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Industrial Hemp: The Answer for a Greener Future

Health + Wellness
Industrial Hemp: The Answer for a Greener Future

Bringing It Home

More industrial hemp is exported to the U.S. than to any other country and American consumers are purchasing over $450 million in hemp products annually. Bringing It Home explores the question of why a crop with so many widespread benefits cannot be farmed in the U.S. by illustrating its history and current industries, and by talking to both opponents and proponents of the industrial hemp farming legalization effort.

Bringing It Home tells the story of hemp’s past, present and future through interviews with hemp business leaders and entrepreneurs from all over the globe, historical images and media clips, and footage filmed in the U.K, Spain, Washington D.C., California and North Carolina. The documentary aims to magnify dialogue about hemp in order to facilitate America’s transition to a more informed, sustainable and healthy future.

The film was inspired by environmentally-conscious home designer Anthony Brenner’s story to find the healthiest building material available to build a safe indoor environment for his young daughter Bailey, who has a rare genetic disorder and sensitivity to synthetic chemicals. Brenner made headlines in USA Today and CNN when he completed America’s first hemp house for the former mayor of Asheville, NC. Brenner’s story is one of the inspirational tales profiled in this film that provides viewers with a new connection to the issue of toxicity in human habitats and how hemp can play a role in innovative healthy green building solutions. In Bringing it Home, we followed Brenner’s mission to build The Bird’s Nest, the world’s first hempcrete built, toxin-free residential home for his daughter and other children and adults with disabilities.

A major drawback for Brenner and other U.S. builders using hemp is that the fiber must be imported. We followed the hemp trail of the Asheville house to England where we spoke with hemp business owners and facilities, and filmed hemp farms and commercial structures. We met Kevin McCloud, the popular designer, author and TV host of Grand Designs who developed a hemp townhouse neighborhood in Swindon. We interviewed researcher Dr. Michael Lawrence at the University of Bath’s HemPod research structure, who talks about the humidity regulating and carbon absorbing benefits of hemp construction. West of London, Mike Giffin, farm consultant with Hemp Technology, took us in the field to discuss the benefits of hemp as an agricultural crop. We learned about hemp foods and nutrition from Henry Braham, a hemp farmer and founder of GOOD Oil in the U.K.

Additional interviews with experts filmed at the second International Hemp Building Symposium in Granada, Spain, speak to global hemp industries and uses worldwide, and we visited a Spanish architect and her family in their hemp—Cannabric—home and holiday apartments near Almeria. In Washington, D.C., we try to keep up with energetic Ben Droz, legislative liaison for Vote Hemp, as he works the corridors of Capitol Hill trying to gain sponsors and support for the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, introduced earlier this year. We also visit Capitol Hemp—a retail store featuring hemp clothing and products. Eric Steenstra, with Vote Hemp and Hemp Industries Association (HIA),  shares insights into current U.S. legislative efforts and outreach to the White House.

In California, CEOs David and Mike Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and John Roulac of Nutiva discuss how hemp products built their million dollar American businesses. In Sacramento, we sat down with John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Narcotics Officers Association to hear the opposition to legalizing hemp farming.

Back in North Carolina, we spent time with eco-couture designer Stephanie Teague who uses organic hemp fabrics from China while making a home in Greensboro, NC, where textile industries once employed many. Farmers in Silk Hope, NC, hear about hemp’s agricultural benefits and voice their support for bringing this crop back to American farms where it used to grow.

Hemp’s role in world and American history is treated through lively animation and brief segments, using archival imagery to discuss the importance of hemp during Colonial times through the World War II era, and its eventual classification as a Schedule 1 narcotic, even though the oil, seed and fiber varieties of industrial hemp cannot be used as a drug.

The filmmakers are seeking unique community partnerships and screening venues, such as food co-ops, farms, town halls, organic restaurants, civic and faith groups as well as targeted outreach to colleges across the U.S., primarily institutions with sustainable business, agriculture and environmental conservation programs to organize events. Bringing It Home will be partnering with Vote Hemp to host screenings nationwide among the other hemp awareness events celebrating Hemp History Week, which begins today through June 9.

Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH, FOOD and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

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With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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