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Green Purse Alerts!

Why My Purse is Green

Because I believe…

  • the fastest, most effective way to stop polluters is by pressuring them in the marketplace
  • women can be the world’s most powerful economic and environmental force if we intentionally shift our spending to the best green products and services
  • women have the power right now to solve many of our most serious environmental problems by using our green purses to make a difference
  • women must act – intentionally, collectively, and with the full force of our purse power behind us – if we hope to leave our children and grandchildren a better world.
  • March 26, 2013

    US-China Greener Consumption Forum Lays Groundwork for Future Projects Together

    How can the world's two consumer "superpowers"- the U.S. and China - work together to reduce the impact that consumption has on us and our world?

    Group  That was the topic a capacity crowd addressed on March 22 at the U.S. - China Greener Consumption Forum. The event, held at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. and co-sponsored by Big Green Purse and the International Fund for China's Environment, pulled together scientists, consumer advocates, public policy advocates, and green entrepreneurs to share ideas about strategies to inspire manufacturers to create greener goods -- and get consumers to buy them.


    The Forum focused primarily on women because women spend 85 cents of every dollar in the  marketplace – and we’re not just buying cheese doodles and diapers. As I say here on CCTV, the national television network of China, we buy more clothes.  More food.  More cosmetics and personal care products than men. We also buy more electronics, more home furnishings, almost as many tools, just as many cars. Women are spending billions of dollars, day in and day out, year in and year out.

    But even with all that clout, we won’t be able to use this power of the purse effectively until we achieve true gender equity worldwide, points that both Ban Li, Deputy Counsel of the Shaanxi Women's Federation, and Liane Shalatek, Associate Director of the Heinrich Boll Foundation North America, made very powerfully.

     Christine Robertson of Earth Day Network facilitated a provocative panel on the impacts consumption has on our health and the health of the planet. Sarah Vogel of Environmental Defense Fund (pictured  8589602452_4cbfc26167 right) was peppered with questions after her presentation on the way the toxic chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) affects the reproductive systems of men and women alike.

    Ping He of the International Fund for China's Environment, the co-sponsor with Big Green Purse of the Forum, moderated the session on barriers to sustainable consumption and solutions that help surmount them. Meaningful eco-labels and standards can make a big difference, pointed out Arthur Weissman, President and CEO of Green Seal, especially when those standards are set by an indendent third party (like Green Seal is) whose primary interest is not in selling products, but in helping manufacturers become more sustainable over time.

    LISA JACKSON, Former EPA Administrator

    Lisa J podium Lisa Jackson's luncheon keynote address was the highlight of the day for many people. As a mom, scientist, and long-time public servant, Lisa has a unique appreciation for the impact consumption has on us as individuals and on society as a whole. She spoke movingly about being the first African-American to serve as head of the EPA and how important it is to bring women as well as people of color and low-income populations into the conversations we're having about pollution and climate change.

    Lisa noted that her favorite law is the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act because it empowers people to protect themselves wherever they live. She is also proud of technology EPA has shared with the city of Shanghai to help monitor air pollution there.

    Lisa agreed that the way we use both the purse and the pocketbook can inspire manufacturers to reduce pollution and energy consumption.

    Continue reading "US-China Greener Consumption Forum Lays Groundwork for Future Projects Together" »

    February 12, 2013

    U.S. - China Greener Consumption Forum to Focus on Consumer "Super Powers" and Strategies to Use Consumer Clout to Protect the Environment

    Forum Header

     The U.S. – China Greener Consumption Forum will mark the first-ever gathering of women leaders from the world's two "consumer super powers" to meet and address the environmental challenges their countries face due to consumption. The Forum, to be held March 22, 2013 at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., will convene leading consumer advocates, green entrepreneurs, scientists and public policy specialists to explore ways to marshal the "power of the purse" to protect the planet.

    Continue reading "U.S. - China Greener Consumption Forum to Focus on Consumer "Super Powers" and Strategies to Use Consumer Clout to Protect the Environment" »

    October 19, 2011

    China Then and Now: Field Notes from My Recent Trip

    Subway in ChinaIn 1983, I stepped off a somewhat rickety Air China plane onto the tarmac of the Beijing International Airport -- and practically needed a flashlight. Only one light burned in the airport terminal, and passengers were met not by taxi cabs and relatives driving cars but by friends and family ready to transport them home...on bicycles.

    When I returned this past September, I felt like I'd landed in the middle of the most modern metropolis on earth. The dank terminal I remembered had been replaced by a gleaming mini-city, complete with automated teller machines (ATMs) and fancy shops and restaurants. I sped to the phalanx of taxis waiting outside the arrival doors via bright and shiny high-velocity trains, with destinations announced in English as well as Chinese.

    What People Eat, How They Dress

    Once in Beijing, I had my choice, not just of rice and dumplings, but of McDonald's hamburgers, Kentucky Fried Chicken strips, and sandwiches from the Subway just around the corner from my hotel. I was curious about food quality, given the news reports that have swirled around everything from contaminated dog food from China to tainted milk. My unease increased on my second day in Beijing, when the newspapers reported the use of gutter oil by some restaurants. "Gutter" oil is so named because it is reclaimed by dredging the drains behind restaurants. It is supposed to be recycled into other uses, but some cooks reuse it in their own kitchens, regardless of what it contains. Reading that report made me shudder! Fortunately, there were many excellent restaurants in Beijing and especially Xi'an, where I enjoyed a feast of delicious traditional dishes, including a variety of stir-fried meats and vegetables.

    The television in my room offered a variety of channels in English; 28 years ago, there were few hotel room tvs, and no offerings in anything other than Mandarin. The dress code had changed, too. Whereas most people - men and women alike - were still wearing "Mao" suits in the early eighties, today, women stylishly head off to work in short skirts and stilettos, while men wear Dockers, jeans, Oxford shirts or full Western-style suits and ties.


    China 138Meanwhile, the parks brimmed with people not only doing traditional tai chi, but jitterbugging in groups and salsa line dancing, too - something I would never have witnessed in the much stricter political climate that reigned 28 years ago. Before and after work, people exercised in public without the least bit of self-consciousness. It was quite common to see men, women and kids using outdoor stationary bicycles and other gear made from steel to withstand the elements. Elsewhere, groups of friends were challenging each other to games of mah jong, cards, badminton, and hackey-sack, the latter played with a large sturdy shuttle cock rather than the balls more common in the U.S.

    What About the Environment?

    Environmentally, some things have changed for the better, but most have changed for the worst. A new subway system, built to accommodate the hordes of tourists that descended on Beijing for the 2008 summer Olympics, now whisks hundreds of thousands of people around the city with ease. But almost as many commuters have the means to drive their own cars to work, and air pollution in the China 118region suffers as a result. In fact, during the entire week I was in Beijing and Xi'an, the other city I visited, I never saw blue sky or the sun, thanks to the smog that obscured the heavens.

    Water quality has not improved in the city, either: you couldn't drink H2O from the tap three decades ago, and you can't drink it from the tap today. According to scientific reports, as much as 70% of China's rivers have been polluted from industrial discharges as the country's factories work non-stop to meet global consumer demands that were negligible when I originally visited.

    It doesn't seem like using plastic is given a second thought. All drinking water is factory-processed and bought or served in plastic bottles. I never saw anyone using their own reusable water bottle - what would be the point? You'd still have to fill it up from a plastic jug!! That said, many people were drinking their own tea and coffee from reusable mugs. In fact, the airport and some public spaces offered safe water dispensers where you could fill up for free.

    A plastic bag ban went into effect on June 1, 2008. Initially, it was targeted at supermarkets and shopping malls; this year, the ban was extended to book stores, restaurants, and drugstores. The Beijing News reported that the number of plastic bags produced and used in China has dropped by more than 24 billion a year since the ban occurred, saving 600,000 tons of plastic or 3.6 million tons of petroleum. Yet it didn't seem to me that the ban was being enforced. All of the purchases I made, whether in drugstores, supermarkets, large stores, or from roadside vendors, would have been packaged up in throwaway plastic bags if I hadn't brought my own reusable one. 

    In 1983, I remember many more vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooks boiling pots of fresh noodles on the street to serve on glass plates. People would sit down at benches to eat, then return the plates for washing to the cook. Today, as in the U.S., food shoppes and supermarkets are filled with plastic-wrapped food. I was amazed to see everything from a single roasted chicken leg to a clump of cooked noodles shrink wrapped in plastic to extend their shelf-life. Organic food doesn't seem to have made many inroads in China yet. I only saw one grocery store offering organic fruits and vegetables, and it was on the outskirts of Beijing.

     Friendly People!

    No matter where I went, people seemed warm, friendly and eager to practice English with me. In Tian'an Men Square, a beaming couple approached me with a camera. I thought they wanted me to take their picture. But no - they each wanted their picture taken with me! I traveled throughout Beijing on my own, and never felt nervous or threatened. Of course, I was never, ever alone, either. Every subway car was packed, every street corner crowded, every restaurant filled. If I were a permanent resident, I might eventually feel like I had no room to myself. As a traveler, it was somewhat reassuring to have a lot of company, even if it was the company of strangers.

    Here are a few more photos from the trip, all taken with my trusty Nokia smart phone.

    China 124Here I am in the old part of Beijing, outside a small shop that sold beautiful tea pots and many varieties of tea.







    China 147This is my favorite building in Beijing, the ancient Temple of Heaven.  It's where the emperors used to pray for abundant harvests.







    China 166I found the Buddhist temples particularly inspiring. Despite the presence of tourists like me, many people were there to pray and light incense and candles.






    Have you been to China? Please share your stories!

    Related Posts:

    Michele Bachmann wants to crush EPA. First, she should go to China.

    September 28, 2011

    Michele Bachmann Wants to Crush EPA. First, She Should Go to China.

    Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican Member of Congress who's running for President, vows she'll cripple the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if she's elected. Maybe if she spent a week in China like I recently did, she'd change her mind.

    Michele Bachmann I've just returned from a seven-day trip to Beijing, China's capital, and Xi'an, the country's cultural heart and soul and home to its famous terra cotta soldiers. In that entire time, I never saw the sun or sky. Nor was I able to drink the water that came out of any tap.

    Why? The sky was cloaked in grey smog so thick it obscured the tops of buildings, not to mention the heavens above. The air, while not exactly putrid, smelled dank and dangerous -- a result of massive numbers of polluting cars on the road and regional industrial plants that spew contaminants into the air.

    I could have worn a surgical mask like many of the city's permanent residents. Instead, I opted to be a "guinea pig" and see how much the smog would affect me as I went back and forth to various business meetings and tourist destinations.

    Beijing air pollution After just three days in Beijing, I developed a sore throat and itchy eyes, and lost any desire to explore the city's beautiful parks. I could have easily walked distances of a mile or two. Instead, I took the subway to avoid breathing the outdoor air unnecessarily. Back at my hotel, I kept the windows closed, choosing a stuffy room over a polluted one.

    The water coming out of my faucet looked cleaner than the air -- but I would have been a fool to drink it. Water treatment anywhere in China is thoroughly inadequate. The country's drinking water is tainted not just by household waste but from relentless industrial run-off.

    Some government figures estimate that over 70 percent of the nation's rivers have been contaminated by the discharge of heavy metals and other toxins directly into streams and tributaries that feed into China's waterways. Water treatment facilities remove a smattering of contaminants but never clean up the water to the point where it is drinkable. And this creates another problem.

    Independent companies are privatizing the water, purifying and bottling it, and selling it to the public by the tons. What happens to all the empty plastic water bottles? They end up back in the rivers and streams when they're trashed.

    Why is China so polluted?

    In short, because it has neither a power federal environmental protection agency nor adequate laws for such an agency to enforce. Yes, the government gives lip service to reducing pollution and protecting public health. But local activists in Beijing told me that given the physical size of the country, a population of more than 1 billion people, and tens of thousands of "renegade" manufacturing facilities, neither air nor water quality will improve significantly until the government makes a real commitment to strengthen and enforce its environmental laws.

    This is not to say that air and water in the U.S. are perfect, or even good enough. A recent study by Environment America, using data provided by the American Lung Association, reported that nearly half of all Americans -- 48 percent -- live in areas plagued by unhealthy smog pollution. A water quality analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that 22 million Americans may be drinking water that contains excessive levels of poisonous arsenic, among other chemicals.

    Still, the same Environment America study notes that "air quality has improved significantly in the last decade as a result of policies at the state and federal level." Likewise, the non-profit Environmental Working Group found over 90 percent compliance by water utilities in applying and enforcing standards that exist. Their recommendation: that EPA set even more effective standards so water quality will continue to improve.

    We can continue cleaning up our air or water. Or, we can abolish the EPA and look a lot more like China. I suggest Michele Bachmann go to China before she decides.

    Follow me on twitter @dianemaceachern.

    (NOTE: This article originally appeared at Huffington Post.)


    September 10, 2011

    I'm Heading for China...

    Temple Is China a beacon of the environmental future - or a reminder of its past? What are we to think, when in the same conversation, we hear that the country is building one new coal plant a week - at the same time that it is churning out wind turbines faster than any other country on the planet?

    I hope to find out during an eight-day trip I begin later this morning. I'm heading first to Beijing to meet with environmental groups there who are trying to clean up manufacturing and promote renewable energy. In particular, I'm hoping to meet with representatives at Greenpeace who have been studying the impact of manufacturing on Asia's air and water. I also hope to connect with researchers at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs - they're intensely involved in research and policy efforts to reduce pollution in China's waterways and green manufacturing along the way.

    Terracotta-warriors Then I head to Xi'an, the home of China's famous Terra Cotta Soldiers, to speak to the International Forum on Women and Green Living, sponsored by the Shaanxi Women's Federation.

    Along the way, I'll report back to you on what I'm seeing and hearing.

    What would you most like to know?

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