Green initiatives — be they on the TV screen, within a company or in the community — don't happen by themselves. Every network and cable operator that is venturing into environmentalism has people who are making that extra effort to bring green into the mainstream and put their companies and the public on the right path toward confronting the current climate crisis. Multichannel News has chosen five such individuals who are helping chart an eco-friendly course for the industry as a whole. Each of them is putting environmental issues front and center, on the job and in their lives. Together, they are this year's Green Team.
Lidia Agraz, Time Warner Austin
Growing up in Mexico City, Lidia Agraz learned at an early age not to take certain things for granted.
“We were middle-class but in a city of 20 million, you knew the water could run out or the lights might go off,” said Agraz, vice president of public affairs at Time Warner Cable in Austin, Texas. So when Agraz came to America 15 years ago, she said, “it was shocking how people here take things like power and water for granted.”
When an American spills something, they often grab five paper towels, Agraz said, while she was raised to use fewer towels and to squeeze the water out afterwards and leave them out to dry. “We learned you do not waste. It was about values more than environmentalism. I only realized it was an environmental issue when I came to Austin and saw how this abundance affected other people — the attitude here is that it's always cheaper to buy something new than to fix something.”
At work, Agraz, who admits only to being in her late 40s, has looked at a much bigger picture, overseeing Time Warner Austin's involvement in the community and public affairs. Because of her interest in the environment and the openness of the company, she has pushed for things like telecommuting to cut down on travel and helped raise money and motivate others at work to contribute to building a park in a poor area of town.
But her biggest accomplishment was to convince the division to spend more money just to improve the environment. Wanting Time Warner Austin, which employs 1,600 people and has 400,000 customers, to help set an example, she signed up for a partnership in Austin's Green Choice program, in which the company pays a premium to replace some of its electrical power with green power produced from renewable energy.
At home, Agraz focuses more on small gestures and incremental efforts — she and her husband compost, buy local produce from farmers markets as much as possible and live close to downtown so they can walk to go shopping, bringing cloth bags along with them. “It takes a commitment but I'm doing my part,” she said.
Heidi Cullen, The Weather Channel
A career in front of the camera was, to be honest, the last thing Heidi Cullen expected in her life. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen,” said The Weather Channel climatologist who is the face of the network's “Forecast: Earth” programming — both in its regular Sunday evening hour-long block and during weekday vignettes.
Then again, even though she was extremely interested in science while growing up in Staten Island, N.Y., Cullen, 37, didn't expect to become an expert on global warming, a topic that didn't even exist in public conversation back then. “I was into Jacques Cousteau and wanted to study oceanography,” she recalled.
But practicality initially won out and at Columbia University, Cullen studied engineering (with a religion minor), focusing on the mathematics- and probability-heavy operations research. From there she worked as a quantitative analyst on Wall Street until she realized that it was foolish not to pursue her passion. “It was my second chance at my education so I wanted to do something I really cared about,” she said.
So she headed back to Columbia, this time for a Ph.D. While she started out focusing on oceanography, an advisor who modeled the patterns of El Nino and a summer spent working on an archeological study of climate change opened her eyes.
“When we see that an ancient civilization collapsed because of climate change and when you see that understanding how a system like El Nino works so you make predictions to help people avoid more misery, you see how you can make science useful,” she said. Cullen went on to earn a degree in climatology and ocean atmosphere dynamics in 2000.
She continued doing research around the world, especially in the Middle East and South America, while working for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Then four years ago, she got a call from meteorologist Stu Ostro, who wanted her to come work for him at The Weather Channel.
“I had never even seen The Weather Channel before,” she admitted. “But I thought, if I don't take this job I'll always wonder what if. Also I thought it would be good to remove myself from this ivory tower where I was writing a paper 12 people might read. On television, I'd be able to teach a large group of people.”
Talking to viewers in terms they could understand and in a way that made compelling television was a major challenge. “It was like stepping onto another planet,” she said. “It took a good year to figure out how to put on makeup for television, how to communicate, how to act on camera, how to use visuals, how not to caveat every point to death and how to find the relevancy for the viewers.”
But it was worth it. In a world where politics often overwhelms policy discussions, especially on something as tremendous as global warming, Cullen said she's able to present the facts clearly and cogently, acting as a voice for the scientific and academic communities. “I can raise the profile of this issue,” she said. “We've never had a climatologist speaking directly to the people before.”
John Moore, Fox Networks Group
John Moore, 41, grew up in Washington, the Evergreen State, on beautiful Whidbey Island. Sounds like the perfect breeding ground for someone who would eventually oversee Fox Networks Group's internal effort to green itself, right? Well, not exactly.
Moore, who now lives in Long Beach, Calif., is something of an accidental environmentalist. “I'm not a treehugger, and I'm not a political person. I'm more pragmatic than anything,” he said. His title — vice-president of environmental, health and safety for Fox Networks Group — certainly has a pragmatist's ring to it.
Moore didn't pursue a green career — his path actually started 19 years ago in the Air Force, where he worked on toxicity exposure issues; he followed that issue into the private sector. But in the new century, after having kids and seeing the changes in society, he says his focus at work began to shift “to thinking about the right thing to do rather than compliant thing to do.”
Moore, of course, also takes the logical and businesslike view of most things environmental, so he has changed his incandescent light bulbs to the new compact fluorescents and bought energy-efficient appliances. “It's a money-saving issue,” he said.
Along those same lines, Moore, who currently drives a Nissan Maxima, said that when he gets a new car in September, he is “seriously considering a hybrid.” As an incentive, News Corp. offers rebates to employees purchasing hybrid vehicles. Moore also bought a Terra Pass, which calculates how much carbon dioxide your car uses, then charges you to offset those emissions by investing in alternative energies.
Like many other parents, Moore was inspired by a desire to leave a “legacy” for his children, but in his case, he added, there was, perhaps not surprisingly, a practical issue as well. “Both of my children have life-threatening allergies, so we buy organic products,” he said. This goes beyond just organic foods to include clean detergents and fertilizers that are phosphate-free. Moore also does composting.
“With my children I'm always looking around to say, 'What else can we do,” he said.
Eileen O'Neill, Planet Green
For Eileen O'Neill, the former general manager of Discovery Health and now head of Discovery's Planet Green, becoming a parent was a “trigger” for becoming greener. But O'Neill, 40, also credits her parent company.
“My awareness about the environment really began when I came to Discovery 17 years ago,” she said. “I've grown up here. In my life, my values have grown through knowledge — I believe the more you know the better you will be — and you just can't help yourself when you are part of Discovery's value system.”
That said, O'Neill also credits Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth with crystallizing all the information to convey the urgency of the current climate crisis for her, giving her extra motivation in her personal life.
She added that the developing green marketplace — which her new network will explore in detail — also makes it easier since there are more green products and services readily available and affordable. For instance, O'Neill said she uses a green dry cleaner and buys organic food as much as possible “though certainly not 100%.”
While she said her next car will a hybrid, in the meantime she's driving less and taking a commuter bus once or twice a week from her home in Columbia, Md. to Discovery's Silver Spring offices.
I know that if we each do better, we are going to make a difference,” she said. “I'm not perfect in any way and can be more aggressive.”
For O'Neill, it's all about “finding that balance” that allows her and her family to still do what they need to do while living as green as possible. In a sense, she says, she hopes that Planet Green and all of Discovery's green initiatives are reflective of her own personal journey: “I think we're saying, 'Come with us as we figure things out and share what we know.' ”
Lauren Zalaznick, Bravo
Lauren Zalaznick had just started working with Jeff Zucker after the NBC Universal merger when she leaned over to him during a presentation by parent company General Electric about its new Ecomagination initiative. “Why don't we have our own version,” she asked the boss.
Eighteen months later, Zucker unveiled NBCU's “Get On Board” campaign, the foundation of which is the NBCU Green Council, which will decide on what steps the company should take. The Council brings together executives from each NBCU unit and departments ranging from programming to human resources; and for the chair, Zucker selected Bravo president Zalaznick.
Zalaznick is not a dyed-in-the-organic-wool green. As a child of Depression-era parents, she was taught to re-use everything — “don't crumple up the tin foil but make it smooth and put it back in the drawer” — and growing up in the 1970s, she vividly recalls the anti-pollution TV spot featuring a tearful Indian. Still, in college, she was “aware but not activated. Treehuggers were not cool then.” It wasn't until she got older, and especially when she had children that she began consciously changing her lifestyle.
“Kids are real rivers of awareness these days,” she said, adding that if she leaves the water on for “a split second” when she's brushing her teeth, one of her three children will not only reach across and shut the water, “they'll also admonish me.”
The family has refused to buy a sport-utility vehicle, having just decided to keep their 1998 minivan plugging along until they can find a good hybrid option for a family of five. Of course, the good thing is that living in New York City, they're less reliant on a car anyway, Zalaznick added. “My kids walk to school, and I take a subway to work.”
Zalaznick also always made a point of shopping at greenmarkets, where farmers from the region bring their produce. “I try to buy local even over organic,” she said.
Recently, she has gone one step further and joined a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, in which groups of people pay a local farmer in advance of the growing season so the farmer has money to stay afloat; the farmer then delivers whatever crops are harvested in a given week. “I'm really good with beet greens now,” Zalaznick said.
She also finds other little ways to take action. “We request that the dry cleaner not use those plastic bags and bring our own suit bags,” she said. “I'm a big believer in small things and personal responsibility.”