Conscious Consumers in a Nutshell by Martha Shaw

Conscious Consumers in a Nutshell
Part 1 in Earth Advertising’s 4-Part Series on consumer behavior

Have you heard the one about the early adopter who married a true believer? Their children were 22% reluctant, 32% savvy, 17% enlightened, 29% adverse– and X% prone to little green lies.

Green Consumer Research Reports: It’s a jungle out there

It turns out that when you ask people how environmentally responsible they are, how much they care about polar bears, or what they would sacrifice for clean air, expect creative latitude in their answers. Studies show that studies need more studies to study. Earth Advertising thanks and supports all of our survey colleagues by offering an up-to-date directory of conscious consumer studies upon request. After all, we are all in this together. We are pioneers in the green marketing jungle. The truth is, green consumers are a moving target for media planners and the shelf life of research reports can be shorter than cheese. One poignant news story about risky spinach, an environmental mishap, or shipment of toxic toys, can turn a consumer behavior pattern on its heels.

Research reports on environmentally and socially responsible purchasing attitudes and behaviors are sprouting up everywhere. Marketing professionals have been intent on describing people most likely to shop with an environmental conscience for a decade now. In the early 90′s around the time Earth Advertising’s eFlicks Media published its initial marketing reports on “conscious consumers,” Paul Ray coined the term “cultural creatives” to better define the market potential. Today’s businesses, from Fortune 500′s to start-ups, are hoping to turn research numbers into sales figures. Some are staffing up on sustainability experts to decipher it all. Meanwhile marketing directors struggle to apply consumer research results to brand identity and media spending.

Even more important to some businesses is the amount of adversity they can expect from environmental deficiencies. Companies can no longer rely upon public relations to fix negative press about unsafe products and practices. How much people want to know about a company or product.

is the question many brands ask. Playing it safe, businesses are adopting responsible practices quickly on the chance that green is the new marketing tool.

“Cliff notes” on consumer behavior

Manhattan-based Earth Advertising inventories the landscape of research reports to help our clients get the real dirt on consumer data. Research is the foundation upon which we build strong marketing platforms. From these, we can promote media plans, product trial, brand awareness, loyalty incentive programs, pr, games, sales tools, and eco-tainment to effectively reach the audience with a compelling message. We believe that the most masterful market’eers are those willing to put both sides of the brain into overdrive. We call it research-based creative.
This report is intended to supplement the experience of industry professionals who attend branding conferences religiously, but might miss that one kernel of wisdom that can make the difference. Maybe you were schmoozing in the lounge about climbing gear, swordfish extinction, or why you got into this business in the first place.

Perhaps you dozed off in a lecture or they forgot to send you the power point. Earth Advertising’s 4-part Series is for serious professionals who didn’t know that saving the world would be so boring. This is not meant to discourage conference attendance, but give you the option to hold out for ones in nice places like Hawaii or Aspen. We hope you enjoy our 4-part Series of reports on Green Consumer Research.

Who is conscious about what, when and how much

Exactly how many are really out there? Many studies have competing new terms for customers who are likely to choose responsible products over toxic, polluting ones. Most agree that there are millions of consumers out there willing to pay extra for toxic-free products, and still others willing to make earth-friendly choices purely because they care about the future, other inhabitants, or the planet. The growth in eco-happy products and services is exciting for nearly everybody. There are trillions of dollars (ok, maybe billions) to be made selling good things to informed people.

Environmental policy reform is partly a result of the fact that dirty secrets don’t stay hush, hush as long, and information travels fast. A manufacturer half way around the world can be seen on webcam, and from space! More people know more about what they buy.

How many conscious consumers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Last year alone hundreds of millions of incandescent bulbs were replaced with compact fluorescents. But was that for environmental reasons? Nobody really knows, even if they say they do. Environmentally conscious consumption is not progressing as fast as some might hope, but it is growing. The burgeoning of triple to quintuple bottom line businesses is a promising sign. The concept of “bottom line” has become multi-dimensional and there are great social entrepreneurs to thank for this. People-planet-profits (but not always in that order)was the rallying marketing cry in 2007. Yet, still the retail economy is dominated by publicly traded companies pressured by quarterly earnings. In the upfront these environmental measures cut into profits. In the end, hopefully they translate into savings and less liability.

It feels like new business standards might be here to stay. Quality of life indicators, socially responsible indices, environmental risk assessment, shareholder activism, corporate transparency and new definitions for ‘standard of living’ can be found on the internet. They are at the fingertips of anyone interested in looking them up. There is a fresh sense of urgency among a strong, yet relatively undersized, group of consumers. Is the model citizen committed to protecting natural resources? Are their values reflected in how they spend their money? We do not believe there is a perfect formula for finding perfect people. Many people trying to do the right thing still can’t decide if it’s ok to go to Starbucks, or not. Are Christmas trees all right? They don’t know.

The most conscious consumers are motivated by health

Earth Advertising distinguishes between a) products that are personally harmful; and b) those that are harmful to the environment and animals at large but do not pose immediate and obvious personal risk. The most heavily populated environmentally conscious consumer group consists of, a) people gravely concerned about their own health and that of their family.
If they have friends or relatives recently touched by cancer, asthma, infertility, or other problems that they suspect are linked to their environment, they are more likely to choose toxic-free products. It starts with what they eat, drink, wear, touch, breathe, or feed the young. Many pregnant moms feel like they are staring right into the headlights, when they brush with chemicals that haven’t even been tested on rats. Not to support animal testing. But, moms are finally questioning the logic of “Keep out of reach of children and small pets” on the cleaners they use in the playroom.

Is level of wealth a good indicator?

One consumer data presentation showed a correlation between lack of education and obesity. According to some experts, this group is the “least” environmentally conscious. When you have only enough money to buy unsafe products, that’s despair not irresponsibility.
It’s more expensive to buy organic food, but if there is a CSA or farmer’s market nearby, you can go out of your way to buy local. By taking extra steps, environmental products can be more affordable—like buying in bulk or in concentration. Generally, green costs more, from non-toxic detergents and recycled paper to driving green cars and living in green buildings. Certain activities that engage in conserving energy, save money, too. If a penny saved is a penny earned, then an unused megawatt, known as a negawatt, is money in the bank.

Consciousness is a mixed bag that is hard to quantify. Motivation is a piece of the puzzle, as are informed or misinformed decisions. How can we classify someone who buys organic but doesn’t recycle? Also, the very workings of the planet are not always well-known. According the National Science Research, for instance, many Americans think the sun revolves the Earth.
For the most part, conscious consumers are not defined by a certain income bracket, ethnicity, geography or demography, but by “psychography.” People most fearful of the harmful effects of dangerous chemicals in food, drink, cleansers, clothes, cosmetics, paint, etc. are most likely to buy non-toxic things if they can afford to.

Please don’t kill the messenger

As it turns out, the household member most likely to make purchasing
decisions is predominately female. This woman is even making the choices when it comes to cars and gadgets. Women are nurturers and gatherers, which in this day and age translates to mothers, matriarchs and “shoppers.” Men are more likely to engage in goal-driven activities such as chasing and catching flying objects like hockey pucks, footballs, and big, powerful paychecks. (Again, we read the surveys, we don’t conduct them.)

Men do make many decisions and are concerned about the state of the planet. Just look at the ratios at conferences. According to most survey they just don’t make everyday-run-of-the-mill-family purchasing decisions like groceries. Power plants and fishing vessels? Yes.
These days it’s not just endangered species capturing the attention of researchers. There is most likely a huge database on each of us somewhere. There is no shortage of research out there on our purchasing patterns either. You could probably search golfers with a 50 handicap who only play on environmentally conscious golf courses, just in the North East, using a Yonex club and surmise quickly what kind of car he (or she) drives. Data is an export product. The Freedom Act probably didn’t hurt. For all we know our stats are sold to Japan. But do they know why you took the bus today? Maybe your car broke down.

Who is conscious about what, and why

One study suggests at least 90% of all people consider themselves conscious consumers. Let’s say it’s true. We must take a serious look at what conscious means. One can be conscious enough not to buy an outdated TV so she won’t have to replace it in two years. This person might, or might not, be worrying about the environmental life cycle of the electronic components. Frugality may be a survival instinct. Conscious shopping can be confusing in a world where media is supported by advertisers telling us to buy, buy, buy. Even the President encouraged everyone to keep shopping after 9-11 in the best interest of our country’s economy.

Yet, overproduction of senseless goods is evident wherever you look. Recently we heard a factoid about plastic ware. Americans alone dispose of enough paper, plastic cups, forks, and spoons every year to circle the equator three times. Does a conscious consumer use disposable utensils just on specials occasions, or whenever it’s more convenient?

Signs do indicate that a kinder, gentler, safer world is what most people want way deep down inside, even if it’s buried under discount mattress sales and factory closeouts. When presented creatively, any and all people of any gender can rise to the occasion of a healthier planet. If we asked dogs, they’d probably give it a “paws up” too.

Media is great when the story is real

People are exposed to media about wars, fossil fuel, over-manufacturing, excess packaging and toxic industrial processes that have wreaked havoc on our natural resources. Until recently, most people didn’t like to talk about it, or hear about it. Now it’s vogue. The digital airwaves are becoming environmental messengers as never before. Leaders both young and old want to engineer a better world moving forward. Environmental heroes have gained status as our society’s celebrities. There is much debate about how these consumers get their information. Most agree that they make decisions from sources in the way of networking and reading, and from “gurus” and medical professionals.

As information technologies converge, you can expect these people to be more and more influenced by non-commercial media in all forms. Above all, be honest and passionate about your product and your company. It is interesting to your target audience, so be sure it is told by master craftspeople in communication.

A finely told tale can weave in and among all forms of media with a memorable message. This message must be easily understood to be spread by others. Have a clear, redundant mantra that is easy to remember and share. It can even be a factoid. Pass it to hairdressers, teachers, grocers, family, ministers, cab drivers, employees and everyone throughout the supply chain. A rock hits the water with one simple thunk! The hole fills instantly, but the ripples reverberate almost endlessly. Thanks to media coverage and the internet, consumers can get a sneak peak behind the company logo to see what it really stands for. Green washing does not always fail immediately, but it never wins out.

Who do conscious consumers believe?

People in this psychographic tend to believe expert sources. The nickname “guru” here simply refers to people who are focused enough on your product category to have read about related topics or heard things in the news or discovered it at an event or chance encounter.

Words used to describe the “most” conscious consumer can easily be confused with those who talk about products the most. We like to believe the most responsible consumers are the ones who listen the most. They actively look for advice from gurus in all mediums.

In various reports, gurus are otherwise described as “brandvangelists”, “brand stewards”, “product ambassadors”, “diehards”, “conscious consumers”, “cultural creatives”, “enlightened”, “converted”, “true believers”, “environmentalists”, “activists”, “thought leaders” and “the choir” among others. They are people who may or may not have chosen to live healthy lives, but they at least read about it and talk about it. They keep pace with news and statistics on the risks of scary things in our environment.

These gurus are most likely to create the link between a healthy planet and human health in general. If you took the time to read this, you may be a bit of a guru yourself.

There is a gap between how we perceive ourselves and what we really do. A surgeon is still a surgeon even though he rarely wields the knife, and the same may be true for self-proclaimed conscious consumers in varying degrees. This is no excuse to be judgmental toward people. The green movement should focus on helping people help the planet, thus help themselves. The same is true at high levels of government and industry. By all means, it’s more effective when people believe it’s their idea, not somebody guilt-tripping them.

Though media planners are often inclined not to spend media dollars preaching to the choir, this is the very root system from which your brand will grow and gain momentum. Treat your choir with respect or the choir may sing someone else’s tune, and you want them to sing yours. Clearly, loudly, memorably, and often. They are the journalists, the media voices, the industry leaders, the gurus and they are often very vocal and passionate about their opinions.

People are human

There are several sources that would make a healthy addition to any choir, and they are health professionals, scientists, and religious leaders because conscious consumers tend to listen to these ‘experts’ more carefully. The ‘experts’ are not necessarily your consumers, however. An example is the sight of nurses huddled in the cold, smoking outside hospitals after spending the evening caring for a patient dying of lung cancer. It is not always human nature to practice what you preach.

You might find that a family buys organic milk but they eat processed cheese. Parents might see a TV special and link hormones in cows to premature development in their teens. Others are convinced that mercury in fish can cause learning disabilities. They might have solar panels and drive an SUV. One person might respond to Anderson Cooper’s televised blood work showing industrial chemicals in his body by detoxing with lemons for a week. Another might respond to the same thing by reaching for another beer.

It’s easy to pick and choose your customers carefully with new media techniques. In a way, marketing agencies like Earth Advertising are matchmakers bringing customers together with products that align with their belief systems, or will be aligned by the time we’re done.

Bribing for shelf space

If you feel uncomfortable coercing a retailer to put your product at eye level in the store, go outside your comfort zone. Location at point of purchase gives you stature with customers. It is an implied endorsement. If a customer must ask where your organic tomato sauce is, you could lose them to all-natural along the way. Create a campaign directed at store managers and tell your customers what section you’re in. Once a conscious consumer has your product in hand and reads the ingredients, you have made a connection.

Conscious consumers do read packaging. Use positive reinforcement. If McDonald’s posts how many burgers they sold, post how much pesticide you helped to save from groundwater by supporting organic agriculture.

If you want to get your customer’s attention, you must be available. Create an aura around yourself and your company quickly through all mediums. Hand out an award, start a club, give things away, make friends with your consumers.

Media is the message only if the message is done well

In short, the media techniques most effective are news stories, public relations and events, newspapers and magazines, and social networking. You cannot fool your consumer so be respectful and authentic. It’s your only option or your first sale to that customer will be your last. You must penetrate the media with interesting points.

Someone will want to argue about positive vs. negative messaging. The negative effects of dangerous chemicals are not positive. When your colleagues ask why you are being negative, tell them because negative sells when you’re in the non-toxic business. You are asking people to switch over to healthy alternatives from toxic products. Very few people are deliberately trying to poison the environment, although that sector does exist and there’s a name for them not included in this report.

Who does the planet belong to anyway?

How can we instill the thought that the planet belongs to all of us, when we have grown up in a world where companies are to buying water rights, and mining whole countries and mountain ranges for minerals and building materials? This is what Earth Advertising and agencies like us think about most of the time. How to sell the idea of purchasing eco-friendly products not just for one’s own health, but for every one and every things.

There is positive research to support that people do care and given the tools and information, will vote at the cash register for the better good. Some scientists believe that the evolution of man included natural selection for those who care about man as a group.

The dichotomy here is that we have an economic system that prevents people from being able to afford to do the right thing. In schools we teach children about an environment that can be saved by making purchasing decisions that their parents can’t afford. Yes, we can all recycle, but can we afford organic cotton sheets? And yet the pesticides used in cotton industry are some the world’s biggest polluters of soil and groundwater.

Connecting healthy planet to healthy people

In the product categories of environmentally sustainable food, cosmetics, beverage, clothing (particularly baby and maternity) the best media channels and message platforms will be about health to the people who are most concerned about it, and you can expect women to be making the decisions.

The mental process of connecting the health of the environment to human health may have been easier in days gone by when man interacted with the land more intimately in order to survive. Today, a surprising amount of evidence suggests that many people don’t know where drinking water comes from. Many do not drink from water taps, but plastic bottles. Perhaps the intention of the industrial revolution was to make us all more comfortable after surviving the first ten thousand years. Maybe we believed that companies would take care of all our needs no questions asked. Now more people are beginning to notice that many products don’t make any sense to our environment and our survival.

People behave of their own free will

How do people evolve from health conscious to environmentally conscious? On their own free will. They make the mental connection either in a lightning strike moment, or over time. They begin to adopt, enjoy, and take pride in protecting resources as a more fulfilling way of life. You can define them by habits sometimes. Many research reports will tell you the ideal customer is politically active. Or an educated, informed woman with a family, and above average household income, If there is a member of her family with allergies, she’s even a better bet. We wish we could define green conscious consumers by the age, race, color, wealth, political party or astrological sign, but we can’t.

However, we do have clever, innovative ways to reach them. People adopt environmental practices to save face, save themselves or save the world and feel good. We believe people need to come to their own conclusions. Our job is to help them do that.

Upon request, Earth Advertising will provide you with recommendations on how much media to spend where, and how to optimize brand attributes. We offer corporate identity, messaging, and summary reports on market research, and ways to green your business while building team spirit among employees, vendors, suppliers, investors, management team, customers, shareholders and, yes, even the media.

We hope you’ve enjoyed Conscious Consumers in a Nutshell. This is Part 1 in a 4-Part Series on consumer behavior (see list). Ask us for our comprehensive directory of green consumer research. To find out more about how Earth Advertising can help strengthen your brand to resonate in the right places with the right message, contact: Earth Advertising, 44 E 32nd Street, New York, NY 10016 (212) 933-1391.

Earth Advertising’s Consumer Research Reports
Part 1. The conscious consumer in a nutshell
Part 2. Behavioral habits: public transportation, composting, recycling, reducing, water conservation, non-toxic home and lawn care, packaging, activism, green building, and energy efficiency
Part 3. Purchase decisions in clean technology: automobiles, transportation, renewable energy resources, and energy efficient products
Part 4. Tricks for popularizing your brand

What do you think about conscious consumers? Visit our blog at

Earth Advertising in Manhattan is a creative shop specializing in brand management, sales tools, media exposure, and studio production. The first publication about consumer behavior, “Conscious Consumption. Helping People Help the Planet” was published in 1998. Earth Advertising and studio eFlicks Media produce award-winning media campaigns and effective and innovative marketing programs in all mediums for earth- friendly clients.
To find out more about how Earth Advertising can help strengthen your brand to resonate in the right places with the right message, contact: Earth Advertising, 44 E 32nd Street, New York, NY 10016 (212) 933-1391,

Thanks to:
David Wigder
James R. Gregory Hugh Hough The Climate Group
Martha Shaw
Raphael Bemporad & Mitch Baranowski
Jacki Ottman
Green Media Enterprises
The Green Team The Hartman Group Egg Advertising
Steve French and Gwenn Rogers
Natural Food Merchadiser Claudia H Deutsch
Joel Makower Maryellen Molyneaux
Hilary Bromberg Thomas Friedman
A ‘Green Paper’
Bruce C. Ertmann DYG SCANTrend Identification Program
Eco & Co
Marketing Green
CoreBrand Green Team The Climate Group
Earth Advertising eFlicks Media
BBMG J. Ottman Consulting
GME Green Team
Hartman Group Egg Advertising
Natural Marketing Institute
Natural Food Merchandiser New York Times
Trend Watching Food Technology
Egg New York Times
TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc.
DYG Agence Conseil en Communication SurL’Environnement et les Questions de Societe
Consumer research references:
A look back at green marketing in 2007 Accounting for Brands as Intangible Assets
Awake & Aware
Carbon Down, Profits Up Conscious Consumption Helping People Help the Planet: marketing to conscious consumers
Conscious Consumers Are Changing the Rules of Marketing. Are you Ready?
Four Green Marketing Tips for 2008
‘Going Green’ Green Communications (Presentation)
Hartman Report on Sustainability Here come The Green Brandgelists
Lohas Market Research Review
New Hope from the Natural Food Merchandiser Now Looking Green is Looking Good
Ten Reasons Why There’s No Green Business Bubble The Changing Face of Organic Consumers
The Conscious Consumer: Marketing Strategies for a Greener World The Power of Green
The Six Sins of Greenwashing Toyota: Monitoring, Measuring & Managing Consumer-Generated Media (Presentation)
Understanding the “Green” Consumer (Presentation)
Who Are the ‘Sustainable Consumers’? (Presentation)

Martha Shaw Interviews Akaya Windwood, President of Rockwood Leadership Institute


Courageous Conversations: Social Venture Network Interview Series on Transforming the Way the World Does Business.

SVN (Martha Shaw): Does it take a lot of courage for you personally to be a leader of leaders?

Akaya Windwood: It takes courage to lead in these times. It’s dicey out there! The things we thought we could count on, we can’t count on anymore. People want concrete answers, which aren’t necessarily available in times of deep uncertainty — outcomes are not predictable. We need to be brave enough to say, “I don’t know.” It takes courage to say, “I’m not sure.” Or, “Let’s try something else.” It used to be you could make a good plan and if you had a good plan, you could predict what would happen. For instance, a social ill would be ameliorated. Or the financial risk factor would be X%. It’s not the case anymore.

SVN: How does fear play into courage?

Akaya Windwood: Courage is about acknowledging fear and doing what feels best for all concerned anyway. When people are not only putting their money, but their heart and their passion on the line, that takes courage. Woohoo! I think that this is a time in the world when people are operating in a great deal of uncertainty and that can make people afraid. When people are afraid, they don’t make the best decisions. That’s why good leadership is so important! That’s why Rockwood Leadership Institute is so important.

SVN: What does SVN mean for you?

Akaya Windwood: Well, SVN is a place where people go to say, “My business has to be about more than just my pocket book. I want it to have meaning” The days of doing things alone as a leader are past because it doesn’t get you very far. But when you get leaders together, it matters a lot. That’s why SVN matters. It’s a gift.

Akaya Windwood is the President of Rockwood Leadership Institute. She is recognized for elevating the effectiveness of leadership and collaboration, for infusing a sense of purpose, delight and wonder into our lives, and for her vision of a global community working together as a fair and equitable society.

Since 1987, Social Venture Network (SVN) has been the leading network of entrepreneurs and investors who are transforming the way the world does business. SVN’s Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations, will take place April 25-28 in San Diego. Visit for details and to register.

Interview by Martha Shaw, founder of Earth Advertising, which promotes the growth of environmentally responsible businesses through brand strategy and media campaigns.

Courageous Conversations: Martha Shaw interviews Lotus Foods


Social Venture Network (SVN) interview series on transforming the way the world does business: SVN interviews Caryl Levine and Kenneth Lee, founders of Lotus Foods

Social Venture Network has an exciting interview series on major responsible business leaders in the food industry who will be speaking at SVN’s Spring Conference.

SVN: The two of you have set out to transform the way the world grows rice. In keeping with the theme of the Social Venture Network (SVN) Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations, how much of your success can be attributed to courage?

Caryl Levine: It takes courage from our supply chain. We are working with farmers who have never exported their rice before. But they have the courage to change the way they have been growing rice all their lives, and how it’s been grown for centuries.

Kenneth Lee: It always starts with a few brave farmers in a village to try System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methods. By the end of the first season, their neighbors are saying, “What are you doing and how can I get involved?” For us, we think more about our ability to manage risk. We have to create value chains from scratch. What we are doing is risky.

SVN: The Social Venture Network fosters partnerships. What value do you find in partnerships?

Levine: We are able to expand our impact through partnerships. Agriculture is full of many challenges. Our rice farmers don’t have access to capital for seeds, for fertilizer, to build their own mills, or for the infrastructure to store rice. And then there’s the challenge of educating consumers about all the complex issues related to global rice production. Everything hinges on relationships and building trust. For instance, Whole Foods is a large platform and Lotus Foods is a small company. But, we need one another. It’s how our comparative strengths work together. From the Social Venture Network to the natural foods industry, from grassroots organizations to farmers all around the world, relationships have been a source of courage for us. They also keep us on track.

Lee: Transforming how rice is grown is pioneering work. We have a long way to go. Many players will need to act in concert to get the job done. We were lucky, for example, that when Cornell (CIIFAD) was promoting the benefits of SRI, one of their staff persons interested in marketing aspects discovered Lotus Foods on the shelf at Whole Foods. We soon found that we shared the same values and could strengthen one another’s missions. It was a no brainer.

Caryl Levine and Kenneth Lee are the founders of Lotus Foods, producers of distinctive ancient and new rice grown on family farms on healthy, chemical-free soils.

Attend the Social Venture Network Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations.

For 25 years, the Social Venture Network has been helping leaders and social entrepreneurs to succeed, while transforming the way the world does business in favor of a more just and sustainable economy. Join the most extraordinary social entrepreneurs of our time in San Diego, April 25-28 at the Social Venture Network Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations. To see who will be there, and why you should be there too, visit

Interviewer and author,, Martha Shaw, is founder and CEO of Earth Advertising which promotes environmentally sustainable businesses.

SVN Courageous Conversations: Martha Shaw Interviews Errol Schweizer, Whole Foods Market


SVN: You are participating in the Social Venture Network (SVN) Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations. How much of being a pioneer is dependent on courage?

Errol Schweizer: I think courage is a big part of being a pioneer. Speaking from a perspective of working for Whole Foods Market, I think it’s one aspect among many. As a company with purpose, we’re looking for suppliers that also have purpose. So I think courage is one aspect of it but there are definitely other traits that go into being a good supplier and creating a product and partnership that is changing the world for the better.

SVN: Have you had to take some chances?

Errol Schweizer: Actually, for some reason I tend to find trouble. I tend to be attracted to the edge of discussions and to look for the seams or crack in situations that will either provoke innovation or new discovery. I don’t want to get too philosophical about this, but I tend to be attracted to those sorts of things. Sometimes people look at me with chagrin, but I have a good time. It’s better to apologize than to ask for permission. I’m good at saying I’m sorry.

SVN: Why are partnerships so important?

Errol Schweizer: It’s the main reason why I’m in business at Whole Foods Market. Partnerships are our bread and butter. It’s about being mutualistic. Creating win-win partnerships with our suppliers is core to what we do. Creating these mutually beneficial relationships in our business dealings is not always easy. It takes a lot of work on both sides. As just one example, when we find a supplier that we want to work with, we share ideas and devote intellectual energy and time to help them innovate their products and bring them to market so they’re not just out there on their own trying to figure out what’s going to work.

SVN: What would you say to a supplier about the strength it takes to be a social entrepreneur?

Errol Schweizer: You know, it’s retail so there are no guarantees and the customer always decides. So, it’s important to have ingenuity, and to maintain your integrity. And it always helps to be a little insane – not too insane. I think the most important of those is maintaining your integrity. We have shared values and passion for what we are doing. All of us, including the Social Venture Network, are attempting to do something that we value as good in the world.

Errol Schweizer is executive global grocery coordinator at Whole Foods Market. He is recognized for ethical sourcing and for creating ongoing win-win partnerships with suppliers. In his first three years as global coordinator, he brought more exclusive products to the shelves than in the company’s history.

Attend the Social Venture Network Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations, April 25-28, San Diego.

For 25 years, the Social Venture Network has been helping leaders and social entrepreneurs to succeed while transforming the way the world does business – in favor of a more just and sustainable economy. Join the most extraordinary social entrepreneurs of our time on April 25-28 in San Diego at the Social Venture Network (SVN) Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations. To see who will be there, and why you should be there too, visit

SVN Interviewer: Martha Shaw, founder and CEO of Earth Advertising which promotes environmentally sustainable businesses.

Courageous Conversations: An Interview with Social Entrepreneur Adnan Durrani, by Martha Shaw


Part of a Social Venture Network (SVN) Series on Transforming the Way the World Does Business.

Submitted by:Martha Shaw
Posted: Apr 03, 2013 – 09:30 AM EST
Tags: svn, social entrepreneurship, american halal, whole foods, balle, net impact, bsr, asbc, green america, bioneers, culture, gmo, supply chain

By Martha Shaw

Hundreds of social entrepreneurs and business leaders who are committed to transforming the way the world does business will gather in San Diego this month for Courageous Conversations, the theme of Social Venture Network’s (SVN) Spring Conference, April 25-28. SVN has been fostering a movement toward a more just and sustainable economy for 25 years, and has spawned many of the world’s most successful triple-bottom-line businesses.

The historical significance of SVN is reflected not only in the role its members have played in transforming business, but in the many organizations which have sprouted, indirectly or directly, from the network over the years including B Corporation, BALLE, Net Impact, BSR, Slow Money, American Sustainable Business Council, Green America, Bioneers, and hundreds of others.

Among the business leaders who will be leading discussions at Courageous Conversations is Adnan Durrani, Founder and CEO of American Halal, Inc. As a prelude to the conference, SVN interviewed Mr. Durrani on courage and on the topic of his session, Big and Small Changemakers: Creating Smart and Effective Partnerships.

SVN: The theme of SVN’s Spring Conference this year is Courageous Conversations. What kind of courage does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Adnan Durrani: My wife jokes that only if you are truly insane are you qualified to be an entrepreneur. You are taking something that is a dream, developing it into a vision, and then hoping to execute it into reality as a for-profit business. Indeed, it is very irrational, yet requires extreme discipline. Being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 gig and one must have enormous passion and devotion. You need a certain amount of facts, research and knowledge on the ground, and good instincts. Also, of course it helps to have experience and you also need good luck. Underlying all of that is the courage of your convictions.

Having been involved in four successful start-up food companies, how do you stay sane?

I have been lucky. I’m on my fourth food company, and every one [of them] has been successful in turning something nascent into a market opportunity. To some investors they were silly ideas. For me, I continued to see healthy food trends in Europe and waited to see if those trends would cross to our shore. What convinced me to keep going was seeing the window opening on the other side of the Atlantic.

You are moderating a session at the conference. What can the audience expect?

If they are looking to make an impact in consumer goods, they’ll have a rare opportunity to hear stories from leaders of high-end mission-based companies that are transforming the way the world does business. One example is Errol Schweizer, the gatekeeper of Whole Foods in Austin. Because of Errol’s astute knowledge about innovative trends in the natural category, people clamor just to have a conversation with him. He’ll clue us in to Whole Foods and their cause, Whole Planet. The impact of Whole Foods is that it is one of the only retailers who will partner with an early stage start-up, and that has enormous social impact.

What role do partnerships play in social entrepreneurship?

When we launched our brand in Whole Foods, it was around the era when the tragedy of 9-11 was still raw. American Halal was among the first foods to appeal to the dietary restrictions of Muslims. The brand, Saffron Road, was developed not only to appeal to consumers who sought healthy, all natural, sustainably produced food, but to those whose spiritual principles guided their dietary needs. We were the world’s first halal-certified frozen entrée.

The launch coincided with the Islamic holiday, Ramadan.

Suddenly, there was an outbreak of bigotry in the blogosphere that became a media story. It was a tempest in a teapot. A heated religious debate was about to play out in the aisles of Whole Foods. But, they held their heads up high, taking pride in themselves as curators of culinary diversity. They weathered the storm like champions.

And thousands of American Muslim consumers flocked to Whole Foods stores for the first time to show their loyalty and solidarity with Whole Foods’ progressive values. Our sales soared 600 percent and we are now the No. 1 frozen entrée in Whole Foods stores nationally. It was a win-win. That is partnership.

There are hundreds of examples of partnership throughout our supply chain. Whole Foods is now requiring GMO labeling and Saffron Road is the first Non-GMO Project Verified entree as a result of partnership. Another example is our mutual relationship with our supply chain of organic chickpea farmers. These are the kinds of stories you’ll hear at the conference.


Adnan Durrani is the founder of American Halal, whose Saffron Road brand sells the first halal-certified frozen entrées available in mainstream supermarkets nationwide.

Find more Courageous Conversations, including interviews with Errol Schweiger of Whole Foods, and Caryl Levine and Kenneth Lee of Lotus Foods, at

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Meeting of the Minds by Martha Shaw


Business and environmental leaders brainstorm sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

by Martha Shaw

(San Diego, CA) – May 15, 2013 – What would happen if you sequestered big business leaders and entrepreneurs with environmental thought leaders and encouraged them all to brainstorm ways to reduce our tread on the planet? With a little luck and a lot of work, you get sustainable solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges.

Fortune Brainstorm Green
Fortune Brainstorm Green opened on April 29 in Laguna Niguel, California with actor Harrison Ford and Peter Seligmann of Conservation International, and continued for twenty-four hours spread out over three days of panels, breakout sessions, meals and soirees. CEOs and sustainability officers of the largest multinational corporations on Earth shared progressive ideas and presented smart solutions in an atmosphere of friendship and goodwill, not to mention breathtaking ocean views. These executives face the challenge of achieving ever-increasing profits for their public companies, while reducing their impact on the environment.

Social Venture Network’s Courageous Conversations
Some of the attendees had just come from Social Venture Network’s Courageous Conversations (SVN) conference in San Diego, April 25-28. At SVN, social entrepreneurs were looking deep into the supply chain to launch and grow businesses that help solve problems that plague the planet and the poor. These eco-preneurs face the challenge of raising capital and gaining distribution while struggling to keep their companies privately held, thus immune to the destructive effects of rapid growth expressed in the quarterly earnings of public companies. Many, in fact, were on their way to the national gathering of Slow Money held in Boulder. Errol Schweizer of Whole Foods inspired the group with excellent examples of mutually beneficial relationships throughout the supply chain that nourish the planet.

Conservation International – a balancing act
Conservation International (CI), a not for profit organization that helps big companies go green, and encourages green companies to grow big, among many other activities, has a vision for an environmentally healthy world with economic security for all. At Fortune Brainstorm Green, CEO and Co-founder Peter Seligmann shared that vision in which Earth’s natural wealth serves as the cornerstone for vibrant, thriving human societies. He cited the need for a global shift in attitudes and actions. As an example of tools available to gauge progress or lack thereof, Deb Zeyen of CI’s Marine Division, revealed the new Ocean Health Index which calculates an annual global score that assesses the condition of marine ecosystems, an indicator for the health of the planet. From fisheries to farms, natural resources are at the root of the supply chain, and many argue that these resources belong to the commons, not the corporations.

Greening the supply chain
A supply chain is a series of links that begins with natural resources and the people who live in communities among them, and ends up as a product or service on the market. If that product, for instance, is sold by a public company, the stock market is yanking at the chain. The dichotomy is that without the omnipotent reach and infrastructure of big business, the task of smaller businesses getting products to market is daunting, and investors eventually want their investment returned. This often leads to mergers and acquisitions. SVN member Greg Steltenpohl, founder of Odwalla that sold to Coca-Cola, summed up one advantage of getting healthy green products to mass market by saying, “Thank gawd for Odwalla Superfood in airports!”

An ideal green economy is a complex integration of nature and people within an ecosystem. Much of the talk at sustainability conferences is about how to define an ideal modern day ecosystem. Because of the keen level of sophistication and passion in the room, these conversations often lead to the topic of biomimicry. Ethical Biomimicry Finance™, a joint venture between Biomimicry 3.8 and Ethical Markets, brings Nature to Finance. What can we learn from nature about balance? Everybody is talking about a circular economy.

Circular economy – the new buzz words
The concept of a circular economy is a common theme at business conferences which address a forthcoming scarcity of natural resources. Though reusing, recycling and recovering materials can certainly mitigate some of the environmental degradation, the business cases for a circular economy vary as dramatically as the materials themselves. From local vendors like Jade Planet that uses found objects to make footwear and handbags, to Yerdle’s model of sharing, to Alcoa mining trash for aluminum, one can find a wide range of promising examples where businesses are engaging in the complete life cycle of materials. One has only to view the satellite images of the plastic gyre in the Pacific, or the landfills of Brazil, to agree that it’s not a moment too soon.
The rapid expansion of manufacturing and commerce over the past five decades or so has left rubble on our land, toxics in our water, dead zones in our oceans, and poison in our skies. We discovered that man has a ravenous propensity to accumulate, consume and toss natural resources without thinking much about it. As a species, we are taking a look in the mirror and not liking what we see. The mass population of people on the planet has lost the native intelligence to protect our habitats, unlike bees and other species for example. We don’t live conservatively in a circular economy. At the cash register and on e-commerce sites, we invest our money in conveniences often destined for our oceans, and our own living environments in a linear direction.

Communications and Relationship Building
The tactics of environmental advocacy groups often fail by reprimanding man for acting like man. Though well-meaning, these efforts pale in comparison to the opposing well-funded forces convincing us that we’ll be much happier with more everything. This leaves us alarmingly dependent on businesses to do the right thing and help figure out how ten billion people could potentially be sustained on Earth in a socially equitable fashion. That’s why these business conferences are so important. They create opportunities for collective intelligence that we have not demonstrated on our own, and have stopped seeking from our governments.
From sustainable clothing manufacturers that support women below the poverty line, to juice makers striving to grow healthy local economies, to multinational soda and beer bottlers exploring ways to use their omnipotent presence for good, to shipping companies leading the way in green transportation, there is a lot of business going on in the world to feel good about. Regardless of how people feel about the corporate monopoly on resources, it is generally agreed that relationships are a good thing, and businesses are the real pros at building them. Successful enterprises are dependent on successful relationships. Green conferences are a means to that end. Sharing a coffee or a beat on the dance floor can lead to sharing a point of view. When you see an environmental leader dancing with a stockbroker, there’s the opportunity waiting to happen.

What about the United Nations?
While some look to businesses, others turn to the United Nations. This month, countries from around the world convened at the UN on the subject of protecting the ungoverned high seas, also known as Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ), from industrial fishing gone haywire, deep sea mining, and other private interests that have a destructive effect on the health of our planet. But the business working group at the UN is more likely to represent the chemical and extraction industry. While area-based management tools, marine reserves, and environmental impact assessments are critical to our oceans’ future, they represent a restriction to multinational business activity, and to countries hoping to reap the rewards of the sea as though gold mining. A good effort but progress is slow.

While the sustainable consumption movement has high hopes for the general public to become advocates for the environment through purchase choices and lifestyle, the level of activism has yet to reach expectations. For instance, we go through 500 million plastic straws per day in the USA alone and 38,000 per person per lifetime, when all one has to say is “No straw, please.” People like straws and don’t want to give them up despite being environmental hazards. Though the general trend may be toward conservation, it isn’t happening fast enough to keep us and our fellow critters from drowning in our own trash.

Business conferences may be the answer
What do sustainable business conferences lead us to? Evidence that our species has all the brain cells we need to solve most problems. We might have what it takes to create harmony with nature if business relationships are built for the good of the planet. When business people come down from the skyscrapers, out of the factories, off the rigs, and up from the tankers to mingle for the sake of their grandchildren’s future, magic can happen. When the great social entrepreneurs of our time gather to share best practices together, our adrenalin kicks in and we get jazzed. Whether it’s Whole Foods or Unilever, retailers at the gateway can’t go it alone and they don’t want to. Environmental and social professionals working at the bottom link of the supply chain are resolving issues with computer manufacturers and apparel designers. Responsible restaurateurs know they can’t choose which fish to serve without consulting experts. Even at Rio+20 Earth Summit, it was the businesses that made the greatest milestones.

Why teleconferencing can’t cut it
Can virtual conferences replace live meetings so that nobody ever has to leave his or her office? Like all species, we thrive, grow and flourish on personal interaction. Despite new technology, we can’t create fully symbiotic relationships of the magnitude needed online, any more than a coral could Skype a fish to form an interdependent, mutually beneficial relationship in balance with the ecosystem. Living happily ever after as a species requires a determined, concentrated effort to cooperate and mingle together. It’s not just networking, it’s friend making and the joy of belonging to an ecosystem.

The hum
If you step back and listen to the distinctive hum of a happy hour at a sustainability conference, it has a buzz unique to the cross-pollination of ideas. That’s the vibe that may save our species yet.

How to Spur Millions Toward Energy Efficiency by Martha Shaw

Visualized Energy Solutions by Zerofootprint Inspire Action

Posted: Oct 10, 2012 – 08:04 PM EST


NEW YORK, Oct. 10 /CSRwire/ - Zerofootprint Inc., a leader in energy information for the public, announced today that Oxford Properties Group has selected its VELO™ platform to help make their energy efficiency programs more successful; by engaging tenants. Real-time energy usage displays on big screens in Oxford’s Royal Bank Plaza lobby, show how the building’s 7500 occupants consume energy throughout the day, bringing awareness to their impact.

The effect is significant, as occupants and their guests can see the 2.1 million square foot complex’s energy usage in real time. The Sustainability Director of Oxford Properties, Darryl Neate, said, “We are proud to offer leading energy efficiency programs to our tenants through Oxford’s Sustainable Intelligence platform. The success of these programs depends on engaging people, and Zerofootprint’s VELO™ is helping us provide real-time energy information and conservation tips to our tenants in an easy-to-understand, compelling way.”

When people see their energy usage, a light goes on. Then they think about turning one off. Zerofootprint creates products that catalyze these real changes by engaging people in what they are using and their own impact. “Changing tenant behavior is the one remaining untapped resource for energy efficiency in buildings. Our implementation at Oxford sets a new standard for tenant engagement, based on actual usage,” said Ron Dembo, Founder and CEO of Zerofootprint. “We are excited to be part of Oxford’s renowned efforts in sustainability and energy efficiency. It is a leader in sustainable buildings and we are very pleased to be an integral part of Oxford’s groundbreaking energy programs for commercial buildings.”

Zerofootprint’s VELObill“App for Energy” honored at White House Energy Datapalooza.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu honored the WINNERS of the Department of Energy’s inaugural “Apps for Energy” challenge at the Energy Datapalooza, including Zerofootprint’s VELObill™. It won the Grand Prize Popular Choice Award in the Green Button “Apps for Energy” Competition. VELObill makes it easier than ever to visualize energy usage data, compare it to peers, and make a plan to save energy.

Zerofootprint has been working with U.S. Government agencies such as the Department of Energy to harness the power of Green Button data to help Americans understand and reduce their utility bills. This commitment to U.S. clean energy continues with the Energy Data Initiative, making solutions available to integrate data from Energy Star, utilities, and private sector vendors that help Americans better understand and reduce their energy consumption. Solutions include Zerofootprint’s “Negawatt” and “Improve Your Move” solutions built on its award-winning VELO platform.

“The Energy Data Initiative provides an incredible opportunity to help Americans make critical decisions regarding energy use,” said Zerofootprint’s Ron Dembo. “We will continue our commitment to this and other U.S. Government programs that promote the sharing and management of energy information to create value and jobs in America.”

If your organization is moving people toward energy efficiency, find out more about Zerofootprint’s winning consumer engagement programs at

About Zerofootprint

Zerofootprint shows energy in ways that help people understand it—and once that light goes on for people, they start to think about turning one off. With VELO™, Zerofootprint enables companies to create more effective energy programs, and has helped hundreds of companies around the world. For more information visit

About the Energy Data Initiative

The Obama Administration has launched the Energy Data Initiative, an Administration-wide effort to “liberate” government data, and voluntarily contributed non-government data, to harness the power of American ingenuity to solve pressing energy challenges. The goal is to fuel entrepreneurs with newly available and previously untapped data, spurring new products and services that help families and businesses save money on utility bills and at the pump, protect the environment, and ensure a safe and reliable energy future. Find out more at:


New York City Earth Week: Thought Leaders Converge to Discuss Sustainability

By Martha Shaw

New York City was alive with ‘meetings of the minds’ around Earth Day.
The Sustainable Operations Summit

The Sustainable Operations Summit gathered together some of the brightest bulbs in the energy industry for two days of workshops and discussions on pressing issues like waste, cleaner fleets, cities, efficiency, innovations, and clean technology’ Luminaries included Amory Lovins, President Bill Clinton, and the team that green retrofitted the Empire State Building. But particularly moving was a Call for Consciousness by actor activist Trudie Styler.
Clean Energy Investors Summit

Another gathering of smart people was the Clean Energy Investors Summit where Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. lived up to his reputation as a resolute defender of the environment with a moving keynote speech.

“Wherever you see environmental destruction, I will show you corrupt capitalism… corporate crony capitalism. They have the money to handpick our government officials, even our President. Corporations should not be running our government because they don’t want the same thing for America as we do.”

His inspiring keynote addressed the problem of corporations acting solely in the self-interest of their shareholders, which often means converting our natural resources into fast cash. The following discussions lead to where they often lead: to campaign finance reform and discontinuing subsidies to dirty energy producers to create a free market that will allow clean energy companies to compete. This way, American citizens can stop paying for pollution.
The Road to Rio+20

A Rio+20 event at the United Nations on Thursday focused on the 70 percent of the Earth’s surface covered by oceans. Lisa Speer of NRDC’s International Oceans Program moderated a panel that included Julian Barbiere of UNESCO, Inter-governmental Ocean Commission and oceanographer Fabien Cousteau.

Fabien Cousteau“We’re great at drawing lines on maps to protect sanctuaries, why not draw them in the oceans?” he said in support of marine sanctuaries.

The panel agreed that marine-protected areas are the best way to bring back the fisheries and that nobody should be fishing if we don’t know what they’re catching. There was also consensus that any fishing operation that refuses to register its fishing methods and what it is catching, does not deserve to fish in our common area.

The panelists implored the United Nations to exemplify responsibility for our oceans by adopting sustainable practices like getting rid of single-use plastic, a theme for Rio+20 from the Plastic Pollution Coalition. Cousteau and his co-panelists did paint a grim picture of the future of our oceans but not without cause.

As Cousteau noted in conclusion, “We don’t have 50 years. It’s more like 10 [years] before a total collapse of the oceans. There won’t be another Earth Summit if we don’t act now.”
The New York Green Festival

The Green Festival made its debut in New York City on Earth Day weekend with sustainable businesses showcasing their products and services at the Javitz Center. The two-day event concluded with a special showing of film The Big Fix that gave an alarming account of the cover-up of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Coming up: The Road to Rio+20

Next week, on Tuesday, May 1st, from 1:00 to 3:00pm, CSRwire CEO Joe Sibilia will join other founders and leaders of sustainable businesses for The Missing Voice: Visionary Eco-preneurs Share Lessons Learned at the UN Church Center. They will speak out about Rio+20, and explore ways to have a voice in the building of a global green economy, at Rio+20 and beyond. To RSVP for this, please email

Missing Voices: Green Business Leaders Discuss Representation at Rio+20

Missing Voices: Green Business Leaders Discuss Representation at Rio+20
Sustainability and Green Leaders Meet with United Nations to offer representation at Rio+20.

By Martha Shaw and Aman Singh

Nearly 100 sustainable business leaders crowded onto the 10th floor of the UN Church Center in New York City on May 1st to join a conversation with Chantal Line Carpentier, Sustainable Development Officer and Major Groups Program Coordinator of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and other UN representatives.

The topic: To hear from the “missing voices” of over 200,000 entrepreneurs from organizations including the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), Social Venture Network, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), B Lab, CSRwire, Green America and ‘buy local’ green business networks.

The meeting was hosted by The Temple of Understanding, and organized by Martha Shaw, to explore ways that founders of socially- and environmentally-responsible ‘triple bottom line” businesses might bring their voices to Rio+20, and beyond.

“We Must Raise Our Voice Now”
ASBC’s David Levine started the conversation by stressing that the gathered entrepreneurs are conscious of their global counterparts who are also running businesses that presuppose green practices and help serve social needs while making money.

“Whether they are social enterprises, micro enterprises, women’s groups or development groups, they all carry the same sensibilities of a triple bottom line. They are finding a balance between profits, social and environmental goals,” he said. “This voice is missing in our country today because a monolithic voice led by multinationals dominates all dialogues.”

Levine ended by emphasizing that this is the opportunity for the entrepreneurs to market their leadership and present their pioneering work on a global stage as a way of creating shared value. “This voice is new and we must raise it,” he ended.

“Define Sustainable and Green Business”
Green Map System’s Wendy Brawer picked up where Levine left by adding that until we define what “sustainable business” means, creating this coherent voice will be hard.

Jumping into the dialogue, CSRwire CEO Joe Sibilia made it clear that “any business that integrates the human condition into its operations, whether you call it humanity or spirituality, is sustainable. These entrepreneurs are using business to create a values-driven and sustainable world,” he said. “Financial gains cannot be the only objective. It’s that simple.”

Eco-preneurs at Rio+20
Temple of Understanding’s Grove Harris interjected by adding that it is “practices like the ones Joe is highlighting that need to be voiced at Rio+20. It is important to bring these issues to the table by showing business practices that manifest in social value.” She also added that traditionally, non-governmental organizations have not proven sophisticated enough to support our future and voices. “We need business to be there.”

More examples of mission-driven business enterprises solving many social and environmental problems, including the eradication of poverty, were offered, as was a comparison to the restraints of multinational corporations who are bound by law to act in the best interest of stockholder profits.

Though Sibilia, Harris, Brawer and B Lab’s Peter Strugatz offered several examples of supply chain relationships among green businesses and corporations going green, they also pointed out that many other models exist for ways the world can do business outside the restrictions of a corporation.

United Nations: Collaborate & Lead The Conversation
After hearing everyone out, Chantal Line Carpentier, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Officer and Major Groups Program Coordinator, took the floor to urge the attendees to work with the UN in representing their issues at Rio+20.

She also emphasized clarifying ambiguous language about sustainability and suggested that the sector come to an agreement on what “private public partnerships mean” and “how you can help influence policy and regulatory frameworks.”

“Consider this as a strong call for leadership. There is a lot of talk about business doing more but how? Show us, offer best practices, define CSR, and align practices with the United Nations Global Compact guidelines,” she said.

Carpentier also recommended that the entrepreneurs make an effort to demystify the language around lifecycles, supply chain analysis and sustainability.

Finally, Tess Mateo, an advisor to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), pointed out that the Women, and Indigenous People Major Groups would be good allies and recommended that we remain cognizant of working together with the other enterprises in promoting our voice on the global stage.

Who owns the fish? UN meetings focus on eminent tuna collapse.

Out of sight and out of mind, the most valuable fisheries on Earth are up for grabs.

May 8, 2012, United Nations- It’s called ABNJ, which stands for Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, and it makes up 64% of the surface of the world’s oceans. Yet, this part of the planet has no protection from the massive destruction by private interest fishing operations. At the UN today, a Program on Global Sustainable Fisheries Management and Biodiversity in ABNJ was introduced to protect the biodiversity of this area, which some consider to be the last global “commons” on Earth.

Organized by the Global Ocean Forum, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), about 30 experts from those groups as well as UNEP, the World Bank, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, International Sustainable Seafood Foundation, and The Nature Conservancy gathered to share the details of a new program that will devote $44 million dollars to manage the long-term health of this frontier which is depreciating rapidly. Throughout history, it’s been “every man for himself” out there beyond the watchful eyes of citizens, giving way to total anarchy dominated by highly sophisticated $10 billion dollar/year fishing operations equal to 6.3 million tons caught per year.

While land degradation is visible, ocean degradation is invisible and this makes the task of protecting our high seas particularly challenging, as the area is unmonitored. The effect of loss of biodiversity in the open ocean, however, is very much felt in the decline of fisheries in coastal waters.

In the decade following the adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, fishing on the high seas became a major international problem. The Convention gave all states the freedom to fish without regulations on the high seas, but coastal states, to which the Law of the Sea conferred exclusive economic rights including the right to fish within 200 miles off their shores, began to complain that fleets fishing on the high seas were reducing catches in their domestic waters.

The problem centered on fish populations that “straddle” the boundaries of countries’ 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs), such as cod off Canada’s eastern coast and pollock in the Bering Sea, and highly migratory species like tuna and swordfish, which move between EEZs and the high seas.

By the early 1990s, most stocks of commercially valued fish were running low, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). As catches became smaller, coastal states complained that the industrial-scale fishing operations on the high seas were undermining their efforts to conserve and revitalize fish stocks.

There is a history of violence between fishing vessels and coastal states, most notable during the “cod wars” of the 1970s. Several countries, including Britain and Norway, sent naval ships to protect fishing fleets on the high seas. Spanish fishers clashed with British and French drift netters in what came to be known as the “tuna wars.” Before the UN Agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks was finalized in October 1995, several coastal states had fired shots at foreign fleets. In the northern Atlantic, Canada seized and confiscated a Spanish boat fishing in international waters just beyond the Canadian 200-mile limit.

At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio, known as the first Earth Summit, governments called on the United Nations to find ways to conserve fish stocks and prevent international conflicts over fishing on the high seas.

The coastal states most concerned during the negotiations about the impact of high seas fishing on their domestic harvest included Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Iceland and New Zealand, complaining that only six countries were responsible for 90 per cent of deep sea fishing: Russia, Japan, Spain, Poland, the Republic of Korea, and Taiwan province of China. The United States also caught a significant amount of fish, especially tuna, and China soon became a major fishing nation.

Companies began to use refrigerated factory trawlers or “mother ships” that allowed fleets to travel vast distances from the home country and to stay at sea for longer periods without having to return to shore. What quickly became a human rights issue, these fleets undermined the livelihoods of local fishers, depriving poor people in coastal areas of a primary source of sustenance.

On the table for Rio+20 next month, though not without conflict, is an end to government fishing subsidies, considered to be as damaging as fossil fuel subsidies. No agreement has been reached here, nor has a proposed phase-out of all deep-sea bottom-trawl fishing on the high seas by 2015. This is called for on the basis that no deep-sea bottom trawl vessels or fleets have demonstrated that they can fish deep-sea species sustainably and prevent damage to deep-sea ecosystems.

Also at the negotiating table is a call for labeling, and for seafood buyers and retailers to only buy and sell fish from deep-sea fisheries that have clearly demonstrated no harm to deep-sea ecosystems.

Today, as global fish stocks decline, seafood becomes an increasingly expensive item for the rich and a rarity for the poor. With the world population expected to reach 8.2 billion by 2030, the planet will have to feed an additional 1.5 billion people, 90 percent of whom will be living in developing countries many of whom depend on local fisheries.

Find out more about GEF/FAO Program on Global Sustainable Fisheries Management and Biodiversity Conservation in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction here, and other issues on the negotiating table for Rio+20 here.