Could a mass media campaign save the world?

Could a mass media campaign save the world?
United Nations CSD-19 prioritized sustainable consumption and production.

With hundreds of billions in media spent each year in hopes that we’ll consume more, how much media would it take for us to consume less?

Much of the discussion last week at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-19) focused on sustainable consumption and production, the reduction of waste, and the barrier that hazardous chemicals in products pose to recycling and disposing of refuse.

The household hazardous waste that we dispose of daily into our environment, including drain cleaners, antifreeze, poisons, pesticides, rodentcides, and the thousands of products we use to maintain our “beauty,” our toys, our lawns, and our homes are killing us. Yet, many of these products will be in greater demand as developing countries create wealth.

Some advertisers envision a future where everyone in the world can have shinier hair, whiter teeth, Febreeze, electric toothbrushes, and houses that are cleaner than clean. Economic growth in developing countries represents an opportunity to move marketing dollars toward more consumers.

One thing that everyone seemed to agree upon last week at CSD-19 was that consumption and waste is out of control, and destroying our own species as well as all the other ones. It was mentioned in one session that what we need most is a mass media campaign to change our attitude toward consumption. But, in the U.S.A. alone, we are bombarded by about $400 billion dollars in advertising a year, give or take a few hundred billion dollars. This investment is cleverly programmed, and psychologically crafted, to invade every nick and cranny of our lives and our identity, in the hopes that we will consume more.

How much would a counter media campaign cost? Who would pay for a campaign encouraging us to consume less? Can we ever get back to the good old days when we use fly swatters instead of sprays, and scrub dirt by hand rather than dissolve it with chemicals? Unlikely.

I am reminded of one of the best campaigns I can remember. It was from Canada. Buy Nothing Day.

Another topic last week was not about the abundance of hazardous waste and chemicals in our environment, but about the abundance of hazardous chemicals in our bodies. See video Body Burden. It is part of Safe Planet, a smart and innovative UN-initiated project in which celebrities, scientists, educators, and professionals from all walks of life, get their blood tested for toxic content. It’s actually easier to map out the chemical concentrations around the world through blood sampling than through soil, water and air testing. Another obstacle, some people pointed out, is that the chemical companies have paid representatives at the UN helping to create policy.

Some administrators are not keen to create a chemical scare, and this is understandable for many reasons. One reason sited was that women might choose not to breast feed their babies if they knew what was in their milk. There is “no research” to prove what products can lead to disease. And there is nobody to fund the research either. Coincidence?

So, what will a green economy look like? Some envision a world where more women would be in charge of the resources, consumers would begin to pay the true price of the products we discard, and companies would have to present a full life cycle plan for every item at their expense. More money would be spent on education than on advertising, wars, and useless stuff we don’t need.

Groups talked about how fast our electronics become obsolete. So do our weapons, our cars, our planes and the color of our nail polish. In terms of health, even that has become dependent on artificial sustenance with a huge waste footprint. Through modern medicine, we can live long enough now to consume exponentially more than our ancestors.

Making sense of it all is what kept the CSD-19 delegates up day and night. They are committed to creating a framework that will guide the world toward a green economy, the Land of Oz. But, who will fund a campaign that encourages us to “buy green, buy less or buy local” so we can build a sustainable green supply chain? Many of the delegates say they are counting on mankind to have a consciousness shift.

Virgin-tree paper companies spend millions on “paper propaganda.”

Virgin-tree paper companies spend millions on “paper propaganda.”

We’re the first to commend companies in any industry that adopt environmentally responsible practices. That’s why we celebrated when the virgin-tree paper mill companies began to use their wood scrap as biomass to supply some of their highly intensive energy needs. However, a creative, well-funded campaign is misleading the public to believe that this puts them at parity in terms of carbon footprint and environmental responsibility, with recycled paper. This is simply not true. The campaign goes to further to claim that virgin-tree paper is the preferred “green” choice over recycled paper.

This kind of propaganda only serves to undermine demand for authentic post-consumer recycled paper, confuse consumers, and impede the progress being made to capture and reuse paper pulp from the waste stream. “Greenwashing” threatens to take a toll on our planet, and all the living things who call our Earth home. What we need is a robust paper reclamation movement, not an expansion of tree farms that are replacing natural environments and destroying ecosystems at an alarming rate.

It is true that trees can be a renewable resource where reforestation is practiced, and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stamp helps to ensure that trees harvested for paper are done so according to guidelines. But, one of the major worries about tree farming is the reduction of biodiversity, critical to a healthy ecosystem. About 16% of the world’s paper pulp comes from trees raised specifically for pulp. Another 9% or so comes from old growth, first generation, forests. Most of the rest of the pulp comes from multi-generation forests. Today, only X% of paper pulp comes from reclaimed paper.

It’s time we began to pay the true cost of virgin-tree derived paper. The millions of dollars being spent to greenwash a well-meaning public would be better spent on retooling our paper mills to accept pulp from the “urban forest.” We need to divert paper from the waste stream. The biodiversity of our forests is being sacrificed to paper-filled landfills where chemicals from paper seep into our soil, and methane is released into our atmosphere. Perhaps a handfill of paper executives and stockholder are getting rich off the campaign, but it’s at our expense. The cost is born by our eco-system, by our water and our air and our soil, and by future generations.

Learn the truth about paper at Environmental Paper:

Women on the road to Rio+20 convene at United Nations CSD-19.

After three days at the 19th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-19), I began thinking about how important women’s leadership is to the tiered mission of Rio+20 also known as Earth Summit 2012 to help create a global green economy, and alleviate poverty.

Over the course of the prep meetings earlier this year, and during CSD-19 this week, it became more clear to me why women need to have more control over the Earth’s resources and the new technologies that can help to provide clean water, clean energy, clean air, and clean agriculture. With more power and training in the hands of women, particularly in developing countries, there will be more jobs for women, healthier communities, more education for girls, and population stabilization. With so much data that proves that women have a better track record for paying back micro-loans (even at higher rates), for protecting resources, and for investing money in their families and communities, it makes sense that empowering women is critical to the Rio+20 mission.

On May 4th, the Democracy and Gender Equality Roundtable was held by UN Women, simultaneous to CSD-19. I was struck by the statistics that show how unrepresented women are in managerial roles in all walks of life, from board rooms to government positions. Worse than I thought actually. Without a seat at the table, women can have no voice. Some of the developing countries where families rule, presented another glitch. In these countries, when women are put in positions of power, it is often as a surrogate of their husbands and fathers. Questions were asked. Is this better or worse?

I was reminded of the t-shirt worn by my friend, Jody Weiss, CEO of Peacemaker “Cause-metics” that reads, “I want my million bucks.” The slogan refers to a factoid she offered that over the course of one’s lifetime, women in the same job make about $1 million dollars less than a comparable man. And Trish Karter, of Dancing Deer Bakery, standing on her head to show how upside down the proportion of women to men on boards is, and why turning this around can make a big difference in the world. One look at the speaker list at energy and oil conferences tells us where the power lies. As an affirmative action baby myself, I know I wouldn’t have gotten my first job as a research diver for the State of California if there wasn’t a quota to fill. But, as an ice diver, I was just as qualified as the male applicants. They just had never considered a woman before. I wondered about where I’d be? In the back office typing memos for my boss?

On Thursday, May 5, I was invited by Osprey Orielle Lake to a Forum hosted by her Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, a gem of a side event beyond the walls of the United Nations, out there past the row of flags where women are collaborating to gain traction around climate change and other environmental issues. Which, incidentally, adversely affect women and children more than men. The Forum focused on global topics around water and food security, with presenters from NGOs and businesses, including my friend Ann Goodman, Executive Director of Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF), Joji Carino of Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre, Donna Goodman, Director of Earth Child Institute, Anita Wenden of International Peace Research Association, and Bridget Burns, Program Director of WEDO – Women’s Environment and Development Organization. This group of impressive women shared stories and strategies for adapting to and mitigating climate change.

From there, I was cordially invited to a WEDO reception on Lexington Avenue, and some of us walked there together on what I would call an empowerment high. For me, WEDO was like discovering a treasure trove of international mentors and luminaries. Among other things, these highly educated and talented women have been working for twenty years to ensure that the environmental activities at the UN, benefit by a woman’s touch, or stronghold. Throughout the 1990’s WEDO played a key leadership role to ensure that gender was included in the outcomes of major UN conferences. In 2006, it was recognized with the Champions of the Earth award by UNEP and in 2010, WEDO received the Advocacy Award from the National Council for Research on Women. Their 20th anniversary conference will coincide with Rio+20.

As the event wound down, Elizabeth “Liz” Thompson arrived, the Co-Coordinator of Rio+20. I can say I slept a little easier that night, knowing the Earth was in better hands than I thought.

Where are the green businesses? – a report from United Nations CSD-19

Much of the action at the CSD-19 takes place in informal discussions in the United Nations Lawn Building’s Vienna Café, its lounge areas and during the various side events.

Because the CSD-19 is concentrating on a global green economy, sustainable consumption and production, and related issues, there is more focus on business than ever before.

I was able to catch up with Felix Dodds, Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum. It was a good opportunity to get to the bottom of one topic that has been on my mind lately. That is, how the pioneers, leaders, local enterprises and entrepreneurs of triple bottom line businesses could be included in the process, as the Member States struggle to facilitate a new global green economy. I asked Felix how how green business leaders might help lead the world closer to a global green economy, the goal of Rio+20 in June 2012.

“I think we need to make it more attractive for companies to become involved as we look at the issues through the different lenses of energy, water, agriculture and food security, and cities,” said Felix Dodds. “There are lots of good positive examples where companies are bringing new ideas to the challenges we face.”

“It’s very difficult to represent global businesses in their many different forms. Note that many global organizations that do exist tend to represent multinational corporations. Entrepreneurs and small and medium sized businesses are less represented without an obvious place to have a voice. But, the approach of the UN is not to exclude the others.”

As background, The Working Group at the CSD-19 which represents business, is called Business and Industry. It is comprised presently of three organizations: International Chamber of Commerce International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), International Counceil of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and the United State Council for International Business.

For Rio+20, the UN has cast a wider net. Originally under the direction of Chad Holliday, Chairman of the Board of Bank of America, a group called BASD 2012 was created as a coordinating partner for business, a temporary coalition of business organizations to ensure that the voice of business is heard in Rio. BASD 2012 is a joint initiative of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSD) and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC).

So, how can other organizations, like the business supporters and partners of the American Sustainable Business Council, for instance have a voice in the negotiations?

The importance of capturing the triple bottom line vision and perspectives, experiences, ideas, innovations, and policy recommendations of pioneering green business leaders would be an essential contribution to the Earth Summit 2012. The Summit serves as an important opportunity and rallying point for the world community to accelerate and scale-up the transition to a low-carbon, more resource efficient and ecosystem-conserving global green economy. This Guardian article captures both the potential opportunity and possible pitfalls that the Summit represents.

At this juncture, the usual global multinationals, through the various industry associations mentioned, are poised to provide the dominant business perspective and input to the Summit on their vision and recommendations for a transition to the global green economy. What is sorely missing are the lessons and the perspectives of pioneering green business leaders and entrepreneurs who have shown early vision, leadership and commitment to transforming the sustainability of industrial processes:

These companies need to voice and demonstrate that their sustainable ‘green’ business models can drive both the bottom line through consumer demand and the ‘top’ line
through innovation, new markets and new business opportunities.

Felix Dodds suggested that new groups should be welcome to join the dialogue, and noted that The Stakeholder Forum was founded to help stakeholders stay informed and become involved in processes such as Rio+20 do ( ).

As the Commission on Sustainable Development works laboriously for two weeks on a framework and set of principles for a green economy, they are blazing new trails through unknown territory, and are bound to face some resistance from some well-funded entities that might be resistant, because of legitimate restraints in our present system, to letting go of business as usual. It’s going to take all hands on deck, and perhaps a major consciousness shift among both consumers and business. An eco-system in which 20% of the people consume 80% of the resources will collapse quickly. This may be the biggest challenge man has faced in evolution.

In wrapping up our conversation, I asked Felix Dodds, who just published his new book Biodiversity-and Ecosystem Insecurity: A Planet in Peril, what a green economy would look like. “I think that no one understands the green economy yet,” said Mr. Dodds. “There are many components and we must put our heads together.” So, there we have it. A call to action, a call to “create a vision” of what a fair and just economy could look like, and what it will take to build it.

United Nations opening day of CSD-19 by Martha Shaw

New York, NY May 2, 2011 – The 19th annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD -19) opened today with hopes that countries will agree on policy decisions that will significantly improve the safe use of chemicals, the management of waste, safety in mining, efficiency of transport, and reduction of the world’s consumption of Earth’s materials. Annual CSD meetings seek to promote more sustainable use of Earth’s resources. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, warned of the consequences of unsustainable consumption and production on the world’s ecosystems. Member States are being urged to agree on a plan to promote more efficient and safer use of chemicals and waste.

“We need to change our consumption and production patterns so that our economies proceed on sustainable paths, and so that we are able to address key global challenges like climate change, water and other resource scarcities, and environmental degradation,” said Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, at the opening of CSD-19.

“Globally, unsustainable consumption and production threatens to exceed the carrying capacity of life support systems,” Mr. Sha told the 53-member body. “This imbalance is obvious – whether measured by greenhouse gas concentrations, by the number of endangered species, by rates of deforestation, or by decreases in fish stocks.”

Mr. Sha expressed his hope that the CSD will launch an ambitious framework to support countries’ and other actors’ move towards sustainable consumption and production, adding that such an initiative would send the right message and generate positive momentum towards a successful outcome at next year’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012.

He noted that a 10-year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP on SCP) would promote development that is within the carrying capacity of ecosystems and contribute to progress on the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental.

“Much more can and must be done across the globe to pursue inclusive and environmentally sound economic growth. We must accelerate our efforts to advance sustainable development and to meet our commitments to future generations,” said Mr. Sha, who also serves as the Secretary-General of the conference set to take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, known as Rio+20.

Dan Shepard, a United Nations information officer for UN Department for Public Information (UNDPI) commented, “If this commission can agree on a 10-year program, this will guide countries and individuals to help create an eco-system that will reduce waste. I think that countries know what needs to be done. At CSD-19, they will be discussing how they can do it on a collective basis. I think the decisions that come from this meeting will form the vital building blocks for the Rio+20 conference.”

Joan Kirby, a representative from a non-governmental organization to CSD-19, commented. “The best thing would be agreements between the developed and developing world. The divide persists.”

Close to 1,000 representatives from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other parts of civil society are attending the Commission’s two-week meeting, which is the lead-in to Rio+20.

Rio +20 will mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development that was agreed to at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.