"They're either so corporate watered-down that they're uninspired, or they go over the top and you can smell the cheap weed and Hacky Sacks a mile away."


Ritz aims to be neither.

He isn't the only environmentalist who has decided to join 'em rather than beat 'em. But he's one of the few to take the plunge and retain his green credibility.

"Eric is the real deal," said Kelly Cox, who runs the Natural Resources Defense Council's youth program, ItsYourNature.org, one of several environmentalists who have vouched for Ritz's environmental integrity. "He does work with corporations, but he's very smart about how he goes about that."

Like everything else about Global Inheritance, its office inside a downtown Los Angeles warehouse is uber hip and ultra economical. The office is subdivided into cubicles by rows of wood, glass and corrugated metal sheds.

The two paid staffers Ritz finally could afford to hire last summer toil on their own laptop computers inside the group's 150-square-foot space.

One wards off a draft with a UPS shipping blanket. Neither looks up when, every few minutes, a truck rumbles by outside, rattling the large metal roll-up doors at the front of the building.

With the music from a nearby underground radio station providing background tunes, the trio thinks up their next bits of political theater and rallies the group's members.

About 20,000 people have signed up to receive information about Global Inheritance projects. A nexus of 50 to 60 hard-core volunteers stand ready to travel across the country with Ritz to camp out at festivals or stay in cheap motels outside big events.

That bunch builds Ritz's visions, staffs the information tables, provides logistical and setup help and works the Global Inheritance "exhibits."

Ritz makes it clear that Global Inheritance doesn't require being a vegan (Ritz isn't). It doesn't mean driving a hybrid car (Ritz can't afford one). And it isn't lecturing or preaching to those who don't live the stereotypical green lifestyle.

"We want it to be accessible," Ritz said. "We accept everybody for who they are, not relying on stereotypes to judge people or judge issues."

At the Swerve Festival, 10-year-old Otis Kind stopped to see a Global Inheritance recycling bin painted with an oil-derrick-eating Tyrannosaurus rex. He then slid over to the group's nearby table in search of stickers to decorate his skateboard.

When Ritz told him the price of the sticker was one recyclable bottle or can, Otis ran off to a nearby trash pail to see if he could find any improperly disposed of plastic or aluminum -- exactly the response Ritz hoped for.

The exchange program, which Ritz dubbed the TRASHed Recycling Store, has been one of Global Inheritance's most successful programs at X Games, Coachella and a host of other venues.

Global Inheritance was born in 2002 after Ritz expanded from producing socially conscious T-shirts to decorating recycling bins. In a bid to get the receptacles noticed, Ritz encouraged his coterie of artists, musicians, extreme sports athletes and celebrities such as Hunter S. Thompson to redesign bins in wild and unexpected ways.

Not all of Ritz's ideas work out so well.

The producers of the Honda Civic Tour, which is considering bringing Ritz on to help with next year's music program, already let him know that a popular Global Inheritance program called Tour Riders wouldn't be a good fit.

That initiative gives prizes and preferences to attendees who take public transportation -- not the most logical program for a car company.

Global Inheritance's annual operating budget this year will run about $200,000, Ritz said. But Ritz has to think about that question and then guess, because most of the group's revenue goes right back into its programs.

For example, the group got $20,000 from Virgin to put on a life-size "Causes versus Cures" chess game at the Virgin Festival music event in Toronto. Human volunteers were outfitted to look like "causes," such as an oil derrick and a piece of coal, and "cures" including a windmill and a solar panel.

Still, Ritz isn't ready to make money if it means watering down his message or partnering with businesses he deems unworthy.

He has turned down some big checks. He declined a television show invitation to bring in his alternative-power bikes and be filmed as they helped power the studio's operations.

"We're not about being some sort of disguise for a corporation doing bad things," he said. "It's more about helping the society than helping the corporation."

With that, Ritz turns back to his next big idea -- desert golf.

"Turn the sprinklers off and thinking cap on as you play virtual golf in the sand, rock and brush to discover the challenges of the global water crisis," he said.

Ritz already has volunteers signed up to help -- and corporate partners too, of course.

abigail.goldman@latimes.com