Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Can Shopping Save the World?

By Bill Sheehan, PPI Executive Director

Annie Leonard's Story of Stuff book and web movies have broken new ground in making waste issues interesting and compelling to millions of people around the world. Her latest video, The Story of Change released on July 17th, argues that citizens – not shoppers – hold the key to a better future.  It’s so good -- and relevant to Product Policy Institute’s mission -- that we posted it on our home page.

The Story of Change explores why collective action and public policies are needed to change an economy that “puts corporate profits ahead of safe products, happy people, and a healthy planet.”  The video’s message is an antidote to the widespread assumption that the primary tool for addressing waste is individual consumer action.  As Annie explains in the video, trying to live green is important.  “It's a great place to start.  … But it's a terrible place to stop.”

The myth of the “sovereign consumer” and the need for collective action to address waste has been explored in academic literature.  Two of the best analyses I’ve read are by Michael Maniates in his chapter in Confronting Consumption, and by Samantha MacBride in Recycling Reconsidered.  MacBride argues that recycling has been embraced by corporations over reuse and source reduction because recycling doesn’t threaten profits and growth. The collective action theme was also the topic of an earlier blog in this space, From Green Consumers to Green Citizens

So how do we make big change? Annie asks.  She looks at successful movements that achieved great things, like Gandhi's campaign to get the British out of India, the US civil rights movement, and the passage of environmental laws in the US in the 1970s.  She finds three common elements: people share a big idea, they work together, and take collective action. 

Following the six-minute animated movie, viewers are encouraged to take a short quiz to assess their Changemaker Personality type (Communicator, Builder, Networker, Nurturer, Investigator or Resister), and offered an opportunity to participate in our newly launched Changemaker Challenge, a platform for crowdsourcing great Action ideas.

The Story of Change gets at the heart of Product Policy Institute's core message. Green shopping by Consumers is not enough.  We need to put on our Citizen hats and work together to change the rules of the game that encourage the production of toxic, disposable products and packaging.

 We need product policies for safe products, happy people, and a healthy planet.

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