February, 2010

February 22nd, 2010

The True Power of College Students

It is often said that the college years are the best years of one’s life. In the ideal setting, the freedom to learn, grow friendships, explore one’s passions and embrace youth all collide in a four-year span to create a sort of responsibility-free utopia. Amidst this collision, a college student may feel detached from the real world, but she is still very clearly a participant in the consumer economy.

College students spend over $740 billion on furniture, electronics, and apparel every year. Add that to what they spend on airline trips home, food, and beer and one thing should be clear: if students were to tell big companies they care about climate change, those companies would listen.

- National Research Federation & BIGresearch, CIA Aug-07

The big picture – youth is fleeting, but consumption isn’t.

If you think about it, campuses are communities, marketplaces, learning centers, idea generators, and ultimately, earth shakers. When corporations sell to college campuses, they are not only selling to large academic institutions, they’re directly tapping into future generations of consumers. But too few students realize that they have almost exactly the same opportunity in reverse. They’re not simply one-way receptacles for corporate messages. They can and should learn to talk back to those companies.

It does not take a petition thousands of signatures long or a day when the company switchboard lights up with complaints to make companies listen. Many business leaders will acknowledge it only takes a few dozen messages to bring a consumer or investor concern to a company’s attention. Just think of the impact a fully engaged student body could have. Everyone consumes goods and services, everyone can have a say in how the companies that produce those goods and services operate. But when launched from college campuses, those voices can really resonate.

The choice is yours.

Climate Counts Campus Champions have the power to jumpstart a climate-awareness consumer movement. They can motivate their peers, colleagues and administrators to take action. Climate Counts can serve as a source and a roadmap. With our information and support (nearly 150 companies scored representing over 3,000 brands), Champions can activate climate-conscious consumerism on their campuses and have a direct impact on way companies do business. The attention of college students on public policy related to climate change is critical, but perhaps nothing is more important in changing the trajectory of climate change than changing business as usual.

Mark Harrison coordinates campaigns at Climate Counts. E-mail him about the Climate Counts Campus Champions program at: mharrison@climatecounts.org

February 5th, 2010

How much do I really matter in a democracy?

With last month’s Supreme Court ruling that corporations (with much deeper pockets than yours and mine) are now able to directly support specific political candidates and issues without spending limits or disclosure, we’ve seen the upending of decades of bipartisan support for the regulation of corporate and individual campaign contributions. President Obama addressed this new ruling directly in his first State of the Union address when he argued the decision would “open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

Let’s step back and digest this for a moment. 2009 has come and gone and one year into a “new” Washington, we are still facing a U.S. Chamber of Commerce that this past year contributed close to $100 million dollars lobbying against climate legislation. These dollars – which came from a sometimes unaware corporate membership – contributed to the stalling of any momentum the legislation was gaining prior to Copenhagen. Those dollar counteract the concerns of many Americans who believe such policy is necessary to change our energy and environmental future. But everyday Americans simply don’t have the kind of money of the Chamber or some of its members have to effectively “sponsor” senators.

Yes, we have voices. Yes, we have votes. But with the Supreme Court’s decision, our democracy is showing its preference for favoring corporate dollars which more often than not greatly outweigh our influence on the political process.

Still, even though the decision threatens our direct role in our democracy, the power we have as individuals is incredible. Too often we fail to realize the real power that we can have over the companies that now stand to wield such an excess of influence on our government. So in a kind of roundabout way, we can still engage in our democracy by making it clear to big corporations that big global issues – climate change and climate justice, access to clean drinking water, and poverty and disaster relief, to name a few – truly matter to us.

Every time we shop, we’re voting. Every time we eat, we vote. Every time we watch TV, we vote. The list goes on and on. So why not vote for our future? Corporations know where you shop, they know what you eat, and they know what you watch. Their business revolves around what consumers want or they fail. If we are truly committed to a more sustainable world, we should support companies that are making efforts to reduce their impact on the environment, supporting strong public policy on climate change, and engaging with us openly on their efforts to be good corporate citizens. It actually becomes a quite simple equation. If those companies know we care about the environment and climate change and demonstrate our willingness to reward them for their meaningful action, those companies will naturally become the most outspoken forces for aggressive climate action in their interactions with our government. In short, our money talks and will motivate deep-pocketed corporations to put their money to use for good.

This is all about making lemonade out of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Let’s make it work to the advantage of us, the consumers of the products and services marketed by these “corporate persons.” Let’s put increasing pressure on the world’s most well-known companies – many of them some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases – to put their money towards the issues that matter to us.

The key is making them realize our support for their businesses is contingent upon how responsive they are to our very real concerns about global challenges like water scarcity, poverty, and, yes, climate change.

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