Teresa Heinz Kerry, chair of the Heinz Family Philanthropies, is poised to kick off the annual Women's Health & Environment Conference in Pittsburgh, PA April 20. I caught up with her on her blogtour to ask her opinion on the way women can use their big green purse to protect the planet.
DM: How important is the marketplace as a venue for environmental change?
Teresa: The market can change the status quo overnight, and it can either help or hurt the environment.
For example, when CEOs decide to change their purchasing or investing practices to be more environmentally friendly, it can have an immediate impact on both the environment and how other businesses respond. And, when a CEO is prepared to encourage their workforce to think creatively, to accept a challenge to find ways to cut costs and do it in an environmentally sustainable way, it can result in a win-win outcome.
In the book John and I just finished, This Moment on Earth, we share the story of Alice Waters, who founded the restaurant Chez Panisse. As Susannah Abbey reports,
"To supply the restaurant, Waters bought only food grown in accordance with the principles of sustainable agriculture. Since it opened in 1971, the fixed-price menus offered nightly at Chez Panisse have consisted only of fresh ingredients, harvested in season, and purchased from local farmers.
"By pursuing one goal, Waters has accomplished another: she has successfully established relationships with local farmers and become an integral part of the agricultural community (she serves on the board of one of the farmers' markets). In this way she has demonstrated how a restaurant can thrive while contributing to the general welfare of a community."
Teresa continued: The markeplace can also be very important for driving change. Purchasing locally grown and organic products drives demand for those products, allowing the producers to thrive and expand, and encourages more producers to enter the market, thus making healthier products available to more consumers. For the environment, that means lower transportation costs (less pollutants) in the air, and for the consumer it means fresher food.
DM: What steps can women take in the marketplace to protect themselves from the most serious environmental threats that impact their health?
Teresa: Understand what you are purchasing by becoming an informed consumer. Check specific websites that can be helpful, such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the Environmental Working Group regarding their work on the body burden, and the Nature Conservancy for their Zero Emissions program.
Next, combine your purchasing power with that of other women and men. In other words, if we are going to successfully bring more environmental, organic and other products into the marketplace, it will take the financial clout of millions of Americans purchasing together. Remember, numbers times dollars equals green power.
DM: What role can students play?
Teresa: Take a look at a book that Alice Tepper Marlin produced called Students Shopping for a Better World.
It's a do-it-yourself guide on how to exercise your power as a consumer to protect the environment, promote equal opportunities for women and minorities in the business world, prevent cruelty to animals and reward corporations that act responsibly.
I happened to grow up in real jungle. With the information provided in this book, you will be able to clear a path through the jungle we call the consumer marketplace. Our goal is to get companies to march to the same tune as their customers and understand the reasons we have for buying their products. Such consumer power will force responsible social and environmental behavior through economics - for a future we can all afford.
DM: Women seem to be the victim of many ingredients in cosmetics that have the potential to harm our health, from nanoingredients to parabens to phthalates. What advice do you have for women who want to use cosmetics but still protect their health?
Teresa: We all need to know what we are using and whether it is safe. Check with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics as well as Environmental Working Group. And, as you are doing that, ask your member of Congress why there is no federal agency responsible for monitoring the ingredients in cosmetics, personal care and household products! Then ask them what they are going to do to help!!
DM: Any final thoughts?
Teresa: As John Heinz said, standing on the steps of the Capitol on Earth Day 1990, "Remember that green is magic...and the color of your money is green. Use your green magic as if the fate of our planet depends on the decisions you make every day. It does."