J500 Media and the Environment

Attention (anti) Wal-Mart Shoppers by jenh

When I skim through the vitriolic comments that follow Adam Werbach’s recent speech, I begin to doubt my critical thinking skills. I don’t accept everything that Adam proposes, but as with his much debated “Death of Environmentalism” speech I appreciate the super complex picture he’s trying to bring into focus. For those who haven’t read Adam’s most recent call to arms, he essentially says the environmental movement needs to meet people where they are, as consumers. If you can’t tap into the Everyday Joe and Jane who shop at Wal-Mart, juggle work and raising kids, you’ll fail to create real, sustainable, long-term change, in other words.

I know that although my personal strategy is to consume less and support local businesses when I can, that doesn’t mean everyone else has that choice nor that they are informed about the ripple effects of their choices. This is one of the reasons Adam – despite the shortcomings of his consumer-tailored BLUE movement – appeals to me. I would like to entertain the idea that if you can reach people to help them understand the process behind their choices, they will make different ones if they have the means, and the all mighty market will sort out the rest (neverminding the fact that the price of goods versus income affects those choices enormously). Or as one person commented, “if people start to understand enough about the manufacturing process to be able to differentiate greener processes from dirtier ones, then they may start to become interested in the manufacturing/industrial system as a whole, and then we can move toward “industrial literacy.'”

Of course, first you have to get through to them, and Adam would have you doing that by appealing to them through shopping.

On Saturday, Lawrence’s farmers’ market opened for the 2008 season amid frigid winds and spiraling snowflakes. A few die-hard folks including me wandered by the market (800 block of New Hampshire, downtown) to see what was there so early in the season. I picked up a dozen eggs and talked with the vendors and a couple of shoppers. People were excited for the prospects for the year. They like participating in something that makes them feel good about the way they feed themselves and their families. I think that’s at the heart of Adam’s argument in some twisted way: consumers who feel good about the (informed) choices they make are going to be the root of change. Ignoring that just because you might want people to consume less won’t get us any closer to an idea of a sustainable future. – Jen Humphrey


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Love the cartoon and appreciate your thoughtful analysis.
I think people are interested in whatever helps them find meaning or forge deeper relationships. We all have associations with the products we consume. When that association has substance, the paradigm shifts. We have a vested interest in the heads, hearts and hands that went into creating said product. When we can put a face to the creator/ farmer/ producer, then the relationship can get you out into the cold on a Saturday am and so much more. As Gwendolyn Brooks says (on Dave Lowenstein’s mural at the market):
We are each other’s harvest,
We are each other’s business,
We are each other’s magnitude and bond.


Comment by j500

I am forever grateful to Adam Werbach because he showed thousands of us at Walmart that we could make a difference. Sustainability had become such a huge confusing jumble of statistics and oppinions that we ordinary non-green professionals got so frustrated we gave up even trying to understand. Environmentalists have made it “their issue” and we had no place in the discussion. Adam stepped out from behind the wall that the traditional environmentalists had built around themselves and showed us “outsiders” that we make sustainability choices everyday. He showed us through the PSP with Walmart that we do have a place at the sustainability table. We billions of “outsiders can claim that place and learn to make even the samll daily sustainability choices that will change the dire circumstances that we (the whole human race)face together if business as usual continues to ignore sustainability.

Comment by Jan Bennett

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