When it comes to an environmentally friendly lifestyle, Danny Seo walks it like he talks it. The 22-year-old activist keeps his papers in a chic metallic filing cabinet he rescued from a trash bin and reconditioned with a citrus-based paint stripper. His similarly rehabbed refrigerator holds vegan (no meat, eggs or dairy) food, and at night he lies beneath a comforter made from synthetic down (so the geese get to keep their feathers) and hemp fabric (which is stronger and more renewable than cotton). "It's ecofriendly, cruelty-free living for the 21st century," he says. "It has a buzz to it!"
Which is where Seo comes in. The author of two books (his latest is Heaven on Earth: 15-Minute Miracles to Change the World), a contributor to Vegetarian Times, a former Oprah
guest and an aspiring TV producer and personality, Seo hopes to become a kind of ecogroovy Martha Stewart, packaging socially responsible products and lifestyles for mass consumption. His bottom line: You don't have to give up looking fabulous or living well in order to do good.
Though some have criticized his brand of stylish problem-solving as "feelgood activism," Seo—who has been at it since middle school in Reading, Pa., where he started his first environmental group in 1989—clearly relishes the limelight as much as his message. "I see myself as a product," he says. "I'm trying to change the face of what it means to be an environmentalist." The son of an anesthesiologist and a homemaker, Seo, who is single and has no plans to attend college, is currently moving to New York City. PEOPLE contributor Macon Morehouse caught him at his two-room apartment in Washington, D.C., in late September.
How would you describe your philosophy?
I trademarked the term Conscious Style for a book series. I try to cover the environment, animal rights and concern for the world around us, providing ecofriendly, cruelty-free alternatives that are durable, stylish and not terribly expensive. It's all about self-improvement and giving back to the world but also about making a great tofu cheesecake and having great-looking hemp throw pillows on your couch.
If you want to be especially eco-correct, what should you wear?
There are great non-leather shoes out there from DKNY down to Target. You can find organic cotton or synchilla at Patagonia, recycled cashmere at Banana Republic and Tencel dresses at J. Jill. And you can use what you already have in different ways: Recycle your clothes, shop for durability, don't buy on impulse.
What about household stuff?
Look for rugs made of natural coir from coconut husks, jute, which is made from Asian plants, and hemp, which is an incredibly durable fiber. You can find furniture at unusual places like restaurant supply stores or thrift shops and refinish it yourself. You can find citrus-based paint stripper in most mainstream stores. It's a bit more expensive, but I think it makes you feel better to use a product that helps the planet. And the singer Jewel has launched her own line of "green" products: everything from clothes to picture frames.
What advice do you have for people who want to give something back to their communities?
There's a stereotype that the average American is too lazy to be socially responsible, but I don't believe it. I think they just don't know how to get started. And it's easy: I call them 15-minute miracles. You can do anything from giving frequent flyer miles away to children's charities; donating used luggage to a foster-family agency; or just sending your old sneakers to the Nike shoe company—they grind down the rubber and use it to build basketball courts, running tracks, tennis courts and playgrounds all around the nation.
What's going to be hot in ecoconsumerism five years from now?
I think it's going to be recycled aluminum tableware. Bowls, plates, silverware, everything. Also recycled glass. And I think there's going to be furniture made out of salvaged fallen timber found in the bottoms of lakes—you just can't replicate the graining. Recycled polyester fleece, recycled wool, organic cotton and nonleather shoes are all going to be huge.