Sunday, December 12, 2004

How a consumer's union can succeed in creating responsible shoppers

The more I explore this idea for a consumer's union, the more I find that there are plenty of people who've been down this path before. The Responsible Shopper site is a fine example, and a much needed resource for people who want to support well-behaved businesses.

So the question I have to ask myself is, if this idea has been tried before, why has it failed? Why aren't people shopping more responsibly? And, given the failures, why would new efforts be any different?

Well, I have a few answers.

Responsible Consumerism needs to become a movement. It has to be action packaged with a philosophy, and the people who care about it now have to commit to it now while we go about trying to get other people onboard.

We have to have more than just a Web site and a database. We have to have a brand. We have to market an idea to people, making it "cool" to shop responsibly, make buying products with the "Union Seal of Approval" feel as good as buying a name brand like Nike or Pepsi or Hugo Boss. And it can't just be a fad. It has to endure. And it has to be easy and painless for people to make the right choices.

People love to give money to charity. Lot's of it. Look at St. Jude's Children's Hospital, the Salvation Army, The Will Roger's Institute. They all survive (and succeed) on people just giving money to them.

People also want things like clean air. GE, Honda, Lexus, and BP are all running ad campaigns right now that show their products are cleaner and more enviro-friendly. There is a market for these ideals.

We have to bring all of this together -- take what people want and mix it with what they are willing to do -- and find the formula that will get people to take the right actions -- to spend their money the right way -- to help us create a better world.

So the reason I think these efforts have failed in the past is that they haven't been big enough, they've only tackled a small piece of the much larger effort that's necessary. Done right, done big, I believe this idea can succeed.