#DeTox: Unfinished business

Don’t bother reading this blog. Just watch this video. Share it. Send it. Like it. Comment on it. Get it on as many screens as possible. 

And now that you’ve done that:

Back in the 70s and 80s, Greenpeace ran campaigns to drive toxic production out of Europe and North America. In those days, we pushed for government legislation and intra-governmental agreements to stop things like the dumping of titanium dioxide in the North Sea, factories that turned rivers red or blue depending on what dye process was running, and pipes that simply ran wastewater into whatever waterway was handy, contents often unknown and unmonitored by any government agency. 

This was a nasty piece of work. Allied Chemical in New Jersey had found a loophole and was dispersing waste through a freaking SPRINKLER SYSTEM to avoid prohibitions on land burial and river disposal. Their solution effectively did both, but was entirely legal. Under arrest from left to right: Lisa Bunin, JR Yeager, Marc Gottschalk, Brian Fitzgerald, Kelly Rigg

Thing was, while we succeeded in clearing up rivers across our homelands, we drove an awful lot of those processes and factories to China, India, and Mexico. Unfinished business! Team #Detox at Greenpeace have picked up the job, however, but with a #PeoplePower twist that illustrates a pretty big shift in Greenpeace strategy and the battlefield on which we engage across the last 30 years.

The newspaper image above, and the television news stories the action generated, was a win. We put an issue on the map for legislators in New Jersey, timed to Environmental Protection Agency hearings about waste disposal, and put lobbyists into the halls of government to demand stronger legislation and more monitoring. It was an action that was appropriate to both the democratic system and the communications context of the day. 

The video above has a very different target audience in mind, and a completely different power analysis. Today, the real power is with corporate purchasing policies, and the power to shift those policies comes from customer pressure on the most important asset the company owns: its brand reputation. This is the rise of People Power. 

Last year, team #DeTox corralled phase-out agreements from Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M, M&S, C&A and Chinese mega-brand Li-Ning. Today, Zara announced they will commit to eliminate all discharge of hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020, with some of the worst chemicals phased out by 2015. Other fashion brands targeted by the campaign (and some that aren’t) are in negotiations now as well. 

What brings these companies to the table? Talk. Talk on Facebook, Twitter, and in the blogosphere about how much their brand cares about the things their customers care about. All of us want to buy from brands with humanity, with a conscience, brands that don’t poison rivers or think it’s OK to treat a child in China differently than a child in Germany. 

Social Media has become the world’s inner monologue, the chatter inside a brain the size of a planet. All of us listen to a cocophany of voices every day in our minds; our conscience raises the volume on some of those questions and challenges us to defend our choices and actions. In the great big global brain that the internet has become, we can all raise the volume on ethical questions about how brands treat people and nature, until the organism responds. 

This kind of People-powered campaign means I can do more today to stop hazardous waste with my Facebook & Twitter accounts, and this blog, than I did decades ago by marching into a field of toxic waste and getting myself arrested. Crazy. 

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