The Birth of Blue

Grist_logo_jpegGrist posted Adam Werbach’s follow up speech to the infamous, "Death of Environmentalism."  The speech gives Adam’s suggestions for a new form of environmentalism that embraces the consumer culture and looks beyond "green" to other aspects of human existence.

The Birth of Blue: A speech to the Commonwealth Club by Adam Werbach

In 2004 I came here to the Commonwealth Club and performed a eulogy  for environmentalism.
Eulogies by their nature are the last word on the subject. But I made a
promise on that cold December day to come back in the spring and share
a set of solutions. It took me a few more years than I thought, and the
world has changed a fair bit since that time, but I’m back.

Let me quote from that speech:

A reasonable case [could] be made that environmentalism
needed to package seal pups, redwoods, clean air, Yosemite, clean
water, and toxic waste under the brand of "environmentalism" in order
to pass a raft of environmental laws in the 1970s. But for at least 20
years and maybe longer, the basic categorical assumptions that underlie
environmentalism have inhibited the environmental movement’s ability to
consider opportunities outside environmental boundaries.

  It is at moments like these that we need to take a hard look in the mirror.

We must not trade our fear of what will come next for our affection for environmentalism.

I remember shaking as I spoke, knowing full well that the reaction
would be swift and harsh. No one likes to be called dead when they
perceive themselves to be alive.


I remember long conversations with my wife, Lyn, as she tried to
make me feel better about myself and about the accountability I felt
for my own failures. I was unable to sleep, staring at repeats of cable
news shows.

Little did I know that the speech was being circulated in places I
would never have expected: among senior leaders at Wal-Mart, as they
were beginning — with Paul Hawken’s help — to consider sustainability
as a core part of their business.

It wasn’t until 2006, when I started helping Wal-Mart implement this
sustainability program, that the outside attacks really started flying.
A widely circulated piece critiquing my decision to work with Wal-Mart
was entitled "The Death of Integrity."

Another one, published just this week, has a more visceral title:
"Adam Werbach makes me puke." A blogger named Cliff Schector wrote a
piece called, "Adam Werbach: Wal-Mart’s New Fraud Salesman."

What Werbach needs to realize is that Wal-Mart is beyond
improvement and yes, beyond redemption. Those who really are
forward-thinking need to stop working with this man, certainly stop
paying him and I would daresay, if you really believe in what you say
you do, stop returning his phone calls.

He has chosen to sell out. It doesn’t mean we all have to join him in Wonderland.

Tonight I invite you to join me in Wonderland. I ask you to consider
joining me in building a movement that goes beyond the political to the
personal, that views the existential threat of global warming as a
chance to change the way we treat ourselves and the planet, that
aspires to have one billion active participants across the earth.
Tonight I’ll contend that we need to invest more time in making a
difference through our routine activities and the things we buy every
day. To achieve this we need a broader platform than green.

Since giving that speech in 2004, I’ve traveled the world to find
the next trends; I’ve seen and will share with you tonight the tragedy
of forest destruction for soybeans in the Amazon. I’ve seen the birth
of a new sustainability movement in the rapidly growing economy of
Poland. I’ve seen the inspiring echoes of the two million citizen
activist groups around the world chronicled in Blessed Unrest[1].
I’ve seen the twinkling of the next phase of environmental thought —
true BLUE — bursting onto billboards and lifestyles in the mature
green environment of Switzerland.

In all of those places, I’ve seen people seeking something broader
than a green or environmentalist solution to the myriad problems they
face in their lives. Yes, they believe climate change is happening, but
they also want to feel good about the way they look in the mirror and
the way their kids look at them at the dinner table. They want to be
part of something larger than themselves without having to sacrifice
their identity. They want joy, not guilt, and a little money in their
pocket so that they don’t have to trade down on yet one more thing in
their life.

Building this new movement will require a commitment to the
mainstream that we are unaccustomed to in San Francisco. It’s not
enough to have a revolution that consists only of Mac users. It’s not
enough to have a revolution that exists only in coastal states and
college towns. It’s not enough to attack China as the home of
lead-painted toys and neglect the aspirations of the hundreds of
millions of people who have been brought out of abject poverty because
we’ve bought those toys.

Something is happening now; progress seems at hand. We don’t know
what to call it. For now let us call it the sustainability revolution
— we are beginning to understand how human culture will harmonize its
relationship with the living world.

But let’s not forget that the word sustainability has little meaning
in the world. My daughter, Mila, asked me what the definition of
sustainability was. I explained it and she asked me, "Daddy, do we have
to take a plane to get there?"

I’ve come to believe that changing the way people look at the world
is more important in the long run than focusing only on the marginal
ecological impact of the individual actions they take.

Eating organic food should be only one small articulation of the way
you take care of yourself, your community and the planet. You can eat
local, co-op grown, organic heirloom tomatoes and still be a bad

Green is good, but it frequently breaks down as a strategy when it
hits the marketplace. The common green definition of sustainability, or
"environmental sustainability," is mainly concerned with the fate of
the planet and how that affects our lives. For me, sustainability has
four integrated streams: social, cultural, economic and environmental.
All must exist in balance.

That’s why tonight I’m speaking about the birth of a new mass
movement to complement and expand our existing political efforts. A
movement not just for professionals or experts or people who can
explain photosynthesis and lifecycle analysis. A movement we can call
BLUE. This movement will have many faces, but at its heart it’s a
lifestyle movement, a way to live a successful life. Many of us already
have a regular practice that can reinforce our values. While political
activism is at best a bi-annual pursuit, shopping is a regular activity
for most people on the planet, and if trends continue, it will be for
virtually everyone. We can either cede this field to the profit-driven
marketeers, or we can share it. Now, before you attack me for sounding
like President

Bush, who seemed to say after 9/11 that we could "shop our way out of it,"
let me be clear. I’m not calling for you to get off the farm and into
the mall. But how do we bring our aspirations for the world into what
we buy? This is the billion-person question.

Then vs. Now

The problems are worse than we feared.   Between 1990 and 2003, American CO2 emissions   increased 16 percent[2].
That wasn’t just America’s record; that was my record as a professional
accountable for results. Even Europe’s emissions grew at about twice
the rate of US emissions during the first five years of the decade.

  • Half the world’s tropical and temperate forests are gone.
  • 90 percent  of the large predator fish are gone[3].
  • 75 percent  of marine fisheries are overfished or fished to capacity[4].
  • Species are disappearing at rate about a thousand times faster than normal[5].
  • A recently study found that there are 287 chemicals in the cord blood from babies in the U.S.[6].
  • America now has 2 million people in prison and about 960,000 farmers[7].
  • An estimated 35 percent  of cancer deaths are directly attributable to diet[8].
  • CDC estimates that 50 percent of today’s health care costs are
    attributable to health risks that can be modified by lifestyle behaviors[9].
  • The
    U.N. says 826 million people are hungry; however, a much larger number,
    roughly 1.6 billion, are overnourished and overweight[10].

Consider that fact for a moment. Twice as many people on the planet
are dealing with the problems of too much food as are dealing with the
problems of too little.

We can’t diminish the need to make sure that everyone has enough to
eat, but today’s world requires that we have a solution for people who
have too much as well.

Birth of BLUE

Since 2004, some things have changed. We’ve seen awareness of the
problems we face skyrocket. At no time in my career has the public
thirst for change been so strong. The covers of Newsweek, Time and
Vanity Fair are all festooned with images of our planet’s peril.
Perhaps it was the catalytic effect of the Inconvenient Truth, or maybe
it was the doubling of gas prices, or maybe it was an unpopular war of
choice, or maybe it was the loss of a great American city to the sea.
But today the ideas of an Apollo Project for clean energy, a major
national investment in clean energy technology which I spoke about in
2004, are mainstream. Everyone seems to be talking about green jobs. If
this makes you feel optimistic, good. It makes me optimistic as well.

Regardless of why public sentiment has changed, it has, and it’s now
time to take delivery on that desire. But just as in 2004 I told you
that we were ill equipped to foment a movement or to exercise power,
today we remain narrowly focused on policy changes as a means for

We need solutions as big as the problems we face. Despite all of
this attention most people are not engaged. Policy change is critical,
but it’s not enough. As Jib Ellison told me when I was trying to decide
whether to work with Wal-Mart, "You can choose not to work with
corporations, but then what’s your solution?"

We need to unleash the creativity and imagination of the global
public. I have no patience for people who want to preserve what
environmentalism was at the cost of our effectiveness.

In December of 2004, I performed an autopsy on environmentalism.
Today, I’m here to acknowledge the birth of a BLUE movement. As vast
and common as the ocean, BLUE is a platform for sustainability that
goes beyond the deep, beautiful green of environmentalism. Green puts
the planet at the center of the dialogue. BLUE puts people at the

I’m not asking you to give up on green — far from it. Green is the
beating heart of the emerging BLUE movement. Green represents the
simple and inarguable wisdom of ecology: that all things are connected.
BLUE brings together a broader set of human concerns, from practice to
price, from nature to society. BLUE integrates all four streams of
sustainability: social, cultural, economic and environmental. BLUE puts
the way we treat ourselves and each other at the center of our focus.

In Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food,
he offers a set of rules for eating: "Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly
Plants," and "Don’t eat anything with a health claim." Also, "Don’t eat
anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize." He writes,

What other animal needs professional help in deciding what
it should eat? Yet for most of human history, humans have navigated the
question without expert advice. To guide us, we had, instead, culture,
which, at least when it comes to food, is really just a fancy word for
your mother[11].

Pollan’s book is a call for us to defend what we innately know about
food — whole foods, less processed, eaten in modest amounts, are a
healthy path.

We are people who shop as well as people who eat. Shopping is the
only other activity, besides sleeping and watching TV, that consumes
our time as thoroughly as eating. Yet when it comes to shopping, we
have few cultural rules and signposts to follow in the way that we have
with eating. As flawed as they may be, Americans know the concepts of
fat, calories, cholesterol, and sodium. But what do we know about the
sodium lauryl sulfate in our toothpaste, or the phthalates in a baby
bottle, or the embedded energy cost in a cable box, or the provenance
of the parabins in cosmetics? It’s enough to make your head spin.

Women across the world lead the shopping budgets for families. The average American woman spends an hour per day shopping[12].
She is expert at finding price and value for herself and her family,
and increasingly, she’s looking to make a difference when she does. To
date the only social change movement that speaks to her says one thing:
stop. Stop shopping, start making your own household chemicals,
grinding your own detergent, packing homemade lunch for your children
and hanging your clothes out on a laundry line.

While these are noble ends, everything that we’ve learned about
behavior change is that it happens small step by small step, so it’s
unlikely that a mom will switch from Cheez Whiz to tofu. Our challenge
is to inspire people to make better choices.

Do not underestimate the power of the shopper. Private consumption  expenditures in the United States represent about 70 percent  of the GDP.
In the words of Andy Ruben, a Vice-President at Wal-Mart, "We live in a
consumer-driven economy. We can either deny it or try to leverage it.
Denying isn’t hasn’t gotten us very far."

Engaging people as consumers, as people who shop, allows us the
possibility of building a billion-person movement. To be a part of it,
people don’t need to join a listserv or pay a membership fee. They
won’t get a newsletter or a membership card that they need to stuff
into their wallet. And no wall calendars. Imagine with me what this
movement could do.

Green vs. BLUE

Put most simply, to many people, "green" means choosing the
environment, nature, and the atmosphere over all things. BLUE means you
don’t have to choose.

Not surprisingly, there’s a sense of green fatigue facing many
consumers, largely because it’s being promoted as a panacea in ways on
which it doesn’t deliver. "Organic American Sprit Cigarettes" still
cause lung cancer and low birth weight babies. They may be better for
the environment, but this is the sort of near-sightedness that the
green "fetish" for organic creates. Organic is simply one step toward
being BLUE, even though it’s the gold-standard for being green. The
real battle among consumers is not between the conventional carrot and
the organic carrot; it’s between the carrot and the Twinkie. The
wholesome food vs. the overprocessed food. That’s the battle that moms
are facing every day at snack time and it’s a place for us to start our
service to her.

We want to keep the parts of green that have brought us change and
innovation, but let go of the narrowness. BLUE builds on the foundation
that green has laid, but lets go of its baggage.

In Moving from Limits to Possibilities

Let’s step back a bit and talk about the roots for a BLUE movement.
In my speech on the death of environmentalism, I traced back the roots
of the American conservation movement: from Henry David Thoreau to John
Muir, to Rachel Carson, to my mentor David Brower. All of these
transformational figures were trying to protect nature or humanity from
harm. To change our orientation from limits to possibilities, we need
to know what we’re for and not strictly what we’re against. The field
of psychology went through a similar challenge almost a decade ago,
when Dr. Martin Seligman became the President of the American
Psychological Association.

Seligman pointed out that the entire history of psychology was based
on finding treatments for dysfunction and disease. Psychological
research was focused on depression, mania, and hysteria, and on what to
do for people who suffered these maladies. His solution was to create
the field of positive psychology, which focused on creating positive
interventions for our lives that would proactively make us happy rather
than treat us when we are sad. They found quite simply that once
material needs are met, there are four factors that can help increase
one’s happiness.

  1. Being of service to something larger than yourself
  2. Experiencing "flow," or full engagement, on a regular basis
  3. Showing your gratitude to the people in your life
  4. Having at least three people emotionally close enough to share your life with.

Similar to traditional psychology, environmentalism, which is the
political arm of the green movement, is focused on executing
ameliorating actions for the planet: slowing the release of CO2,
removing glycols from household cleaners, or protecting farmland from
being destroyed. While these are absolutely essential political
activities that we should continue, they are not the basis for a
lifestyle movement. A lifestyle movement requires the construction of a
set of practices that make up the way we wish to live our lives.
Slowing global warming and protecting our last wild places is a
necessity, but it’s not the whole end.

If we see our goal as moving beyond just ameliorating harm and
towards creating the future that we want to share, what can the logic
of nature, the green movement, and the best parts of the environmental
movement teach us?

To help you understand this, I want to share with you my experience
with what might be the largest sustainability engagement campaign in
the history of the planet: our efforts to engage the almost two million
Associates, or hourly employees, who work at Wal-Mart.

Personal Sustainability

How many people here have been to a Wal-Mart in the last two weeks?
If it’s less than 2/3 of the room, you have to acknowledge that you’re
strange, since 200 million Americans shop at Wal-Mart regularly, and
89% of Americans shop there at least once a year.

When I was first approached about working with Wal-Mart I refused,
confident that the only reason they could want to work with me was for
their PR needs. As it became clear to me that they wanted to lead, and
not just go through the motions, the enormity of the task began to
become clear to me. They set out three goals:

  1. Produce zero waste
  2. Be powered by renewable energy
  3. Sell only green products

For the largest corporation the world has ever known to set these
goals for itself was no small matter. I was still staying close to home
in the wake of my speech here, watching too much cable news, when I
received the call from Wal-Mart, and I began to imagine what working
with Wal-Mart could mean.

While there’s a certain activist romance in the David vs. Goliath
story, I began to get more comfortable with the odds of working with
Goliath in the spirit of a David.

I remember my first trip down to Bentonville, Arkansas, arriving in
the meeting hall as they began to do the Wal-Mart cheer. Who here knows
the Wal-Mart cheer? I didn’t know whether to clap or to sit with my
arms crossed in protest. I clapped meekly, hoping no one would notice.

I started working with the people who work at Wal-Mart — almost two
million of them globally — figuring that if we could learn how to make
them care about sustainability, then we could make it stick to the 200
million people who shop there regularly in America. Working with
associates, we created the Personal Sustainability Project.

The project was designed with Associates in Plainfield, Indiana,
Broomfield Colorado, and Tampa, Florida. At the heart of the project
was a simple voluntary commitment that we called a PSP, or a personal
sustainability practice.

What are the qualities of a PSP? It:

  • Sustains the planet,
  • Makes you happy,
  • Affects the community,
  • Repeatable,
  • Takes visible action

Examples: Bike to work. Park in the spot that’s farthest from where
you’re going. Change your lights bulbs to CFLs. Care for a park. My PSP
is to make healthy breakfasts for my kids every morning and to learn
something new from them every day. My wife Lyn’s is to increase our
composting. Lee Scott’s PSP was recycling and now it’s getting in shape
for the spring.

The Associates at Wal-Mart made creating a BLUE movement their
mission. They formed teams and plans, and soon there were 10
sustainability captains in every Wal-Mart store, each working with the
roughly 500 associates inside to develop their practices. This
grass-roots-driven, voluntary movement spread to over 4,500 Wal-Mart’s
and Sam’s Clubs across America in the period of about six months. Over
500,000 Wal-Mart Associates adopted and maintained a PSP in the first
year of the project.

The behavioral idea behind PSP is a simple one we call
nano-practices. Nano-practices are the thousands of tiny things you do
each day that make up your lifestyle. How you tie your shoes, the type
of shoes you wear, your choice of socks, how you fold your socks, and
whether you wear your shoes indoors. Instead of trying to change the
big things about someone’s identity — whether they’re a Democrat or
Republican, for example — we start by finding daily or recurring
practices that can express his or her values. A personal sustainability
practice, at its most basic level, is something that’s a repeated
action that’s good for you, your community, and the planet.

Initially, we focused on strictly environmental PSPs, but we quickly learned that the environment was only an entrance point.

Jan Bennett

I first met Jan Bennett in Broomfield, Colorado. She is a spiritual
woman, quick with a smile. Her thinking, more than anyone else’s,
formed the ideas I’m sharing with you tonight. She’s a Wal-Mart
Associate. Originally from Mississippi, she’s a life-long learner, and
was as excited as anyone about learning how sustainability works, what
exactly is going on with our atmosphere, and how recycling can be a
business driver. She volunteered to become a PSP captain and soon had
almost everyone in the Broomfield store involved in the project.

But when I really talked to Jan I understood that her PSP —
learning how to recycle — was the touchstone of a transformational
change she was hoping to make in her life. Jan wanted to lose about 75
pounds, and she wanted to get control of her Type 2 Diabetes. More than
anything else she wanted to find a way to connect to her daughter, who
had been growing more and more distant every year, and had recently
told her that she had decided that she didn’t want to have children
because of the state of the world.

Jan’s first PSP was recycling, and encouraging her friends to
recycle. After recycling, her next PSP was to lose weight. Her PSP
became the mechanism to tackle those broader issues in her life. After
trying to lose weight a number of times, this time the diet worked: she
lost 75 pounds over the year. And with all of that weight off, she
started getting control of her diabetes. Today she’s been able to go
off her medication. And most importantly, her daughter thought what she
was doing was cool, and it’s been a way for them to start getting

I remember the conversation with Jan when she told me that her new
PSP was a diet. "Really?" I asked, obviously disappointed that this
born leader had chosen to go with something so … ordinary.

"What do you mean, ‘Really?’" she snapped back. "Well, I just
figured that sustainability" — I said it slowly this time — "has to
have something to do with protecting the earth." Jan gave me a kind
sigh. "Where do you think all that food is coming from?" She paused.
"And what about sustaining me, so I can sustain my family?" She then
smiled. "You’ll figure it out."

A few months later, Jan was invited by some folks at Wal-Mart to
come along to a small, exclusive clean energy investment conference at
the Aspen Institute, attended by people like Vice President Al Gore and
New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman.
At some point in the proceedings a senior official from the Bush
administration stood up and said that he thought climate issues were
too complex for average Americans, implying that climate change needs
to be solved by experts, not the people. Jan couldn’t hold her tongue
even though it wasn’t her turn to speak.

She summoned her courage, stood up and said: "Discount me, and the
South rise will rise up in me; inspire me and I will move any mountain
you put in front of me."

Silence. This humble hourly worker had just corrected one of the
President’s men, a renowned expert in clean energy policy. Why was she
even in Aspen, she wondered? And then Vice President Gore started to
clap. And pretty soon everyone else was applauding Jan as well. And
it’s not just Wal-Mart Associates who have gotten involved with PSP.
Amanda Adler’s mom Ruth works at Wal-Mart in Vancouver, Washington.

As Ruth got more and more excited about PSP and what she could do,
her daughter Amanda started getting curious and created her own PSP:
recycling. Amanda is 11 years old and loves to play softball. They live
in Battleground, Washington, a town with a population of about 13,000

A few weeks ago Amanda was finishing up drinking out of a plastic
bottle and went to put it in her backpack to recycle it. As she did,
her teacher asked her what she was doing. "I’m recycling this."

"Throw it away, Amanda," he said.

"No, I’m recycling this, because that’s my PSP."

The teacher was so infuriated that he sent her to the principal’s
office and she got detention. When Ruth got home she couldn’t believe
it. Amanda is a straight-A student. When she heard what happened she
and Amanda set up some chairs on their lawn and waited for the Mayor,
who happens to live down the block and walks his dog every evening by
their house, to come by. When he did, they told him their story, and he
agreed to help.

He had lunch with the superintendent of schools the next day. Within
a week they had recycling programs at the two middle schools and the
high school in the community. And they dropped her detention.

And the Adlers are just getting started. At dinner they make sure
that there’s no TV, and they use it as family time. At the softball
league they got rid of the deep fryer and are now serving up organic

Ruth says, "I started in Battleground, and I’m going to Vancouver next."

Augmenting Political Activism With Consumer Activism

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. A nation can flounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy. — Dr. Martin Luther King, 4 April, 1967

There are three desired outcomes for the BLUE movement. First, to
measurably improve the quality of life of people who join. Second, to
engage as many people as possible in the effort, and third, to increase
the effectiveness of their activism. The primary tactic is getting one
billion people to create their own personal sustainability practices.
Today there are two major forms of activism to combat problems ranging
from climate change to child poverty: structural change activism and
direct-outcome activism. When you volunteer at a school, you are
engaging in direct-outcome activism. When you lobby the school board to
improve the textbooks, you’re engaging in structural change activism.

My critique of environmentalism in the United States is largely with
the effectiveness of the structural activism that it has undertaken
over the past thirty years. Few laws have been passed, few regulations
have been changed, and certainly none of them has been up to the scale
of climate change. The movement has also ignored the critical role of
government investment in clean technology, which will be required to
reduce our emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels.

As my colleagues Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus have  attested,
investment in research and development will be required in order to
combat climate change. A recent article in the scientific journal Nature, entitled "Dangerous Assumptions,"
argues that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change has significantly underestimated the amount of emissions
reductions required to stabilize the amount of carbon in the
atmosphere. The technological challenge is at least twice as large as
the world has come to believe. In other words, we’re going to need
massive investments — investments similar to the those that helped us
build highways and railroads, guarantee the market for micro-chips and
fund the creation of the internet — in order to get enough new clean
energy sources online fast enough to make a difference. The movement of
which I speak can lower energy demand somewhat and create public
demand, but it can’t make the investments required by governments

As David Brower liked to say, it’s not a choice of either/or, it’s
both/and. I’ll say it again: do not confuse my advocacy of personal
actions and using the platform of consumerism as a rejection of
political action or a lack of commitment to strategic investments from
the public and private sector. I’ve spent my entire life working on
those, and we need to continue them. But if you believe it’s important
to engage an audience as large as one billion people, we need to speak
in words and encourage practices that solve the everyday problems that
people face. There are only a few institutions on the planet that have
a billion-person reach — not the US, not the UN, and not even
Wal-Mart. Who reaches a billion people? The nation of China, the nation
of India, Procter & Gamble, and McDonald’s. Why do you rob banks?
Because that’s where the money is, as Willie Sutton said. Why do you
work with corporations and India and China? Because that’s where the
people are.

Let me share a story that shows why I believe that we have only
begun to tap the power of this vein of activism. I went to the Amazon
on a fact-finding mission as a member of the international board of
Greenpeace to go to the roots of a shoppers’ campaign that has done
more to stop climate change than any other single action in the last
five years — the moratorium on cutting new forest for soybean

For the last decade, the cutting of the Amazon forest has rapidly
increased. I had thought that our activism in the early 1990’s had
irreversibly slowed the cutting, but the great soy expansion brought it
back in full force at the beginning of the century.

While China and the US battle to be the world’s largest CO2 emitter,
if you count deforestation, Brazil is the fourth largest emitter. 70
percent of Brazil’s emissions come from deforestation, and that
deforestation is largely happening in the Amazon[13]. And the largest contributor to deforestation in the last five years has been the clearing of land to grow soybeans.

The years 2004, 2005 and 2006 were particularly hard on the forest, as the global demand for soy increased.

Soy didn’t arrive in Brazil until the 1980’s, and it took off like
heroin. Farmers make less than $200 per hectare for cattle, and can
make up to $1,200 per hectare of soy. It’s no small business. Soy is
more than 10 percent of Brazilian exports; about $30 billion a year.
Most of the trade is in the hands of a few companies: ADM, Cargill, and
Bungee. The soy is used for animal feed, cooking oil, and increasingly
often as a biofuel ingredient.


The head of the local workers cooperative is Ivete. She lives near
San Pedro, not far from the confluence of the Amazon and Tapajos
Rivers. She speaks rapidly, her hands moving whenever she speaks. "I’m
happy you’ve come to understand our reality," she says when we arrive.

"We face some serious challenges here." "After Cargill came in 2003
we faced huge pressure to sell our lands." 90 percent of families don’t
have official title on their lands, and many were kicked off after
2003. The government has been slow at land reform and settling the
disputes. "The big landowners get their papers first," she says, "even
though the new constitution gave us our land." Soon after the large
landowners received their papers, the police came and told them that
the land was not theirs. Entire communities disappeared. "The process
was violent," she says, shaking her head.

There have been 1,534 workers assassinated in the last 15 years[14].

In one town I visited, Genipapo, a farmer named Casagrand claims all
of the land as his. There were 45 families here with a new church and a
new water system. They were almost finished with a rural
electrification project. Casagrand led the efforts to frighten people
from their homes and today there are only 12 families left. You can see
the charred remains of the houses of families that resisted. The smell
of smoke is still fresh and the weeds are growing up quickly through
the old thatch. The school is now closed, and it’s difficult for the
remaining families to stay. Everywhere I travel I bring a few of the
soybeans that Casagrand grows in the fields that are now encroaching on
Genipapa. It’s a reminder of what cost the people of Amazon are paying
for the way I live. But this is one story with what could be a happy
ending. In the last year the cutting has almost stopped. The major soy
producers have enacted a voluntary ban on buying soybeans from newly
logged forest. It came about through a European consumer campaign led
by Greenpeace to put pressure on McDonald’s to stop buying chickens for
Chicken McNuggets that were produced with soy from the Amazon.
McDonald’s investigated and then put pressure on its soy producers. The
soy moratorium has protected millions of acres so far.

And I’m very happy to announce that last week, the soy producers
tentatively committed to keeping the moratorium indefinitely. This is
an incredible achievement for consumer activists.

If activists could change the world through chicken McNuggets, imagine what we could do with a coordinated movement.

Why a Consumer Revolution?

In developing the thinking behind BLUE, there has been nothing more
controversial than the idea of a consumer-led movement. But I think
that our understanding of the power of consumerism can change. Recall
that a hundred years ago the word "consumption" was a way of describing
tuberculosis. We are no longer an agrarian society, and it’s time that
our cultural understanding of shopping — gathering the things we need
to live and thrive — matures.

I recently shared the vision for a billion-person consumer movement
with the head of one of the largest environmental organizations and he
scowled, "a billion person consumer movement? I want a billion person
anti-consumer movement." It’s a nice line, and a wonderful sentiment,
and I hope he goes out and builds that movement, but what I’m proposing
is that we meet most people where they’re at today: as busy, complex
humans looking to do the best thing for their family and themselves.

Throughout history, consumer movements have been central to
revolutions. The French Revolution was a call for bread, which Marie
Antoinette famously and fatefully responded to by saying "Let them eat
cake." On February 1, 1960, four African American students — Jibreel
Khazan, David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain — sat at a
segregated lunch counter at a North Carolina Woolworth’s store in the
seats reserved for white customers. And Gandhi rallied a nation against
imperial British rule with the simple and radical call for a march to
the sea to make salt.

Today, our response to shoppers as a social movement is much like
our response to corporations who wish to be leaders, which is, "I’d
rather you just didn’t consume." Or, in the case of corporations, "I’d
rather you didn’t exist." We don’t have time for this preciousness.
Corporations and consumerism can be vehicles for change. The question
is what type of change that will be.

Let me give you one example of what happens when consumers are not
involved: 7-Up. 7-Up is a soft drink made by Cadbury Schweppes. The
drink’s target market audience is moms who are looking to create
healthier alternatives for their families. Their brand proposition is
now "All-Natural," and they have wonderfully executed ads that show
farmers picking 7-Up cans in fields as if they were the blossom of a
new day. Of course, 7-Up is not really "all-natural," but the statement
is technically true based on current food regulations. This is just one
example of how the hyper-focus on one green claim — "All-natural" —
can obscure the true health effects of the product. Also, 7-Up has
tested different packaging versions to figure out that if you add 15
percent more yellow to the green on the package, people report a taste
experience that has a lot more lemon than lime.

A frequent reaction to manipulations of this sort is to recoil in
horror and to fall into a rant against marketing in general. Stare into
the dark and learn how we’re being manipulated in order to manipulate
the system back. For most of my activist career we have been trying to
get an issue into the mainstream and our tactics are conflict-oriented
since conflict raises awareness. But now that people know that global
warming is an issue, our challenge is to figure out how to activate

Generally, when we talk about affecting consumer culture, we start by looking at the media Americans consume.

I’d like to offer instead that we need to work on ground-level media
as the platform for moving "makea-difference" activities into
consumerism. "Shopper marketing," along with digitalization, has been
one of the two fastest growing segments of marketing in the last few
years. Shopper marketing is the effort to reach people in shopping
mode, the time when they’re at a store online or offline and searching
to buy a product. Unless you know how shoppers shop you can’t hope to
help them use that shopping to change to world. As someone who has
spent his life in grassroots organizing, I’ve found that "shopper
marketing" is the translation of ground-level organizing to the
marketing sphere.

Shopper Marketing

70 percent  of all purchase decisions are made in-store. 68 percent  of in-store purchases are made on impulse[15].

Shopper marketing is rapidly becoming a science. For example, marketers now know:

How many men who take jeans into the fitting room will buy them compared to women: 65 percent  to 25 percent[16].

How many browsers buy computers Saturday before noon (4 percent) as opposed to after 5 p.m. (21 percent)[17].

When given bigger baskets, shoppers buy more things. 74 percent of
shoppers with baskets make a purchase, compared to 34 percent of
shoppers without baskets[18].

The Shopping Cycle

Since I spoke here last, my company, Act Now, grew to a staff of 45
people and we decided to merge into the global advertising firm Saatchi
& Saatchi. Saatchi was an obvious choice, since it launched perhaps
the most inspirational consumer product, the Prius, and it represents
the world’s largest consumer products company and advertiser, Procter
& Gamble.

The reason was simple. Saatchi’s CEO Kevin Roberts convinced me that
this would be his life’s work: transforming one of the world’s great
advertising companies, with 7,000 employees in 84 countries, into the
world’s most powerful sustainability advocate. First, by making Saatchi
the "Bluest" agency on the planet, and then by helping all of its
clients transform their businesses, their products and their
communications to improve people’s lives, build the BLUE movement, and
radically dematerialize and de-carbonize the products they sell.

Saatchi’s shopper marketing division, Saatchi & Saatchi X, uses
a technique they call the ‘Shopping Cycle’ to understand how shopping

Which item is more likely to prompt a trip to a store? Running out
of Diet Coke, or running out of toilet paper? Diet Coke. Diet Coke is
not substitutable, whereas toilet paper has a substitute.

How many people here create a list before they go shopping? The
dream of every company is to get the name of its product on your list,
as opposed to just a generic name. "SunChips," not "Chips." "Tide
Coldwater," not "Laundry detergent." My dream is that BLUE becomes a
meta-brand, so that our billion advocates will buy as long as it’s
BLUE, the way a small number of people today will only buy a product as
along as it’s green.

Once you’ve got your list, you enter the store, the automatic doors
opening as if you were entering a spaceship, and something strange
comes over you. Your identity changes to "shopper," a cross between a
game show contestant and James Bond, as you searching for the things
you need.

"If it’s two for one, is one half the price of two?" you ask. "Which
is more important, the price per ounce or the price per use?"

It’s during this phase that the rapid process of deselection begins;
this is often a pre-conscious process. Many sustainable products are
left out in this process almost instantly before you even have a chance
to evaluate them. Maybe you haven’t heard of the brands, or they are
too expensive, or maybe the color palette is unfamiliar.

I share these details because as we build out the BLUE lifestyle
movement, we need to empower shoppers to demand sustainability in every
step of the process. For those of us who wish to be professionally
engaged in helping shoppers get the right products to improve their
lives and serve to make a difference for our world, we need to create
products that fulfill shopping needs at this level.

BLUE Plans

We’ve discussed why we need a movement that’s broader than a green
movement. We’ve shown how consumers actually shop through the shopping
cycle. Now we need to get to the hard work of how we take these needs
and form them into a BLUE movement.

Let’s review. Our purpose is nothing short of building a world full of happy people contributing to a healthy planet.

There are three outcomes for the BLUE movement. First, to measurably
improve the quality of life of people who join. Second, to engage as
many people as possible in the effort, and third, to increase the
effectiveness of their activism.

In the next five years, we need to build a billion-person movement,
representing over $1 trillion in consumer buyer power — consumers who
are maintaining their PSPs and acting on them when they shop.

To create a world full of happy people, we need to go far beyond
reducing our individual carbon imprints. Happiness requires that the
material, Maslovian needs of the nine billion people projected to be
living on the planet by the end of the century are met, so we need
enough resources for all of them.

No greater scion of capitalism, John Maynard Keynes, once quipped,
"in the long run, we’ll all be dead." We all know that once we’re gone,
someone else will inherit the earth we’re leaving. This sort of
long-term thinking is hard for the capital markets, and that’s one
reason that we need shoppers to lead the companies from the bottom as
emerging regulations press them from the top.

To create this pressure, we’re going to have to move beyond the four
Ps — Price, Product, Place and Promotion — taught in every marketing
class. I want to suggest three Ps that I hope marketing professors will
start to teach their new students and that BLUE folks will use to drive
their shopping habits: Price, Process and Purpose.

PRICE: First, we need to democratize sustainability
and make it available to everyone. You shouldn’t have to be rich to be

PURPOSE: What’s the purpose of what you’re buying? First, do you need it? Does it fit into the healthy practices in your life?

PROCESS: What was the process to make the product?
Was it energy intensive? Did it use pesticides or petroleum? Were the
workers paid a fair wage? How will it be disposed of?

These three Ps are a step towards building cultural rules for
shopping. Your mother may have taught you how to find a bargain; you
need to teach yourself how to make a difference through the things you

This will eventually come naturally to all of us. We live on a
planet that’s 2/3 water and we don’t have gills; we live on a planet
full of consumer choices and we don’t yet have the faculties to choose

BLUE needs you to invent it. No one owns it; it’s a platform.
Everyone is welcome to catalyze action around it, as long as it
improves life at a personal, community and planetary level. And start

Start by setting your own PSP if you don’t have one already. The
process of personal improvement is never-ending, and if you already
have a practice, recommit to it or begin another. Once you have your
PSP, share it with a friend. The possibilities for PSPs are endless.

Start placing plants next to light switches, since people conserve
more when they see nature. If you travel a lot, get your company to
declare a no-fly week once a year. Start buying concentrated detergent
and washing your laundry in cold water. Eat one less meat meal a week.
Write a thank you letter to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Each individual personal sustainability practice does matter.

President Bush just sent out a $150 billion stimulus package to
boost the American economy. How are you going to spend your $600?

If just the Americans in the movement bought cars with the same fuel
economy as the Prius, we would save over 3 million barrels of oil each
day; (that’s more oil than the USA currently imports from the Persian
Gulf) and save us more than $45 billion each year at the gas pump[19].

If half of the time we bought cotton it was organic, we could stop
as much as a billion pounds of toxic, oil based pesticides and
fertilizers from being exposed to farmers, their communities, and the
end customer — every year.

If each time we plugged something in, it only drew   power when it was needed, we in the USA alone would   save $5.8 billion annually on power bills and prevent the   greenhouse gas equivalent of taking seven million cars   off the road for a year.

If every time we turned on a light it was a compact   fluorescent, the savings would be equivalent to taking 50   million cars off the road for a year.

If every time we bought a gallon of milk it was organic, we would save 200 million pounds of pesticides a year.

If every time we washed laundry it was in cold water, we would save 75 billion kwh of energy.

If every time we drank water it was from a reusable bottle and water filter, we would save $600 million a year.

This is only the beginning. But it doesn’t start without your
commitment to your own practice and your asking someone else to start
as well.

And then I hope you’ll join me in asking the smallest and the
largest institutions on the planet to encourage the people in their
universes to start as well. I’ve been working with the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, who will be launching a campaign after
November based on principles similar to BLUE’s, called "A Healthiest
Nation." Wal-Mart will only accelerate its focus on sustainability as
they move from their two million Associates to their 200 million
shoppers. And, perhaps most importantly, I believe that Amanda Adler’s
softball team in Battleground, Washington will all have PSPs by the end
of spring. We need websites, we need shelf-talkers, we need writing, we
need songs, we need great food, and we need you. If you tell me that we
can’t get to one billion people, I’ll tell you that with the people in
this room, the people listening to the radio and the people reading
these words, we’re on our way there. I’m done convincing people that
the world is going to end. This is the how the world is going to begin

When you look at the planet earth from space, you don’t see social
problems, you don’t see economic problems. But you do see a little bit
of green. And a whole lot of BLUE.


[1] Hawken, Paul. Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
  [2] Mckibben, Bill. "Reversal of Fortune." Mother Jones
  [3] Speth, James Gustav. The Bridge at the End of the World, p. 2
  [4] Speth, James Gustav. The Bridge at the End of the World, p. 2
  [5] Speth, James Gustav. The Bridge at the End of the World, p. 2
  [6] EWG/Commonweal Study, "Industrial chemicals and pesticides in cord blood"
  [7] The PEW Center on the States, "One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008"
  [8] Center for Disease Control (CDC)
  [9] Center for Disease Control (CDC)
  [10] UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): "Obesity and Overweight"
  [11] Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food, p. 3
  [12] Saatchi & Saatchi X, proprietary data
  [13] Greenpeace, "Eating up the Amazon," p. 5
  [14] Adam Werbach’s personal interviews with Ivete
  [15] Underhill, Paco. Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping
  [16] Underhill, Paco. Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping
  [17] Underhill, Paco. Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping
  [18] Underhill, Paco. Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping
Sierra Club, "The Biggest Single Step the United States Can Take to
Curb Global Warming and Save Oil is to Raise the Fuel Economy of Our
Cars and Light Trucks."



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