The Story of Change is the second chapter of Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff Project. In the first chapter, Annie eloquently pulls together years of research to highlight the destructiveness of society’s addiction to bad consumerism. We live in this world where we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, in order to impress people we don’t even like and then we throw it all away in a landfill six months later. In the Story of Change, Annie shares her vision for a way forward.
She makes the argument that we can’t buy our way out of this mess and that individual actions aren’t enough to effect the change we so desperately need. She advocates for greater citizen activism and the need to change the rules of the game all together, as opposed to just how each of us live individually. I agree, the end all be all isn’t individual action, it’s all about collaboration and collective power. However, individual action is where it all needs to start. Simon Mainwaring once told me that he ‘sees us all as partners in much needed change’ and I couldn’t agree more.
Let’s be real, we live in a consumer-centric society and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. There’s lots of great theories that sound like they might be great for the society if everything wasn’t so consumer-centric. Unfortunately, they are theories and we need to deal with reality pragmatically. We will always need to buy things in order to survive and chances are that we will also buy some things that we just want to have because they make us feel good, this is a fact.
Businesses respond to consumer demand. There are countless studies showing that social purpose is on fire for consumers and that brands need to respond in order to stay competitive. In the current economy, businesses exist to maximize profits and there is an increasingly compelling business case to respond to growing consumer demand for businesses being better citizens. The infrastructure for the new economy that Annie talks about is being laid today. Organizations like B Corps are passing legislation around the country and making it easier than ever for a corporation to function like a citizen that cares about the world.
Systemic policy change from the top is absolutely necessary to make the sweeping change we all need. The government deciding to change policy can instantly impact everyone and change everything. Large corporations becoming better citizens and engaging in CSR has the potential to affect millions and millions of people that patron these companies. But.. How long has this discussion been happening in congress? And does Coca-Cola’s campaign to support the polar bears make their toxic product any better? It’s a step in the right direction, but we need to demand more.
Annie makes the argument that voting with your wallet isn’t nearly enough. I beg to differ. Although it is not the definitive comprehensive solution, it is the best place to start. We do live in a consumer-centric world where more money usually means more influence and power. We need to stop giving influence and power to companies that continue hurting us, destroying our ecosystems and polluting our planet. We need to shift the power to companies that are good to the core and this is what buying positively is all about. I agree with Annie that it can’t stop here, it’s merely the beginning. If we can get enough people to vote with their wallet and buy positively, we will have the power to demand more from businesses and government. We will be able to change the rules of the game so that being a Benefit Corporation becomes the norm and all of the choices on the menu are good for the whole world. We need more collaboration between citizen-consumers, businesses, governments and the world. We’re all in this together.