Green Leaders: Shrinking Waste With Style

By Martha C. White September 24, 2008, 9:00 AM EDT

For Melissa Gellman Weiss, vice president of communications at Theory, the biggest challenge of going green is finding stylish products.

Photo:  Patrick McMullen

This is the third of four profiles of planners who are committed to eco-friendly events.

For Melissa Gellman Weiss, the toughest part of creating eco-friendly events for fashion brand Theory is finding green products that look as high-end as their conventional counterparts.

“The invitation issue is a big one,” says Weiss, vice president of communications for the New York-based apparel company. “There’s nothing more lauded than engraved or letterpress invites. That’s how you denote how important an event is. If I send you an E-vite, it seems less important.” She tries to split the difference by going for recycled paper and soy inks—classier than email, but not as wasteful as traditional printing.

A big part of her green endeavors is trying to break preconceived notions that elegance needs to be synonymous with conspicuous consumption. “The role we’ve tried to play is that of educating people and acting as a paradigm to illustrate some of the little things you can do,” she says.

First up: “We had to stop the insanity with the plastic bottles of water. Of course it’s hard, but now we’ve been doing pitchers of water for events, even at the C-level.” The next step was eliminating disposable tableware at private parties, personal shopping events, and other small-scale gatherings, although renting and bussing dishes costs more. Even cleanup is now eco-friendly and comes with a higher price tag; Weiss has urged green cleaning-product company Seventh Generation to set up a corporate sales division, but for now she buys the nontoxic cleaners at retail prices.

Although Theory execs are on board with Weiss’s efforts, she says, “There’s a sort of reluctance to do anything, because you figure that no matter what you do, you’re doing it wrong. To some extent, it’s true that you wind up in paralysis if you only think of what you can’t do.”
Weiss is working on green initiatives outside of Theory’s events, too. “The most recent project we’ve been working on is developing a packaging concept—bags and so on—made of recycled materials for our retail locations,” Weiss says. She’ll also use them as event gift bags for a double-whammy of recycling and repurposing.

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