Marc Gunther: “Take Small Steps to Go Blue”
“To attack big environmental problems, start with small steps. So says Adam Werbach—activist, author, advertising man and one of the more interesting people working in the sustainability movement today. Werbach is the former president of the Sierra Club, the author of Strategy for Sustainability: A Business ManifestoSaatchi & Saatchi S
He’s behind a Saatchi project called DOT – do one thing – that is inspired by the PSPs – personal sustainability projects
Is this the way to curb climate change, stop the loss of biodiversity, save tropical forests and the like? Or do people screw in a CFL bulb and then figure they’ve done their part?
Werbach argues that small steps lead to big things. ‘Change begets change,’ he says. ‘Recycling and energy conservation—once you start remembering to do that, you’re remember to do other things.’
Werbach spoke the other day at the Net Impact conference at Cornell University, and he drew a big crowd. Net Impact
The crowd may have showed up because Werbach is a controversial. His green friends went after him when he joined forces with Wal-Mart. He appeared on the cover of Fast CompanyIs Environmentalism Dead?
‘My quitting environmentalism was about embracing something different,’ he says. ‘We were not moving far enough, fast enough.’
Now, rather than green, he talks about consumers and citizens who exhibit shades of ‘blue’ — an idea that encompasses social, cultural and economic values, as well as environmentalism. Saatchi & Saatchi’s research shows that a growing number of Americans fit into the ‘blue’ category. As best I as can understand it –and the idea needs to be better articulated, I think — being ‘blue’ means people are making choices in their lives, at work and as consumers that are better for them and for the broader world.
‘They’re shifting, day by day, when they see a better alternative,’ he says. ‘Sustainability is fast becoming mainstream.’
He also described how McDonald’s, under pressure from Greenpeace in the UK, was able to persuade its biggest suppliers, including Cargill, to change their growing practices in Brazil.
These corporate initiatives, and many others, are being driven by enlightened consumers, by activist groups and by the desire of companies to attract and engage workers. They are also driven by internal activists–the kind of people who belong to Net Impact. (Net Impact and eBay published a report earlier this year called Making Your Impact at Work
But we also need to remember that there are limits to what companies can do, given that their mission is (almost always) to sell more stuff. There are limits, too, to what people can do as workers and consumers. Werbach says his ultimate goal is to help 1 billion people make changes in their lives to become more sustainable. That’s great, and I’d be the first to say that what he is doing matters. But so does politics. Private behavior won’t solve the climate crisis. To get where we need to go, people will have to do more than act ‘green’ or ‘blue.’ They’ll also have to act as citizens.”