A New Story of Stuff

Horticulture Group/Flickr
The Evergreen Cooperative in Cleveland—one of many possible “game changing” solutions emerging around the world.

Five years ago, a 20-minute YouTube video called “The Story of Stuff” went viral. The creators can now count 40 million total views of their series, which includes videos on the stories of cosmetics and bottled water.

A new video has just come out: “The Story of Solutions: Why making real change starts with changing the game.” Like past stories, this video sets the narrator, Annie Leonard, against black-and-white stencil animations. But in this version the producers seem to be stepping back from raising awareness about specific problems, and encouraging their millions of followers to be proactive about pursuing solutions—and not blindly.

Solutions are great, Leonard says, but only if they focus on changing the game. Many solutions are presented within the confines of the old game, where the objective is to accumulate more. More roads, more malls, more stuff. Greater growth as measured by a higher gross domestic product is supposed to mean “winning.”

But what if victory was better, instead of more, asks Leonard? Better education, better health, a better chance to survive on this planet?

A real solution changes the game—victory is not in gaining more. A real solution is one that gives the power held by corporations back to people, opens people’s eyes to the idea that stuff doesn’t make us as happy as community and a sense of purpose. A real solution accounts for external costs and lessens the enormous wealth gap.

Examples of solutions like these are everywhere: the Evergreen Cooperative in Cleveland where worker-owners are running green businesses, urban farms, solar communities, online platforms that encourage sharing of everything from tents and cars to tools.

“We want solutions that won’t just change a few of the rules, but solutions that will change the entire rules of the game,” says Leonard.