How can the world's two consumer "superpowers"- the U.S. and China – work together to reduce the impact that consumption has on us and our world?
That was the topic a capacity crowd addressed on March 22 at the U.S. – China Greener Consumption Forum. The event, held at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. and co-sponsored by Big Green Purse and the International Fund for China's Environment, pulled together scientists, consumer advocates, public policy advocates, and green entrepreneurs to share ideas about strategies to inspire manufacturers to create greener goods — and get consumers to buy them.
The Forum focused primarily on women because women spend 85
cents of every dollar in the marketplace – and we’re not just buying cheese
doodles and diapers. As I say here on CCTV, the national television network of China, we buy more clothes.
More food. More cosmetics and personal care products than men. We also
buy more electronics, more home furnishings, almost as many tools, just as many
cars. Women are spending billions of dollars, day in and day out, year in and
But even with all that clout, we won’t be able to use this
power of the purse effectively until we achieve true gender equity
worldwide, points that both Ban Li, Deputy Counsel of the Shaanxi
Women's Federation, and Liane Shalatek, Associate Director of the
Heinrich Boll Foundation North America, made very powerfully.
Christine Robertson of Earth Day Network facilitated a provocative panel on the impacts consumption has on our health and the health of the planet. Sarah Vogel of Environmental Defense Fund (pictured
right) was peppered with questions after her presentation on the way the toxic chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) affects the reproductive systems of men and women alike.
Ping He of the International Fund for China's Environment, the co-sponsor with Big Green Purse of the Forum, moderated the session on barriers to sustainable consumption and solutions that help surmount them. Meaningful eco-labels and standards can make a big difference, pointed out Arthur Weissman, President and CEO of Green Seal, especially when those standards are set by an indendent third party (like Green Seal is) whose primary interest is not in selling products, but in helping manufacturers become more sustainable over time.
LISA JACKSON, Former EPA Administrator
Lisa Jackson's luncheon keynote address was the highlight of the day for many people. As a mom, scientist, and long-time public servant, Lisa has a unique appreciation for the impact consumption has on us as individuals and on society as a whole. She spoke movingly about being the first African-American to serve as head of the EPA and how important it is to bring women as well as people of color and low-income populations into the conversations we're having about pollution and climate change.
Lisa noted that her favorite law is the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act because it empowers people to protect themselves wherever they live. She is also proud of technology EPA has shared with the city of Shanghai to help monitor air pollution there.
Lisa agreed that the way we use both the purse and the pocketbook can inspire manufacturers to reduce pollution and energy consumption.
In the afternoon, one set of workshops focused on specific campaigns that have been particularly succeessful in reducing consumption. Peggy Neu explained the extraordinary success Meatless Monday has had in inspiring consumers to cut back the amount of meat they eat at least one day every week. Mary Murphy of the Center for a New American Dream explained her work to promote a sharing economy. "The biggest obstacle to sharing is trust," she said. The more we can build communities of trust, the more sharing will occur.
Meanwhile, Julia Cohen of the Plastic Pollution Coalition (seen left, talking to Anna Hackman of Green-Talk and the Green Sisterhood Network) moderated a provocative session on how to reduce plastic and re-utilize waste. Stephanie Tobor of Green Apple Supply described her work providing plastic-free alternatives to municipalities and businesses, and Kate Judson of the Washington DC Department of the Environment explained how the region's plastic bag fee of five cents per bag has helped reduce the use of plastic bags by over 60%. Youlin Zhou of the Heilongjian Province Center for Agricultural Science and Technology describe her work to convert corn waste into animal feed.
At the same time, a third workshop was focusing on strategies to promote energy efficiency and clean energy. Moderated by Nora Maccoby of IFCE, the panel featured Peter Banwell, Product Marketing Director for ENERGY STAR, Gina Mathias of Eco-Beco, a company that offers energy audits for homes and businesses, and Hua Yan, of the Qinghe Spring Biomass Energy Company.
After a short break, a final set of workshops addressed home renovation, food and drink, and cosmetics and personal care products. While the earlier workshops focused on public education campaigns and behavior change, these workshops gave green entrepreneurs a chance to shine. They included Cheryl Newman, the VP for Honest Tea, describing how her company has gone from a dorm-room idea to a product distributed in over 300,000 outlets in the U.S., to Charis Smith of MOMs Organic Market, which sells only organic produce, and to Paul Ward, whose company Advanced Energy Growing, LLC is teaching hydroponic lettuce growing to both American and Chinese farmers. On the cosmetics front, Ashley Prange of Au Naturale Organic Cosmetics and Sarah Damelio of Skincando Body Products took the audience through the trials and tribulations of getting a new natural product off the ground, while Steve Ma, founder of Live Green, offered his insights on building a green consumer movement in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
In the final plenary session of the day, Forum attendees took the microphone to offer their suggestions for possible next steps. Ideas ranged from creating a dialogue on Facebook to promoting more information and expertise exchanges. The focus was not on "if" there would be another Forum, but "when" and where. In the days ahead, we'll be brainstorming ideas for the next steps we could take to help the U.S. and China go from consumer superpower to sustainability superpower. Have any thoughts? Please let us know.
SEE MORE ON TWITTER
If you want to see more play-by-play reports of the Forum, follow our Twitter stream at #USChinaGreenForum.
GREEN SISTERHOOD NETWORK
The Green Sisterhood Network was the Forum's outstanding media partner, generating blog posts in the network and covering the Forum live (Anna Hackman, a co-founder with Karen Lee of the Network, is seen here taking notes and Tweeting live at the Forum).
(Some photos courtesy of Karen Lee at ecokaren.com)