Discovery Channel Flew Me to London. Here’s How I Made the Flight Worth it…

Robin Greenfield walking through a forest with a woman.
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I’m absolutely no big shot in the entertainment world but I do have a few things in the making. This summer I took a pause halfway through my bicycle ride across the United States to film my first TV show. It was a grueling survival experience in the Louisiana swamps for Discovery Channels newest survival show, Tethered. I was dropped in waste deep swamp water by an airboat to await the arrival of a stranger who’d accompany me for the next 10 days of survival. A half an hour later, another airboat cruised up and a fancy looking guy named Kevin blundered towards me. I thought I had been set up; this guy was just too clumsy and clueless to really be my partner. But within two minutes of saying hello we were tethered together by a six-foot rope and sent on our way to fend for ourselves. We had just the clothes on our backs, a water purifier, machete, and a dozen matches. I can honestly say it was the most miserable experience of my free adult life but it made for an excellent experience.

Tethered on Discovery Channel (Photo Courtesy of Discovery Communications)
Tethered on Discovery Channel (Photo Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

Tethered is a survival show but it is more about the human interaction in harsh environments than about the survival itself. I agreed to do the show for a few reasons. First, I knew being stuck to someone in the wild would teach me to be a more compassionate, accepting, and patient being, and those are all very important characteristics for me. Secondly, because I saw it as a platform to spread goodness and inspire viewers to live in a manner that is beneficial to the earth, their communities, and themselves. Lastly, it was my introduction to the TV world, which is a world I intend to be a part of.

The show aired last Sunday and you can watch it at Discovery Channel online or purchase it from Amazon.

So that is what has led up to the title of this blog that got you here. About a month ago Discovery invited me to a press event in London to promote the show. I wanted to go but I quickly turned down the opportunity, not being able to justify the long flight for just a two-day event. But then I decided to slow down and brainstorm. I thought “How can I do this and create a ripple of positive impact larger than the negative impact of my flight?” There would be journalists from major media outlets such as The Guardian and Men’s Health from about ten countries in Europe and beyond. This would be an opportunity to spread some good stuff in the media as well as a great opportunity to get my foot farther into the door of Discovery, which I’d like to have my own show on eventually.

I quickly came up with an idea as I sat on the bank of the Potomac River on a sunny afternoon. When Discovery had invited me to London, they told me that they would pay for my flight (economy plus), hotel room, private transportation, meals, and give me a per diem. Basically they would take care of my every need and a whole lot more. If you know anything about me you know I don’t need much. So I proposed to Discovery that any money I could save them by using less expensive travel options, they would donate to a nonprofit to offset my carbon footprint from the flight. They said yes with very few questions.

I needed to grab some shoes and pants before taking off though, since it would be cold in London so I stopped by Film Biz Recycling in Brooklyn to grab an outfit. (I biked across the USA from San Diego without shoes, and it was summer so I didn’t have pants with me in New York). The TV industry is incredibly wasteful and every movie, show, or commercial typically buys sets and props brand new, uses them for a short period of time, and then throws them away nearly brand new. Film Biz Recycling has created relationships with all the major production companies in NYC, has diverted over one million pounds of perfectly good stuff that the TV industry would have thrown away, and instead sells it or rents it out from their warehouse store in Brooklyn. You can find some pretty awesome stuff there for personal or commercial usage and Eva hooked me up with an outfit for London, 100% used and saved from the dumpster!

Discovery Flew Me to London 2
So the next day I flew to London, and to divert money to a nonprofit I:

-Flew in economy rather than economy plus
-Took public transportation rather than being picked up by a private vehicle
-Stayed with a friend rather than in the hotel

All of this added up to a whopping $2,000 from this short stay. The London Edition, where they put everyone up, was apparently one of the nicest in London, and went for over $700/ night. Besides the fact that I was able to divert the money to a good cause I wouldn’t have accepted any of these fancy accommodations in the first place. I aim to live as eco friendly as possible whether money is an issue or not. Besides the above, I also turned down food on the airplane that was packaged in order to not create trash, ate veggies, and didn’t have any meat at all of the meals. I also rejected bottled water, and spent money at local businesses rather than large multi-national corporations. These are just a few of the simple things that I do pretty consistently to live in an earth-friendly manner. With all of my daily environmental practices, the only negative impact directly related to traveling was the flight. Everything else I would have done whether I was at home or traveling. They also gave me about $200 per diem, which covered all my public transportation and meals when I wasn’t with them. I had $150 of it left over still, which I’ll put to good use back in the USA.

The press event was awesome too. We took the journalists out into the woods and learned some survival skills. We Tethered up for the afternoon to give them a bit of the experience of the show.

Discovery Flew Me to London 3

This is what it looks like when 10 journalists practice fire making in close proximity (Photo Courtesy of Discovery Communications)
This is what it looks like when 10 journalists practice fire making in close proximity. (Photo Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

Discovery Flew Me to London 5

(Photo Courtesy of Discovery Communications)
(Photo Courtesy of Discovery Communications)

So what did I do with the $2,000?

-First I used to offset the 3,000 pounds of CO2 I am responsible for, which only cost $17.85. This is something I started to do this year and I promise to always do this if I fly. (UPDATE: I have now committed to 3x offsetting my flights using the highest standards of carbon offsets, plus a lot more. See my offsets and commitments here). The truth is, the best thing to do is not create the carbon in the first place, which would mean not flying at all. However, carbon offsetting of flights is something that everyone can and should do at the very least to take some responsibility for flying.

So more importantly I donated the other $1,980 to Feedback, a non-profit that is fighting food waste and feeding people. They are a grassroots non-profit that uses money very wisely unlike many of the huge NGO’s who only put 10% of their funds into the actual cause they are working on. In this way donating $1,980 to them is equivalent to the impact of donating much more to an inefficient NGO. With this money, Feedback will be able to do about 13 gleaning days. Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmer’s fields after they have been commercially harvested, or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.

Discovery Flew Me to London 7
Gleaning. All of this would have gone to waste had it not been rescued by Feedback.

Each time they do a gleaning outing they collect about 2,500 pounds of food, which means my donation will allow them to collect 33,000 pounds of food and instead of it rotting, it will be fed to people in need. Plus, Feedback is very media savvy. They are always spreading positive environmental messages through their lead-by-example work, further increasing the reach and value of that $1,980. This obviously is a very tangible impact that I was able to create by donating to them. I actually stayed with Niki Charalampopoulou, one of the main people of Feedback for two days, learned in depth what they are doing, and how they will use the money. We also came up with a radical campaign to work on in California when I get back later this month!

There is another really cool part of this donation. The lifecycle of one ton of food has a carbon footprint of about 2,000 pounds of CO2. This life-cycle includes the fossil fuels used in production and distribution of the food and the greenhouse gases released in rotting food in landfills to name a few things. By gleaning food that has already been produced, you reduce water usage, fossil fuels, land needed for agriculture, and greenhouse gas emissions. This is an extremely sound solution to both hunger and food waste. My donation to them will save 33,000 pounds of food from having to be produced, which would release 33,000 pounds of carbon. My flight emitted 3,000 pounds of carbon, which means that working with Feedback allowed me to offset my carbon from the travel 11 times over!

By traveling to London for Discovery I was able to help feed hundreds of people quality food, reduce the need to produce 33,000 pounds of food, and get solid environmental messages out through the major media, all while offsetting my travel footprint from the trip up to 11-fold.

Again the best thing to do is not emit any carbon in the first place. I am taking full responsibility for flying, and I know that my action of flying did cause environmental harm. Any person who flies needs to come to terms with that. I realize that in some instances I am going to have to work within the current system to change the system and for now that will include some flying.

I started by saying that I am absolutely no big shot in the entertainment world and that is certainly true. However my voice will continue to grow, and I promise to continue to lead by example as it does. The greater my platform the deeper my transparency and truth will become. Eight or nine production companies have approached me this year with TV show ideas, half of which have been interested in pitching my own show to the networks. I am certain that I will have a show in the next few years should I choose for that to be the case.

As I continue into the entertainment industry I intend to influence celebrities simply by being a genuine human being with a positive life message. Even the most famous of celebrities all started as babies and are humans just like everyone else. They can be emotionally or rationally moved to change just as you or I can.

The $2,000 I diverted for this trip with Discovery is minuscule compared to the trips of many celebrities. Imagine the impact a celebrity could make by forgoing some luxuries in order to travel more ethically and donate money to environmental work rather than squandering it on fleeting moments of excess.

Twitter has made many celebrities accessible to the public. Help me to positively influence the celebrity culture by tweeting this story at any celebrity you’d like to influence. Simply tell them to #TravelJust with people and the planet in mind. And of course if you’re going to tell someone else to do it make sure you lead by example as well if the situation arises.

Some things any celebrity (or any frequent traveler) can do to #TravelJust are

-Pass on some luxuries and donate the money saved to an environmental nonprofit
-Fly economy class rather than in the spacious, fancy seats of first class or business
-Take public transportation or ride a bike rather than private vehicles
-Support local businesses and take a pass on multi-national corporations
-Eat local, organic food and eat more plants and avoid industrial and factory farmed meat, dairy and eggs.
-At the absolute very least offset the carbon footprint with the gold standard of carbon offsets.

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