It was on the morning of his 12th birthday when Danny Seo read the front-page newspaper article that helped set the course for his life.
Seo’s birthday was also Earth Day, and during breakfast that morning in 1989 the Shillington native was fascinated by a Reading Eagle story about the annual celebration of environmental protection.
It so moved him that he told his parents he didn’t want birthday presents, but instead wanted to start an environmental group. They invested $23 in his plan to form Earth 2000, which he turned into the country’s largest teenage activist charity.
The Gov. Mifflin High School graduate has gone far since then, having been recognized around the world as an environmental lifestyle leader.
And now on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Seo can see how far the environmental movement has come and where it’s headed next.
Making an impact
Seo, 42, is founder and CEO of Danny Seo Media Ventures, a multimedia lifestyle company that combines style and environmental sustainability through a variety of media and home products ranging from wines to bath products that are sold at more than 4,000 stores.
He has won a daytime Emmy for his television show "Naturally, Danny Seo." His column “Do Just One Thing” appears in hundreds of newspapers everyday, and he has written nine bestselling books covering decorating, entertaining, crafts and more.
What he’s most proud of are the changes viewers and readers have made in their own lives.
“I know we've made a positive impact," he said. "That's a win-win to make people's lives better, but also the planet, too. I see it in hard metrics whether it's a regenerative crop recipe being downloaded by the thousands or a website we recommend crashing.”
Seo, who now lives in Bucks County, said he learned that people respond poorly to being “big-brothered” into making changes that help the environment, so his approach has always been the opposite, he said.
He wants people to make choices in their everyday lives that are healthy for themselves and for the planet, but also enjoyable, stylish and relatively easy. His tips range from how to prevent food spoilage and how to recycle properly to how to stay green when decorating.
"So if we change their everyday way of living without making them feel they’re sacrificing, that will make the biggest impact,” he said.
Encouraging the young
Earth Day’s intent has been to increase awareness about how the planet is harmed by pollution and climate change, along with other environmental issues. And to an extent it’s been successful, Seo said.
“It’s an especially important holiday for children because it gives them a tangible idea they can fully understand and embrace,” he said.
It encourages young people to see nature around them as beautiful and fragile, and something they need to help protect, even through something as simple as throwing away litter, he said.
“It helps them think about the world around them with selflessness and compassion,” he said.
And for adults, hopefully it motivates them to think about how they can help, too, he said.
While support of environmental protection still often creates political friction, American society has already come a long way, he said.
When Seo was growing up in the 1980s, many didn’t care at all about sustainability, but that has continued to shift, he said.
“Deep down inside most people’s intentions are to do good, and for the world to be good. I believe they want to do the right things,” he said.
As tragic as the coronavirus pandemic is, the dramatic decline in overall pollution is an example of what can be done if people use less resources, he said.
“At least it has one tiny silver lining,” he said.
'Beauty, truth, goodness'
Seo said when he chose the name Earth 2000 for his group as a boy he was idealistic and a little naive, thinking that would be enough time to save the planet.
His idealism remains, but he said it’s now clear there is no end date to the environmental movement, which will need to evolve to keep up with changing populations and challenges.
He is thankful to his parents for preparing him to meet those challenges, for the great teachers he had and to have grown up in Berks County, he said.
He is grateful for the epiphany he had on his 12th birthday, and that he’s known exactly what his purpose was ever since.
And nowadays he appreciates that he has such a big platform on which to talk about the things he believes in.
“I have a motto where I try to live everyday with ‘beauty, truth and goodness’ and no matter what, I hope it helps spark joy with people,” he said. “Sure, we're trying to save the planet, but we're also trying to inspire others to pivot from dreamer to doers.”