Consumers are showing increasing ingenuity in using their money to protect the planet.
The original marketplace campaigns revolved around boycotts (think Cesar Chavez, farmworkers, and grapes) — an effective "stick" if there ever was one, considering the whipping grape growers needed to take before they were willing to treat their employees fairly.
Big Green Purse has been more focused on a "carrot" approach. Too get product manufacturers to reduce pollution and limit their contribution to global warming, Big Green Purse encourages consumers to favor the products that offer the greatest environmental benefit (think compact fluorescent bulbs over incandescents, or organic food over conventionally grown fruits and vegetables). The rationale? Consumers can strategically use the money they spend on eco goods and services to create incentives for companies to produce even more eco options. Though there’s been virtually no forward environmental motion in the legislative arena over the past decade, the marketplace has been greening like gangbusters. Consumers — especially women, who spend $.85 of every dollar – can accelerate the trend by being even more intentional about the products they buy. Choosing goods that are certified sustainable (like lumber made from FSC-certified wood, or tile made from SMaRT-certified linoleum) sends an even bigger, louder message to companies that there is more money to be made in going green.
(This idea has gained so much traction, it’s got its own conferences. Sustainable Brands ’08 just concluded – read an excellent summary by Mary Hunt over at In Women We Trust.)
Another way to dangle the "carrot" is to persuade retailers that their entire business — not just sales of one or two products — will increase if they transition to a more environmentally responsible operation. CarrotMob has proven that this approach can be pretty tasty to shop keepers. The organization queried several liquor stores in San Francisco about their interest in saving energy. The one that vowed to save the most – 22% – received not only CarrotMob’s blessing, but the benefit of an organizing campaign that increased store sales more than three-fold — on just one day! Customers could buy whatever they wanted; the store donated 22% of its sales to energy-saving measures that would reduce its own healing and cooling costs, among other benefits.
As legislators increasingly fall prey to polluting political action committees, or the confounding complexity of dealing with so many different party leaders, it’s increasingly apparent that real environmental change can and must be driven by the marketplace. And what makes the marketplace so powerful? All of us green consumers — and the "carrots" we’re dangling.