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October 22, 2006


Valeria Maltoni

Joel -
I found you through Seth Godin's blog. This is a powerful entry I will share with several people. Thank you.

Stephen Sammartino

It's a frightening reality. It seems to me the only way to solve the problem is to make environmental most profitable for the corporation, then greed will do the rest. Governments must also align tax policy to desired corporate beahviour. Then consumption will be influenced positively yet surreptitiously.

Mike Kilroy

Another great blog post, Joel. This gets at the heart of the matter. It's my personal belief that change must happen through bedrock moral belief first -- that trashing God's creation for the next generation is wrong. Many religious faiths are getting on board with these idea and communicating it to their members. Good consumer behavior (and political) will hopefully follow. Because it's the simple truth that the environment is THE moral issue of our time.

Ron Schaeffer

Very well presented. It's like selling insurance. We are dealing in probabilities, and longer range problems. We need open and honest dialogue, evidence of our concerns, respect for different views, but persistence and a consistent message. It's a one mind and heart at a time effort.


Thanks for sharing this information Joel. I have seen first hand how difficult it can be to get people to vote with their dollars for the use of sustainable materials, especially at the higher price point. The research done by ecoAmerica echoes what we have seen in our business. Until the cost of organic cotton, hemp and other sustainable material production reaches a level of affordability for the average consumer it will continue to be difficult to convince them to spend more in support of the environment.


Here's my own (sympathetic) translation of your main points, as perceived by 'the other 99%':

"There is no common agreement on what environmental concern means or what to do about it" - The 1% of committed environmentalists like to shout at the 99% even though they haven't been able to converge around what they want to say.

"Libertarian values are gaining over communal ones" - most committed environmentalists are reluctant to concede a point which has become obvious to the rest of us: that many 'socially committed' projects over the past 50 years have proved to be costly, ineffective or worse.

"Environmental complexity is paralyzing" - see the first point above. Think before shouting.

"Pocketbook environmentalism is powerful" - if environmentalists could bring themselves to propose the occasional measure which included visible benefits for people, instead of endless austerity, then their claim to be working on behalf of 100% of us rather than their current 1% would be more believable.

In summary says ecoAmerica: "We have an image problem." Yes, I would say so, but the charge about being "shallow, misinformed, self-interested, and unsophisticated" seems to me, and many others in the 99%, to point in the opposite direction.

Jean Thibaudeau

Very inspiring. Way to go!

Bill Baren

Creating a well defined niche and marketing to the niche's worldview works for business.

It can work for environmental issues. We need to stop thinking that the people that care for the environment all care for the same reason.

Some care for sustainable organic and pasture-fed foods, some care for offsetting CO2, some care about saving the rain forrest and some care about...

Pick your cause, commit to it and expand your base.

Sean Hurley

A fantastic post - most of my research over the past two years has led me to similar conclusions. There is a lively body of academic literature on "green" "sustainable" and "ethical" consumerism, and much of it is beginning to recognize that "green" consumerism - while gaining traction - is stiil fundamentally misdirected in its attempts to coerce the mass market. In a culture and society where price and convenience remain the most powerful drivers of consumer behavior - the environmental benefits of consumer products will have to play by the same rules as every other product. They must be competitive on price, they must be easy to find, and they must confer direct benefits to the end user.

the green skeptic

A provocative post. I wonder whether we can learn some lessons from Starbucks, the bottled water industry, and SUV manufacturers: they certainly tapped into something essential in the American psyche. Certainly safety has something to do with the latter two, although I suspect it is more about a lifestyle story they have created for consumers. SUVs are different (we've always loved big cars), but until recently, was there really a market for a three-dollar bottle of water or a four-buck cup of coffee? What made us think these things are essential? And why can't the environment have the same appeal?

John Schneider

This is a real interesting piece that raises many issue. Two that stuck out in my mind were agreeing on environmental definitions and the left/right political dichotomy.

Finding common ground for environmental issues is crucial if the environmental movement is to move ahead. On the business and political front, best practices for solving particular environmental problems would seem to be the best approach.

David Anderson

Great post, thanks for going to that briefing. ecoAmerica looks like quite a team, and they are explaining one of the major challenges of our time. Couldn't help but repost on my blog: citizengreen.com/?p=34

Tod Brilliant

This is interesting, to be sure. ecoAmerica's greatest strength, in my eyes, is that it tells us we need to have a more populist, less partisan, approach and voice. Unfortunately, we don't have any charismatic populist eco-leaders on tap at present. A related point is that the intellectual-elitism of the movement is one of the major factors that keeps it small and divided.

However, I'm not certain that we need to dumb down AND slow down (incremental approach, as recommended) the process to "appease the masses" as ecoAmerica infers. No, the right leaders can relate the greatest complexities with ease and we simply don't have the time to put on the brakes.

Their analysis' greatest fault is that it treats the looming global eco-crises like marketing problems that have no deadlines, no time constraints. Given that we must make swift and rapid changes, much of the ecoAmerica's recommendations (as related here) do not fit the real world scenario.

All in all, it's a great reminder that we have to immediately cease preaching to the choir. . . something we've talked about for years but have thus far failed to do.


Jeff Swartz

Joel -

Interesting post on ecoAmerica -- in my opinion, the right kind of questions being asked.

But I respectfully contend that American consumers aren't as shallow or misinformed as your post asserts ... as evidenced by the organic food revolution, the fact that consumers are spending for fair trade coffee, and are purchasing hybrid cars. I believe it's wrong to view such consumer activism as merely the "elites" at work -- what you call Security Moms and NASCAR Dads are making consumer choices influenced by environmental concerns. Why else would WalMart shift towards organic?

It is too easy to perpetuate the shrill notes about business/CEOs as the enemy. Look around in American business -- Home Depot last week announces a reforestation initiative in suburban Atlanta to offset carbon from its headquarters ... Nike replaces an environmentally damaging gas in its "air" products with one that is carbon neutral ... Starbucks drives fair trade in the coffee industry, Patagonia insists on organic cotton, WalMart pushes organic produce ... the list of for-profit industry playing a role in sustainability goes on and on.

A real revolution in sustainability needs the activists and the elites--but it also depends upon the power of the marketplace. There is more gut level interest in broad consumer markets -- and more commitment to sustainability in boardrooms -- than your post acknowledges.

Jeff Swartz

Larry Grob

Whoa. It's been a few days now since a comment was posted. I hope the dust has settled and the merged clarity of all the voices I've read here is taking hold. There's some really good stuff here, and I'm sure I'll be up 'til the wee hours trying to soak it all in.

I'd just like to put one plug in here--a vote of confidence, if you will--for the individual. Because all the actions that all of you envision begin with a 'spark' of acknowledgement and understanding that has to start inside everyone's head. Especially everyone (and that's most everyone, unfortunately) who's still outside the green box that many of us here find ourselves in.

The idealist in me says this can be done--that, one by one, people will be thus motivated to take action in their home, community, business, or political office--and speak with their wallet or their action. The pragmatist in me says it's a kind of communication we've not yet seen that will cut through the confusion and complexity that Joel and the ecoAmerica folks have aptly put their fingers on.

But it's not rocket science. Listen to Lakoff. The opposition are not geniuses...they've just done some fundamental things right, and stuck with it. Bottom line, the enlightenment that Joel's post hints at is tremendously exciting. It will happen. I'm working on it. You're working on it. Let's do it together.

Larry Grob

Jeff Beaver

Many interesting points made in response to your blog! However, an interesting conversation with an economic development advocate of my community made the old light bulb kick on with regard to the YOYO mentality. Our community has declared an intiative to attract sustainable industry and new green technology. Thankfully, our leaders have the foresight to see the future of economics. However, this representative made a point to indicate the need to avoid the term "global warming". Preferring instead the term, "sustainable" or "green". The latter being fiscal investments rather than radicalism. This is the key to understanding the negative imagery which environmentalism conjures for those board room attendees. At all costs, avoid stewardship unless it affects the bottomline. LEED certification has only gained momentum because of future real estate devaluation. But, hey, whatever gets their attention.
By the way, I am in awe of your capacity to utilize "grok" so seamlessly within your blog. Congratulations.


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