EXCLUSIVE Interview with Meg O’Neill, Manager of PlanetGreen.com and Treehugger.com

Formerly an architect writer, eco diva Meg O’Neill now manages the great websites for Planet Green tv network (part of Discovery Network). Those websites are PlanetGreen.com and the infamous Treehugger.com. Listen to Meg and the Green Living Guy talk about how it all started, where the upcoming lineup is headed and how renewable energy is really the green energy of the future.

The interview took place in 2010 so you’ll understand when you read the interview and hear shows that are already on Planet Green or have been on the network.  Here is my exclusive interview.

GLG: Green Living Guy here. Just hanging out, not freezing now. I was in my last interview with some people but now, not freezing. I’m hanging out. I’m talking with the great Meg O’Neill who, believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, is the editor of both planetgreen.com and treehugger.com. A superstar, rock star, you can’t even, it’s so hard. I’m so impressed, I’m so happy to be just in the presence of such greatness. How you’re doing, Meg O’Neil!

Meg ONeill: I’m pretty great after an intro like that.

GLG: I try to do my thing, what can I tell you. So what’s going on at, let’s see. Let’s pick which one. Oh, you know what? Let’s start with, you start with TreeHugger, correct? So let’s talk about your whole history with the whole Planet Green and TreeHugger family and how it all started for you. I think that’s a good way to start it off.

Meg O’Neill: Sure. Well, I joined TreeHugger 5 years ago, a little over 5 years ago right after launch and at that time I had been working as a journalist covering primarily architecture and design stories. And there is a big movement already happening culturally in architecture and design in green and I was just really fascinated by that. It was something that I was following and reporting on quite a bit. And when we launched TreeHugger, it was very design focused and so it was a good, a good fit. I met Graham Hill who’s the founder of the site and we were often running. I was writing the stories; he was running pretty much everything else. He’s a designer and a media architect and off we went. We felt that pretty quickly that there was — that our audience is hungry for more than just design information and news so we quickly expanded into covering nature, politics, fashion, food, health, and all the categories that we have today.

GLG: Right.

Meg O’Neill:  Here we are.

GLG: Wow! That’s a story, man. Now, I’m going too…That’s awesome! That’s great! I never realized that you had an architecture and design background that helps you to make, well, originally TreeHugger to be so, you know, I guess hit and stylish and conscious of not just going green but looking great at the same time. It was really that connection that I think only increased your web traffic back then exponentially as should say.

Meg O’Neill:  Yeah. That was our — that was sort of our MO. You can go green and look good doing it.

GLG: Yeah it was, definitely. Yeah, I mean tell me more about like how you each story written had that the whole thing about feeling good and looking good and understanding how to go green at the same time. What was that mission you are trying to get accomplished with almost every story that you are getting out there? Like what was the mission when you put a story out there that it contains not just the side of the story, if you know what I mean?

Meg O’Neill: Sure. Well, we, you know, our mission was that and remains now — sustainability into the mainstream. And I think we’ve come a long way but we’ve still got a long way to go. But you know, we still very much believe that design in a large sense can be a solution to many of the problems that we face. So not just, I mean not just how we design our homes or our rags or our clothes but literally how we design our cities. So it’s everything. I mean design is behind everything from toilet paper to subway system.

GLG: (Laughs) I never look at it that way but it’s true, yeah.

Meg O’Neill: And so, so we really look at things that way, systematically, and designers are creative people and they’re problems solvers. And that’s how we see the issues of sustainability. So many green designers will say what we have here is a design problem. We have to think to use that sort of tight trace out of the box but we do. We have to think about things in new ways. We have to think about the embodied energy of products that we make and also what happens to them at the end of their lifecycle as well as what happens to us while we use them. And so thinking about things in that closed group system is really what design is all about and it’s also what sustainability is all about. So that’s where the real overlap is, and there are a few things.

GLG: That’s cool, that’s cool. I like that. And then the Planet Green merger with TreeHugger, how was that? How do you think it’s gone? Where is it going? What’s the future with the planetgreen.com or Planet Green in general? I mean it’s just so exciting to have the channel out there. So where is it going? What’s cooking with that whole thing?

Meg O’Neill: Well, as we reported, this merger and acquisition, TreeHugger acquires Discovery Communications.

GLG: Really now? Hey now!

Meg O’Neill: This of course, it’s a little bit of a joke.

GLG: Now that’s funny.

Meg O’Neill: We were purchased by Discovery Communications which is of course parent company of Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Science Channel, all those goods on air and online fusions in 2007 and it’s been really great for us. It’s been a way for us to expand our audience, expand our resources, start to infiltrate TV, and that’s a whole new world of media for us which has been really fun. The reason why we were acquired by discovery was because they were launching a new channel called Planet Green and the website planetgreen.com and what to say in the on-air channel are really looking to deal or just look at sort of future forward, passionate people doing forward thinking things and just sort of see what the good future is going to look like. So online, TreeHugger’s are very news-oriented stuff, sort of the bleeding edge concepts, ideas, and news of what’s happening in green. And Planet Green is our service, how to section and it’s also you’ll see more and more. We’re branching into a lot more storytelling about people and about people doing passionate things, not just in the green things but in really all arenas of the humanity. It’s everything from fashion and looking at things like fair trade to technologies in medicine, to humanitarian design and just to show that the idea of green really goes beyond even just environmentalism. It’s really about sort of a world view of how we look at doing things, the welfare of all people on earth.

GLG: Yeah. What’s really green is really life, it’s everything in life. I mean when you think about sustainability, it’s everything you do, everything you create, everything you bring into this world has a beginning, a middle and an end. And with that, you create something where it comes from.  You produce it somewhere else most of the time and then you shift you back to where you are going to sell it and all that has a net the fact. So it’s great to have a channel like this. How has the channel looking forward in its programming? Where is it headed? Is it looking also to more video content on the internet so that people can like get old seasons or something like that, or where is the future leading that which will also be for green, too? Because you guys are really leading the charge, no pun intended with the electric car thing, but I don’t but it’s just, where is it going? It’s so exciting so I am just so curious where green people are heading when they’re going forward.

Meg O’Neill: Yeah. Well, there are some really cool programming coming up, some new original contents coming up for Planet Green and some of these shows include one that I am really excited about is called Future Food. It is the story of this avant garde chef who is in Chicago and he is making food in the most wild of ways, literally like printing food out on a computer. You go into his restaurant and you’re served — the menu is edible, okay. He’s done everything. You’re served cotton candy and it is like a picture of a piece of cotton candy on a piece of paper that you eat and it tastes just like cotton candy.

GLG: Oh my goodness.

Meg O’Neill: I mean really wild stuff and his kitchen is more like a science lab than it is like a traditional restaurant kitchen. These guys are just doing wild stuff in the kitchen. I mean they’re using lasers, they’re blowing stuff up, they combining the wackiest stuff, but at the end of the day there are big, their big thing is combating world hunger. So, we see on this show how they approach all of these things and they are just fascinating people. Another one that has just launched is called Operation Wild. It is sort of like animal cops if you will.

GLG: Alright then.

Meg O’Neill: It’s environmental police.

GLG: Bad boys, bad boys. What you gonna do?

Meg O’Neill: In the Florida Everglades and it is just wild. They go through their stuff and poachers, they’re saving animals. I mean this is a hard work.

GLG: Yeah, yeah.

Meg O’Neill: These are just regular guys and this is what they do for their job. I mean it is just fascinating. Another one that I am loving that you’re going to see launching soon is called The Fabulous Beekman Boys and this is a sort of a docu drama series if you will about these two man, they are couple and they live the city life in New York where one of them was a…one is a doctor and he was working for Martha Stuart on the media company, the other one is an author and they moved out into the country to run a farm.

GLG: Alright then.

Meg O’Neill: It’s a story of city boys gone and it’s just that they have goats and they grow food and they make soap and they’re quite successful at it through of course many trials and tribulations but the real story is about how they connect with their community in the small town in Upstate New York where they live and…

GLG: Where is that located?

Meg O’Neill: I can’t remember the name of the town, I can’t remember.

GLG: Okay.

Meg O’Neill: Sorry.

GLG: No worries. Moving on…so.

Meg O’Neill: Yeah. It’s a wonderful show.

GLG: Awesome.

Meg O’Neill: And they’re great guys, and it is just — it’s really real. It’s cool.

GLG: Right. I dig it, yeah, because it’s, well, it’s definitely a shift for somebody and going from the city to the country and then living that life but that sounds like a definitely a huge line up coming up here. And going forward, I guess, I guess some question that I’d have for you is where do you think were headed or where does Planet Green and Discovery think were headed with energy? I guess is, how do I put it, the way the future is, especially in this country is definitely toward renewable and clean technologies. We just saw an executive water for that today, but we got to be concerned about how we’re creating our energy, and what do you think the core mission of Planet Green is when it talks about, I know what it does, I know you guys and we all love electric cars and all that stuff and it is great but energy is the big thing of the day so what’s your thoughts on that?

Meg O’Neill: Sure, I mean energy is a huge, huge issue. We are consumers of energy that’s pretty much what we do. Cars and transportation are vitally important to the equation of reducing our carbon as a nation to a sustainable level. We’ve got a long way to go, but that’s only one part of the equation. For most individuals, our homes are our biggest sources of carbon output which is a surprised for many people. Many people think it is their car or their use of transportation. But how we use energy and what kind of energy we use is of vital importance. We absolutely need to shift to a clean energy economy as fast as possible. The politics of that is extremely complex of course.

GLG: Yeah, it is.

Meg O’Neill: Which is now they already exist. That’s that good news.

GLG: Yeah, I hear you. I feel the same way. I mean, we’re on the same page there, you know what I mean, and it is funny because it is like, it’s always been. That’s one thing I put in and build your own electric vehicle and it’s like electric cars have always been here. Solar has been here. Wind has been here, I mean the Dutch, hello. I mean we’ve had stuff around and wind has been around because I am talking. Anyway, so, what do you think about? I mean what do you think about which is all thought provoking lately, I hate to use it, but the state of the union and the where we’re headed in energy policy in this country?

Meg O’Neill: Well, I mean Obama talked about, he did sort of a debate going out in the green community that he say enough about renewable energy, did he not say enough. He mentions nuclear. He has appeared to be, if not pro-nuclear, certainly supportive of the idea of nuclear. I think it is a really important debate that we have to have. I don’t, TreeHugger and Planet Green I would say that the first thing that we would want to see is no new coal and we have got to start using coal. It is just old fashion and it is not relevant anymore. We don’t need it. The question of nuclear is an extremely complex one. We haven’t built a new nuclear facility in this country for 30 years or more. It is clean energy in the sense of carbon. There’s obviously some huge issues with waste storage that we haven’t solved.

GLG: Correct, yeah.

Meg O’Neill: So I personally think we can do better than nuclear but from a political standpoint, it might be something that we have to look at.

GLG: Yeah. It’s unfortunately a football.

Meg O’Neill: I hope that we see a lot more decentralized energy. We are fighting about whether wind is the right thing to do or solar is the right thing to do. Well, the truth is it’s the right thing to do depending on where you are. I live in Rode Island and my house is like about to blow down today.

It is so windy. But we have a few, we have two wind turbines on the small island where I live and think that that’s, and they’ve been hugely successful and people actually love them for the most part. People are in support of them.

So I think that that’s good news, though we definitely need much better several policy to help us build these things, not only as energy producers in the country but even just building the parts themselves. I mean we’re hearing it all over the place now.  We’re where should shipping all of these, all of these technical jobs overseas to build wind turbines in China. We’re going to be behind again pretty quickly.

GLG: That’s right. Science and education is the big thing and it’s just crazy that we bring those jobs over their when we could be doing them here. We talk about an economic revitalization of this country and the first thing I think of is building more energy efficient opportunities here because it is the way of the future and it is not even at this point I think even the way of the future is now and it is the future, it’s today and it has been for awhile and it is going forward. If we do not start creating the economy here, everybody else will start a following. China is not, is going that way.  They will continue to dominate on that front if we don’t step up and I think that messages that we’re bringing out into shows like Planet Green and the other television that’s starting to do that I think only will help people to see that we got to do this. I just would be curious just on the technological standpoint, where is Planet Green on talking regularly about clean technology and creating content so that people can have a venue for that? I know there is one show that I can think of and I’m forgetting the name that I saw once where they talked about clean energy but it there going to be more of a discussion about that going forward on Planet Green?

Meg O’Neil’: Yeah. You’re definitely going to see more, some new technology shows coming out. These have not been formalized or released yet but they will be soon. Because actually, a couple exciting things in the works that are going to be very tech oriented that I think will be really cool.  One of the mission that Discovery at large is to certainly educate but also entertain. So the programming that you see across the Discovery network really focuses on getting you excited about the content and making you want to watch it and making it fun. I mean think about a show like the Myth Busters. You learn so much but it is so fun to watch.

GLG: Yes, it is. Yes.

Meg O’Neill: So that’s our real goal, if not to be real policy oriented or wonky or newsie on air.

GLG: Well, thank goodness, because I got out of politics a long time ago for that reason. I am sorry. But go ahead.

Meg O’Neill: But to really entertain the viewer and the audience could get them excited about this stuff. So I think you’re going to see a lot of cool stuff coming down the plate.

GLG: That’s great. I mean it only help a network like Planet Green the on the forefront which it already is, don’t get me wrong, but I mean even that more forward thinking than it already is and already leading the charge, no pun intended now for a larger cause. Anyway, so. But I would, that’s my Mr Subliminal, remember that from Saturday Night Live. So it is great that we are hearing more about that because the debate still rages about nuclear or nuke or nuke-cular or coal or clean coal, or clean…that there is such a thing as clean coal or is it just me blowing smoke somewhere, that’s not cool. Is it and then you have got all these other more natural gas exploration yet. I remember, which is ironic, not ironic but that we just recently had in my area, we defeated a natural gas pipeline. I mean I do not get why we are still fighting that, I should not say fighting, not fight, but I’d say more like talking about that when really the economy is toward and it would be the smartest thing just for us to focus on it a lot more on going green. I mean every…there are so many ways that we can be going green that it’s like we can do it. It’s just the will. It’s the free will and it’s sometimes so funny in that irony because we could be doing so much more if we just had the ability to just do it. Meaning, and I think that’s what’s great about Planet Green because it didn’t just enables you, they just do it.

You do not have to worry about the government waiting…you don’t have to worry about a Copenhagen. You do not have to worry about somewhere else to do that. You just turn on the TV and learn some stuff, go on the website planetgreen.com and read some stuff. By the way, check out me in planetgreen.com, add a request, and it is just great how a show, there is a network like this. There is no other real network like this. Yeah, there are other channels that have environmental or green content. But you guys are doing why I went to Sundance which is like 100% green all the time. And it’s just so wonder to have you guys around doing your thing and bringing further content. So, if you unless you have got anything, well, you know what? I am going to leave you with the parting words Bill O’Reilly once said. I’ll leave you with the last word but I will do it in…but the only difference is I do it fuller than him, sorry Bill. I am trying to just bring love, not anger, like that. That guy just needs to go to a doctor and talk to somebody. I love the guy.

He’s fun to watch. He is entertaining but he needs to talk to somebody because he is just way too angry, have fun, enjoy yourself, enjoy life, because if you just keep green, all great things happen from not just your energy but how you feel when you eat to the water you drink. I mean it’s just great. So, any last words?

Meg O’Neil’: Well you know, you just reminded me when you are talking about the political will to change everything. It reminded me of something that Al Gore, that controversial character once said, and he said that we have everything we need to go forward with the Green Movement except political will, but luckily, political will is a renewable resource.

GLG: [laughing] I like that one.

Meg O’Neill: In fact, we have everything, everything we need except to, except to everybody
listening, to move it forward.

GLG: I agree with that one and thank you so much, Meg, for taking the time on a Friday when you could be hanging with your lovely daughter and you’re hanging out with me to talk about great green things but that’s what we do with people, that lovely Green Movement. We can not stop talking about it. I just have to do one thing if you don’t mind. If it was not for my sponsors or whatever, I wouldn’t be blessed with the opportunity to, not just spring podcast but go the places like Sundance or just do great things and I work with great green companies. I got a geothermal company I’m working with called J Egg or Egg Geothermal and they’re like in the southeast so check them out on the web, Egg Geothermal, and also A Lot To Say which is http://www.alottosay.com and they have got 100% recycle plastic bottles as their t-shirts. They feel like soap guys. The women love them and the guys love them, too. I wear them, I wore it at Sundance, believe it or not guys. I wore this thing. It felt great, big old change, blue change in the middle of it. You can check me out on greenlivingguy.com and check out my picture on there and you will see the shirt.

It is awesome and it’s 60% less energy to make. No water and they’re all made in the USA, and the people at A Lot To Say are the coolest and it just shows how which is what great thing about people like Meg or anybody that I have noticed in the Green Movement is just everybody wants to do the right thing. Everybody is so cool. Everybody is so fun. And it is just that the more good great things you do, the more positive things happen around you and that’s what people just want to exude in green, it’s just positivity. So rock on, Meg, and just keep on doing what you’re doing because it is so great. So thank you much again.

Meg O’Neill: Thank you!

GLG: Alright. Thank you! Green Living Guy saying peace out, have a great weekend. I’m definitely calling it quits for today and stay green 100% all the time. Signing out!