It’s not just Birkenstock-wearing, granola-crunching hippies who want to do something about the environment, and Eric Ritz is out to prove it. The man behind the youth-targeted activist group Global Inheritance has made it his goal to reach out to people from all walks of life, from indie rockers to goths to punks to celebs.
With a background in both concert promotion with Bill Silva Presents and nonprofit organizations (the American Legacy Foundation’s antismoking campaign “Truth” ), Ritz has learned that one approach doesn’t fit all when it comes to spreading a message, and Global Inheritance’s success has come from tailoring calls for awareness in very specific ways.
“In my history with other nonprofits, I felt that they did blanket campaigns and really didn’t cater their message based on the audience. I think that’s really important,” says Ritz over lunch one day. “ ‘Truth,’ on the other hand, did really well because they tried to empower people rather than tell them what to do or what not to do. I took that idea and decided the philosophy needed to be applied to the world’s problems.”
Around 2002, Ritz came up with the idea of using clothing to make a statement. Taking the concept of the statement T-shirt to the next level, he sought to get designers, artists and clothing companies to come together to promote “creative thinking over conflict.” Companies like Triple 5 Soul, Levi’s and Puma got involved, and under the moniker “Fashion Peace,” they designed, exhibited and sold finished pieces — jeans, sneakers and T-shirts — via fashion shows and the Global Web site. Slogans and themes tackled included everything from AIDS awareness to saving the ocean.
“Fashion Peace” was well received, but for his next project, Ritz sought to meld art with real action. And so the “TRASHed” campaign was born. It started with an exhibition of beautifully embellished recycling bins done up by everyone from Hunter S. Thompson to companies like Volcom at the Sundance Film Festival 2006. “The idea was to redesign recycling bins and draw attention to something that’s normally sort of hidden and pretty much considered ugly, to something people wanted to see,” Ritz explains. “I mean, recycling is not that difficult. It’s easy, and this drew attention to it in a different way.”
Both “Fashion Peace” and “TRASHed” have been a major presence at music events over the past three and a half years — from a “Design Your Own T-Shirt” contest, where participants illustrated how they would change the world (Lollapalooza), to the “TRASHed” recycling store, a place where kids can score everything from signed skateboards (X Games) to coffin-shaped guitar cases (Curiosa Festival), using bottles and cans collected on the grounds as currency. Upcoming TRASHed recycling stores can be found at the X Games at the Home Depot Center (Aug. 3-6) and the San Diego Street Scene (Aug. 5-6).
“What’s important is finding stuff that a particular audience will enjoy,” says Ritz, who’s pretty much a one-man show (volunteers, including his design man Matt Brady, help bring his ideas to fruition).
The latest project, called “Tour Rider,” encourages people to carpool or take alternative modes of transportation to concerts. The Hollywood Bowl has gotten onboard, and people who present their bus or subway ticket stubs at the venue will get a stylin’ gift bag. “What we try to do is gear the gift bag to match that audience. Like, for the recent Andrea Bocelli show, we gave Netflix and things like that,” he says.
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Along with the “Tour Rider” program, other new initiatives under the Global Inheritance umbrella include “You’re the Bomb!” a campaign addressing issues surrounding nuclear nations and their policies (trading cards are coming), “Instrumental Assistance,” which helps support music education in schools (a recent “Portal Potties” exhibit, seen at this year’s Coachella festival, featured pimped-out stalls with flat-screen TVs displaying programs about the history of music inside), Biodiesel Racing RC (in which kids race toy cars and learn about alternative fuels) and “Beat the Press,” an online contest in which participants design magazine covers highlighting issues that matter to them. Ritz is constantly coming up with new ideas, so there will probably be more initiatives by the time you read this.
A few nights after our lunch, I meet Ritz at the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 party at the Palladium. His vibrant recycling bins are placed throughout the venue so that patrons can recycle their old phones — and some people even use them! A bin actually sits right on the red carpet, and oblivious celebs like Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton pose in front of it.
I ask Ritz if it’s tough doing what he does in L.A., the epicenter of excess, especially since he admitted earlier that sometimes he barely makes ends meet trying to keep Global Inheritance going.
“L.A. is making progress, and people here do really care,” he says. “It’s just about providing them with the right avenues to get involved. We want to deprogram people so they don’t think a certain way about activism. We want people, especially kids, to think it’s cool. Not in the hipster-cool way — there’s no velvet rope — but like this is something that they can get behind. You don’t have to play Hacky Sack or be in the drum circle to do this stuff.”?