There’s been a good deal of conversation here at the Sustainable Brands conference about how sustainability can help rebuild and redefine the American economy. But perhaps the most fascinating conversation about this topic was lead by Hazel Henderson, an accomplished “Author, Independent Futurist, Advocate for and consultant on equitable ecologically sustainable human development and socially responsible business and investment”, and Woody Tasch, author of Slow Money and chairman emeritus of Investors Circle, “a non-profit network of investors that has facilitated the flow of over $130 million into more than 200 sustainability-minded early-stage companies and venture funds.”
Together, these two incisive economic experts suggested that what people are missing is a connection with money. No one, not even the investment bankers who created them, had a true understanding of the $650 trillion now being wiped off the books at major banks from derivatives. This, they suggest, is leading to a realization that we don’t need Wall Street any more. What we need is a more decentralized, more democratized investment system. That’s coming to the fore with microfinance, or peer to peer lending, that avoids banks altogether. When it comes to money, Woody challenged us all to think about this: What if you invested 50% of your net worth within 50 miles of your home?
By investing in people we know in the places where we live, we will re-establish our understanding of and connection with money. We will see our investments in action. We will see our investments make a difference. We will reap more than financial rewards, we will realize deeper connections.
But there are other things I believe we need to re-connect Americans with in order to move sustainability to its full potential. I believe we need to reconnect with nature. As we’ve migrated away from rural life into cities and suburbs, this connection has lost importance. But we’re seeing encouraging signs everywhere –from urban farming to green roofs to new agrarianism (Google that one!). People have a fundamental need to feel connected with their environment, and once they value their environment, they will be more likely to protect and preserve it.
I believe we need to reconnect with our food. All too often we have no idea where it comes from, how it was raised or grown, or if the farmer was paid a living wage. One speaker mentioned a stat that 83% of Americans want to know where their food comes from. And truth is, eating organically grown, local food is an immediate way to make a big difference to the planet – and to the local economy. Fortunately, we’re seeing growth in community supported agriculture, or CSAs, that grow and deliver local, farm-grown produce to their members. We’re seeing signs at grocery stores now that identify where produce originated. This is a way we can reconnect, literally three times a day, with our food and with our planet.
And finally, we need to reconnect with each other. It’s going to take a truly collaborative and Herculean effort to fight climate instability, and we need to think beyond immediate personal gratification and move toward behaving like we’re all interconnected.
Because we are. And as marketers we can help reconnect people with money, nature, food and each other.