Green as mass

Garbage! maker takes his mes­sage to Wal­mart

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ARTS & LIFE - BY VANESSA FAR­QUHAR­SON

An­drew Nisker’s films have never had a the­atri­cal release, but they’re sud­denly get­ting no­ticed around the world, whether it’s by a Tran­syl­va­nian en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist or a top Wal­mart ex­ec­u­tive in Arkansas.

“The folks at Rachel McA­dams’ blog called me, then Criss An­gel’s pro­duc­tion com­pany called, then Leonardo DiCaprio’s blog posted about me,” he says. “Not to name drop, but you know, the word def­i­nitely seems to be get­ting out.”

Pretty im­pres­sive for a guy who spe­cial­izes in low-bud­get doc­u­men­taries about garbage and clean­ing prod­ucts. Per­haps it has some­thing to do with his dis­tri­bu­tion meth­ods — Nisker makes his work avail­able for pur­chase on­line, en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to hold small-scale screen­ings at home or in their lo­cal li­braries, which in turn leads to more vi­ral, word-of-mouth ad­ver­tis­ing — but it could also be that his films are straight­for­ward and ac­ces­si­ble, full of prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to vex­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

His first ef­fort, Garbage!, tracked a Toronto fam­ily who agreed to keep their garbage for three months, even­tu­ally con­fronting the ef­fect it will have on the Earth when they dump it. His lat­est film is Che­mer­i­cal, which adopts a sim­i­lar guinea-pig sce­nario, chron­i­cling a fam­ily as they strug­gle to rid their house of chem­i­cals and make all their clean­ing, beauty and hy­giene prod­ucts from scratch.

But the in­ter­est from Wal­mart’s head­quar­ters marks an of­fi­cial turn­ing point in Nisker’s ca­reer; he’s gone from send­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal mes­sages via grass­roots film­mak­ing to speak­ing di­rectly to one of Amer­ica’s big­gest cor­po­ra­tions.

“One of their em­ploy­ees got in touch with me af­ter see­ing Garbage!,” Nisker says, “and wanted me to come down and talk to them. I think my key mes­sage will be that the revo­lu­tion al­ways starts at home. It’s con­sumers who make choices, which in turn leads to pol­icy change from gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions.

“From what I’ve read, Wal­mart ac­tu­ally seems to be one of the most pro­gres­sive com­pa­nies in the world,” he adds. “They have great ad­vi­sors, they’re try­ing to make sure they know ex­actly how their prod­ucts are made. But they also have 1.9 mil­lion em­ploy­ees, which is a big au­di­ence. I’m ex­cited to get their at­ten­tion.”

When the time comes for Nisker to speak to this au­di­ence at the end of April, he in­tends to dis­cuss is­sues per­tain­ing to waste (such as prod­uct life­spans), as well as the pos­si­bil­ity of the com­pany reeval­u­at­ing its line of clean­ing prod­ucts.

Take the GreenWorks brand, by Clorox. “It’s a pretty light-green so­lu­tion,” Nisker ar­gues, “but it’s sig­nif­i­cant that they even chose to of­fer it in the first place, and it does make a dif­fer­ence. Ul­ti­mately, I have to de­cide whether I want to make an en­emy or open a di­a­logue and find so­lu­tions. Wal­mart is driven by profit, so if they can make profit by sell­ing sus­tain­able things and op­er­at­ing in a sus­tain­able way, I think they’ll be all for it.”

The release of Che­mer­i­cal, along­side Nisker’s ap­pear­ance at Wal­mart, comes at a time when tox­ins — es­pe­cially those present in clean­ing prod­ucts — are mak­ing head­lines ev­ery day; mean­while, books such as Slow Death By Rub­ber Duck, about the evils of Te­flon, flame re­tar­dants and bisphe­nol-A, are on the best­seller list.

“There will be huge shift,” Nisker says. “It’s ob­vi­ous, right now, if you just look at the green clean­ing mar­ket. In 2009, even with the re­ces­sion, the green clean­ing mar­ket grew 30%. Peo­ple are re­dis­cov­er­ing things like bak­ing soda, vine­gar and olive oil; it’s cheaper, as well as health­ier, to live like this, so why wouldn’t you?”

❚ Che­mer­i­cal airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Su­per Chan­nel. In Toronto, it screens at the Royal Cin­ema next Tues­day at 7 p.m. See an­ for more.


Through his films, An­drew Nisker hopes there will be less trash to take out.

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