EarthTalk: How can ordinary people convince
corporations to behave more responsibly toward the environment?
-- James B., Bridgeport, CT
the simple exercising of one’s own purchasing power,
there are many actions consumers can take—and organizations
and resources available to help—to pressure companies
to green up their ways.
good first step is to research the environmental records
of companies involved in the industries that matter to you.
The websites buyblue.org and alonovo.com evaluate companies
according to various “green” criteria. And Co-Op
America makes available online its Guide to Researching
Corporations, which points to information on everything
from corporate product safety records to animal testing
policies to activities that impact everything from rainforests
to the air quality in minority neighborhoods.
America also works at the cutting edge of consumer activism,
pushing companies into “doing well by doing good.”
Its “Adopt-A-Supermarket” campaign uses the
power of individuals to pressure grocery stores into carrying
more “Fair Trade” items, products including
coffee and chocolate made by companies that commit to sustainable
environmental practices and guarantee workers fair wages.
At Co-Op America’s website you can download a campaign
guide that provides background on the issue and tips on
how to form an “adoption team” of concerned
citizens that makes regular visits to educate store managers.
effort, “Be Safe PVC,” conducted in partnership
with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, encourages
major companies to phase out their use of the highly toxic
plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC). They’ve already
convinced Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Victoria’s
Secret, and Bath and Body Works to phase out PVC in their
packaging. Other Co-Op America successes include persuading
Sempra Energy, the parent company of Southern California
Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric, to abandon plans to
build coal-fired power plants in Nevada and Idaho, and convincing
the U.S. Postal Service to withdraw a proposal to deliver
all residential mail in blue plastic bags, similar to those
used for newspapers.
group, Ecopledge, recruits consumers to sign “pledges,”
which demand specific improvements to companies’ environmental
behavior and promise to cease doing business with the firms
in question if they do not make efforts to green their practices.
Armed with such pledges, Ecopledge has succeeded in convincing
Dell and Apple to reduce the amount of e-waste they generate,
getting ConocoPhilips and BP to drop out of Arctic Power
(a lobbying entity pushing to open up the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling), and working with Staples
and Office Depot to craft green-friendly paper sourcing
is currently working on a campaign to pressure major rental
car companies, including Enterprise, Hertz, Cendant and
Vanguard, to buy and rent cleaner cars, an effort, they
say, that would save 500 million gallons of gasoline, reduce
CO2 emissions by 14 billions of pounds, and save American
drivers some two billion dollars in gasoline expenses every
year. They are also pressuring major meat producers, including
Premium Standard Farms, Smithfield and Tyson, to clean up
hog and other animal waste that is causing widespread damage
to the environment and human health in their areas of operation.
Safe PVC; EcoPledge.
EarthTalk: Every time I visit my local print
shop, I am overwhelmed by the smell of chemicals, and wonder
if the health of the workers there is affected. Is exposure
to such chemicals known to cause human health problems,
and what can be done to clean up the printing process?
-- Bill W., Norwalk, OH
That smell in
your printer’s production facility no doubt comes
from the cocktail of hazardous chemicals typically used
in the printing process: inks, cleaning solvents, waste
water and sludge that “off-gas” volatile organic
compounds associated with eye and lung irritation, dizziness,
headaches and even cancer.
But just because
your printer uses such chemicals does not mean that all
do. According to the Printer’s National Environmental
Assistance Center, printers can take several steps to clean
up their acts, such as avoiding alcohol-based solvents,
abandoning mineral oil based inks in favor of vegetable-based
inks and substituting chlorinated glues with water-based
alternatives. Along with using fewer chemicals and more
eco-friendly products, printers can go even greener by using
recycled materials and renewable energy.
Despite a printer’s
good intentions, though, it can be a daunting task to become
more environmentally friendly. Most print shops are small
businesses and may not be able to afford to upgrade their
equipment or pay a premium for cleaner alternatives to some
of the chemicals and supplies they have been using for years.
Also, navigating the labyrinth of air, hazardous waste and
industrial wastewater treatment regulations may be more
work than a small company struggling to make payroll can
A few programs
have arisen to address these issues. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s PrintSTEP (Printers’ Simplified
Total Environmental Partnership) program, in pilot phase
in Missouri and New Hampshire, aims to make environmental
and worker health and safety regulations clearer and simpler.
The program is designed to help individual states streamline
the regulatory process so that printers can spend time greening
their operations instead of wading through thousands of
pages of arcane regulatory gibberish just to see if their
current practices meet the letter of the law.
program, the Great Printer Environmental Initiative, is
underway in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
This joint initiative of Environmental Defense’s Pollution
Prevention Alliance, the Printing Industries of America
and the Council of Great Lakes Governors encourages printers
to minimize their impact on human health and the environment
beyond what is required by government regulatory agencies
in environmental, health and safety compliance. And in doing
so, they can use their membership as a marketing tool to
attract customers interested in cleaner, greener printing.
can do their part by choosing firms that have implemented
environmentally friendly practices. Ask your printer about
their health and safety programs that go beyond the minimum
requirements. And work with your printer to develop your
printed materials in ways that minimize environmental impact,
such as by using recycled paper and soy-based inks. If you
are located in one of the pilot states for the Great Printer
Environmental Initiative, be sure to choose a company that
National Environmental Assistance Center; PrintSTEP.
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