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Colin Firth: The reluctant eco hero

Everyone’s favourite Mr Darcy, actor Colin Firth is all action when it comes to spreading the eco message.

Women around the world fell for Colin Firth’s quintessentially English (and wet-shirted) charms when he starred as Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Similar roles in, among others, the hugely popular Bridget Jones films followed, but Colin is far more than the film industry’s go-to guy for stiff-upper-lipped romantic interests. Besides lead roles in critically-acclaimed films such as Girl With A Pearl Earring and this year’s Oscar-nominated A Single Man, Colin is the brains behind several ethical and eco-aware business enterprises.

Hands-on help
The Hollywood actor has long been passionate about the importance of fair trade – he’s an ambassador for Oxfam on the issue – and in 2002 he launched the ethically-sound coffee shop Progreso, which has branches in London’s Notting Hill and Covent Garden. The ethos behind Progreso is that it’s run for the coffee growers. They own a share of the company, so that they profit directly from the success of the business. Giving the coffee growers of Honduras, Ethiopia and Indonesia a percentage of the business had never been done before on the British high street – the premise is that it is their coffee sold in their café and they receive a guaranteed fair price for the coffee they supply. Progreso coffee bars set out to be the antithesis of the global corporate coffee chain who routinely fail the world’s poor, offering a better product that benefits everyone involved in its production and supply chain.

So what drew Colin to get involved in the project? ‘The thing is, if you have been given the privileges we have, if you have this many perks, surely you can help out,’ he says. ‘Rather than being a luvvie with a lofty opinion preaching to people, I prefer to do things, to get involved, put my money where my mouth is and learn along the way.’ And get involved he does – Colin even completed health and safety training and got behind the counter to serve coffee when Progreso first opened its doors.

Going green
Colin’s latest venture is ECO – a shop and eco-consultancy based in Chiswick, West London. The brainchild of his brother-in-law Nicola Giuggioli, ECO is the first of its kind – a store, showroom, consultancy and destination that offers inspiration, ideas and specific domestic solutions for all those who want to lead a greener and more energy efficient life. ECO brings together a range of household products, appliances and building solutions that combine technology with good design, resulting in products that are stylish as well as ecologically sound.

These range from ideas to improve insulation to household furnishings and eco-friendly gadgets. What it promises is to deliver sustainability easily, and with style. Crucially, in addition to making ‘green’ products available, ECO acts as a hub of information for anyone interested in the environment. It is a place to produce, learn and share about greening our lives, a place to plan for a greener world. 

Passion and hard work
Nicola and his sister, Colin’s beautiful wife Livia, grew up in the Italian countryside in an eco-conscious family that lived a green lifestyle way before it was trendy, using energy-saving light bulbs that took half an hour to emit light and eating local, organic food. So the decision to open up an eco-shop was a natural progression for the siblings. ‘Ethical shopping had become too confusing,’ says Livia. ‘Something might be made from organic cotton, but is it manufactured fairly? We can guarantee that everything in our store, from top to bottom, has as small a carbon footprint as possible.’

And Colin’s involvement in the venture was equally inevitable given his stringent belief in the importance of ethical trade and impeccable eco-credentials. ‘He’s an essential part of the project,’ says Livia. ‘Colin’s one of those people who researches everything properly. He’ll get obsessed with something like the Iraq war and then wake up in the middle of the night wanting to talk about it.’

The environment is something Colin has become passionate about, but he doesn’t believe in the greener-than-thou attitude adopted by some celebrities. ‘I’m no eco hero,’ he says. ‘I’m doing the shop because it’s a good idea. If I’m in a position to say anything, it is because I’m culpable because I’m a consumer. When you start to think about global warming and western over-consumption, it makes you want to improve the negative effects of your complicity in it.’ And there’s no doubt, Colin has done just that.

Photographs: PA Photos

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