta Myers, editor-in-chief of ELLE speaks to The Climate Group about her decision to run the first ever 'green' issue of the magazine and the importance of the media in raising public awareness of how to address climate change...
Congratulations on your 'green' issue. It's quite a diversion from ELLE's usual subject matter, and a first, why now?
Well obviously because the environment is something we care deeply about and really we felt that the time was right. When we looked across all the disciplines that the magazine covers, from fashion to beauty to home, to politics, we realised that there was an awful lot of information we could cover in each of those departments - new products are being invented; there are designers who really care about creating environmentally friendly lines and it really seemed like the right time to do it. There seems to be a groundswell all around right now in terms of attention on and interest in the environment and what an individual can do to make it better.
Do you feel like there is 'pressure' from readers to cover such contemporary issues at the moment?
I wouldn't call it pressure, I would call it enthusiasm. My hope with the magazine was that we could use it as a forum to inspire our readers to think about changes big and small that they can make to do their part. We basically wanted to make them more aware of their own and our collective impact on the environment and get them enthused about becoming more politically aware.
Have readers responded to the content? Has feedback been positive?
Yes they have and the response has been great, overwhelmingly positive. I have to say this is particularly because we printed the issue on recycled paper, people really felt that we put our money where our [proverbial] mouth was. We had letters from people who really knew nothing about the environment and climate change saying thank you for opening my eyes and others from readers who are committed to the issue thanking us for taking our big mainstream magazine and turning the majority of its content over to something that they deeply care about. Some readers hadn't really put much thought into how they could make a difference and they also really appreciated this aspect of the content, so overall, I think we were successful.
What is your sense of public perspectives on climate change in the US right now, are they changing?
Yes, I think that generally public consciousness is being ratcheted up little by little. Young people in America have not been particularly motivated as a group of late; there has not been a single issue that has driven people into the streets. But there is a general sense that this is something they care about and want to know more about and I hope that if there is anything that younger people are interested in, it is this issue. Whilst I was sad to read in the papers this morning that the shareholders of Exxon voted down some environmental reforms that were put before them, I was heartened by the young people out there, protesting, saying please will you consider clean energy.
Do you think that the media has an important stewardship role in shaping these perceptions?
Well I think the role of the media has always been first and foremost journalism - basically to inform readers, viewers, whoever, of the truth - the basic reporting of facts. I think the educational role is an important one, simply laying out what the actual picture is. And then for magazines like mine, I also hope to be inspirational and instructional at the same time. Helping people think about their own lives and their own personal impact.
How well is the media currently fulfilling this role?
I will admit that I live in New York and move in a media bubble and I am hyper-aware of the media. I feel like we do an OK job, all of the big news magazines have run environmental news stories on their covers and I feel like I see it on TV and in the news, but it could also be my own eye and bias, because it is something that I care about. Whilst I may not be the most objective judge, I do think there is general enthusiasm and concern among people that I consider my colleagues - but do I think everyone knows everything they need to know? - absolutely not.
Laurie David was your guest editor - how important are key figures like her in disseminating positive messages on the issue?
I think they are really fundamental. They have power bases of their own that they can mobilise and I really admire celebrities, for lack of a better word, who use their public position to argue for things that they believe in to try and draw attention to important issues, particularly because they don't have to - Robert Kennedy Jr. for example, who we profiled in the magazine and Al Gore whose documentary is currently getting a lot of publicity. Laurie also had her own documentary that she produced for HBO. All of these people are working tirelessly on this issue and I think their role is critical.
How are we going to engage the public on climate change on a large scale?
It's often hard to get people to care about the future. They get up in the morning, they have to go to work and they go outside, the sky looks pretty - it's a nice day and it's hard to really sense that there are incredibly devastating things happening as we speak. So what we did at ELLE and what other people can do is to try and break some of these enormous issues down into smaller more personally digestible ideas about how you as a person are impacting the environment and things that you can actually do in your life to make a difference. Also obviously, and I'm not blaming them, people care about their cheque books and most people just work really hard to try and make their lives better. But one of the interesting things in Laurie David's documentary was when they were talking to some truck drivers about alternative fuels, it really made a difference for their bottom line to make the switch to these fuels - they make the environment more hospitable and they can save money! We need more messages like this to engage the public on climate change and to drive action.
Can climate change become a mainstream consumer issue rather than a green issue?
Absolutely and I see it happening. For example, when I look in my refrigerator and I see a statement on the milk carton saying the company has won an award for reducing paper use, or with Danone yoghurt that had a whole campaign noting how much plastic would be saved by eliminating plastic tops from their packaging. I am so interested in the way that not only are they talking about their specific products when they use this sort of labeling but they are also in your home every day reminding you that this is something we need to care about. It does make you look at the rest of the stuff in your closet and I do think that with each subtle piece of information you care more. The fact that these campaigns are acceptable now illustrates that this is no longer a fringe issue that only belongs on the outside of American mainstream, but that the issue is in your house every day and its something you need to think about.
Can we expect major consumer brands to drive action on climate change?
I think so. It would be irresponsible of me to predict which companies will and when it will happen but I do think that absolutely they will. I think that some of them have started. Take a designer like Stella McCartney who is very vocal and committed to the issue - its part of her mission as a brand. I think particularly if you have individual figureheads like that who really care, you'll see more and more of that coming through.
Do you think by educating more people about the impacts and the solutions of climate change together as one overarching message, we can combat the problem more effectively?
Yes, because I think when an individual starts to have a tiny bit of awareness it works into their consciousness and then it becomes political. When this shift occurs, from personal to political, then you actually have movement. People will start to vote on the issue and ask big companies to take action on these things as well as taking actions themselves. So I think that this 2 pronged impacts and solutions approach will be most effective.
Does ELLE have plans to do similar issues in the future?
Yes we hope to do it globally, we have 39 editions of ELLE around the world and I don't know who's fully committed for next year and I wouldn't commit other editors-in-chief but I have asked them to join me in doing this again next May and there is a lot of enthusiasm and interest so I'm looking forward to it.
The views presented in the Viewpoint Series are not necessarily representative of the views of The Climate Group.