At a peace summit in Vancouver, the Dalai Lama made an extraordinary statement when he said that the world will be saved by Western women.
This proclamation created a tsunami of responses in cyberspace. Can you imagine? The Dalai Lama saying it will be women who save the world? As remarkable as this was to many, it was “duh” moment for me. I thought, of course it’ll be women.
We purchase 85 percent of the consumer goods in the United States.
We can make change happen right now by what we buy—and don’t buy. That was my “ah-ha” moment. That’s when I decided to write and speak on this topic.
Let’s look at the numbers.
It is estimated that American women spend about five trillion dollars annually. That’s over half of the U.S. GDP. We purchase everything from autos to health care.
Here are some quick stats on our purchases:
91 percent of new homes
66 percent of PCs
92 percent of vacations
80 percent of healthcare
65 percent of new cars
89 percent of bank accounts
93 percent of food
93 percent of OTC pharmaceuticals
And here’s what we’re doing online: 22 percent shop online at least once a day, 92 percent pass along information about deals or finds to others. (We have an average of 171 contacts in our e-mail or mobile lists.)
According to the New York Times,
“There are more women controlling more wealth in the U.S. than ever before. Of those in the wealthiest tier of the country defined by the IRS as individuals with assets of at least $1.5 million, 45 percent are women.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what we can do if we rally our forces and use our economic power to “chart a different course,” as Elizabeth Lesser says. We’ve got the power. We’ve got the smarts.
So why aren’t we sending big messages to Madison Avenue every day with our pocketbooks?
As a marketer of sustainable products and services for the last 10 years, what I’ve noticed over and over again is this:
Most of us simply do not know what we’re putting into our pores.
Would you buy that brand-new baby blue carpet for your child’s nursery if you knew that a baby crawling on a conventional carpet inhales the equivalent of four cigarettes a day? Would you smear that satiny chartreuse paint on your walls if you knew that indoor air pollution is two to 20 times more toxic than outdoor air pollution, even if you live in an industrialized city?
The truth is, in the United States about 80,000 industrial chemicals are registered for use in all of the products we eat, touch‚ wear and use to furnish our homes, but fewer than 20 percent have been tested for their impact on human health and the environment. These include ingredients in our food, household cleaners and body care products. They include chemicals used on and in toys, furniture, clothing and bed linens.
A recent study by scientists at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre in Quebec, found traces of toxic pesticides in 93 percent of pregnant mothers and 80 percent of the umbilical cords. The umbilical cord! According to the study,
“Toxic pesticides, which are injected into genetically modified (GM) crops, have found their way into the bloodstream of most women tested.”
It’s the meat, milk and eggs we eat from livestock that have been fed genetically modified corn that are having a toxic effect on our unborn children.
The sad but true part of this is that the GM food industry has also fed us the lie that these destructive pesticides would simply “pass through” the body without any harm. Every mother knows that what you put in your body, you put in your baby. There’s no such thing as just passing through. These GM crops have been linked to allergies, miscarriages, birth abnormalities and cancer. Yet, they are sold openly and frequently in grocery stores across America.
To make matters worse, a study by the Environmental Working Group revealed that at least 287 hazardous industrial chemicals pass through the placenta to the fetus.
Synthetic chemicals are so prevalent in a woman’s breast milk today, that if bottled for sale most breast milk would not pass FDA regulations.
While studies still document that breastfeeding remains the best option for building infant immunity (I nursed both of my kids and would do it again), the quantity of chemicals we are exposing our young to is unacceptable on all counts.
“Our female biology makes us extremely vulnerable to toxic exposures. When we are pregnant, the fetus is particularly susceptive to chemicals that can cause birth defects. As nursing mothers, we feed our babies dangerous compounds–like pesticides and even rocket fuel–that have accumulated in our breast milk. As we age, we face one in 10 chances of contracting breast cancer from causes that are increasingly being linked to environmental contaminants,” says Diane MacEachern, author of Big Green Purse.
It’s not only our children who are being poisoned, but also ourselves. Women’s health problems related to environmental exposure, such as breast cancer rates, are on the increase. Over the last two decades, they have risen from a lifetime risk of one in 20, to one in seven. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than are women of any other racial or ethnic group.
There are volumes and volumes of information that link women’s health to our toxic consumption.
Here’s the good news: we can turn Madison Avenue into “Madam Avenue” and collectively decide not to buy those crappy products anymore. We hold the purse strings to what lines the shelves of our supermarkets. Not the manufacturers. They just put it there. But, if we collectively decided not to buy those products anymore, what would happen then? You know the answer, and so do I. They wouldn’t make them. It’s as simple as that.
It’s all about the bottom line.
“Women’s consumer spending affects virtually every aspect of the environment.” says Diane MacEachern. “All this consumer clout puts us in a unique position to create the world we want.”
Think: the youth of Egypt.
Think: the collective power of American women.
Our power of no can force the marketplace to innovate and circulate products that are both affordable and healthy for our families.
And you know what that means?
We are the key to creating a healthy, safe, wholesome world. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Not Madison Avenue. You and me, and 170 million other American women. Our collective, strategic force can and will move mountains.
Don’t go back to sleep. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Carolyn Parrs is deeply passionate about harnessing the power of women to help create a positive, dramatic and measurable impact on the planet. She is the creator of Women Of Green, an online community and multi-media blog about turning up the volume of the feminine voice in green. She is also co-founder of Mind Over Markets, a strategic green marketing communications company in Santa Fe, NM, and the Chairperson of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce. As a Marketing and Life Coach, Carolyn helps women launch and grow green or socially-focused businesses. “Business is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for change—and as more and more women launch and grow sustainable businesses, collectively we can make a big economic and social impact—fast.”
Ed: Terri Tremblett
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