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The Story of Stuff: a Review

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Submitted By MaxJef
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The Story of Stuff: A Review
The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute film aimed at raising awareness on the dangers of excessive human consumption. Presented by Annie Leonard – an activist for consumerism and environmental sustainability (Story Of Stuff Project, 2013) – this video provides a simple yet well researched explanation on the ‘behind-the-scenes’ management of the life-cycle of common items consumed daily in the United States. From mining and manufacturing to distribution, consumption and waste, this presentation takes viewers on a journey to explore many missing fragments that are hardly ever reported in the system (Leonard, 2009). Watched by over 12 million people worldwide, and translated into over 15 languages (Roosevelt, 2010), Leonard has received both applauds and criticisms for her unapologetic condemnation of humans (especially Americans) – for their excessive consumption and wasteful habits – and her rather conspicuous allegation of the devious relationship between the government and private corporations.
One significant issue that Leonard (2009) presented in the video was that, due to human activity, natural resources around the world are rapidly diminishing. Natural resources such as minerals and trees are constantly mined and felled to satisfy men’s insatiable appetite for more goods. The presentation revealed that in the last decade, one-third of the world’s resource base has depleted. Furthermore, it is said that only four percent of forests in the United States still stand. Most astonishingly, it is also discovered that approximately 2,000 trees in the Amazon are being chopped down every minute (De Seve, 2002; Leonard, 2009). These alarming statistics have demonstrated how flawed the primary extraction stage of the product life-cycle management is, and if it was to be continued indefinitely, mother earth would one day be uninhabitable for our future generations.
Another major issue that Leonard (2009) addressed in her presentation was that, humans nowadays are unnecessarily buying far more ‘stuff’, compared to thirty years ago. She demonstrated that goods today are either designed to be frequently replaced or to convince consumers that their product requires an upgrade. From the limited life-cycle of electronic gadgets and household items to seasonal alteration in footwear fashion, this concept of planned and perceived obsolescence drives the machine of American consumerism all year round (Leonard, 2009). However, as consumers purchase new ‘stuff’, their older – but rather functioning – ones are either discarded or chucked away, never to be seen again. Humans, particularly Americans, should be awaken from this oxymoronic and wasteful practice, as it not only affects our economy, but also our future years to come.
Throughout the presentation, Leonard (2009) reiterated the “special” relationship between the government and major corporations, and asserted that the government of the day, although ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’, is mainly engrossed on pleasing the corporations, meanwhile disregarding the proper wellbeing of its citizens. Leonard purported that many private corporations today are endlessly conspiring approaches to influence consumer behavior, yet overlooking many unforeseen psychological and environmental ramifications. It is no surprise that private companies and organizations indirectly wield immense hegemony over the government, as they are the ones that dominate the nation’s economy (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2013). Another factor for this partiality could also be the heavy dependence of political parties on campaign funds, which are primarily contributed by the corporations themselves (Heard, 1960).
Overall, the messages conveyed through The Story of Stuff – although provocative – are fundamentally correct. Critics worldwide have denounced Leonard for being ‘un-American’ (Kupfer, 2011) for speaking against human nature. Nevertheless, she has presented many compelling facts about the hidden cost of cheap goods. The system is indeed in crisis, as humans, especially Americans, are consuming much more than necessary, while taking no notice of the severe social, environmental and economic consequences that are likely to develop in the near future. Additionally, the idea that the government is more concerned of major corporations rather than the interest of its people, is also reasonably true. Although her approach to the matter may seem outrageous to some, her opinion clearly comes from a pure and conscious place and has the planet’s best interests at heart.

De Seve, K. (2002). Welcome to my jungle… Before it’s gone. Science World, 58(11), 7. Retrieved from
Kupfer, D. (2011, August 2). Interview: Annie Leonard, creator of 'the story of stuff'. Reuters. Retrieved from
Leonard, A. (2009, April 22). The story of stuff [Video file]. Retrieved from
Roosevelt, M. (2010, July 13). Teaching 'stuff' about ecology. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
Story Of Stuff Project. (2013). Annie Leonard. Retrieved from
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. (2013). Value added by industry as a percentage of gross domestic product. [Report] Retrieved from

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