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November/December 2013

A Green Tipping Point in Action:
How it Works

As a green-economy activist, you demand that companies improve their social and environmental practices. But what’s going on behind the scenes in these campaigns? Here’s an insider’s look at how Green America leverages your voice to engineer green tipping points—in this case, against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food, starting with Cheerios. Why Cheerios? Targeting America’s favorite cereal raises the profile of the anti-GMO movement. Plus, if this wellknown brand were to market itself as non GMO, it would pressure competing brands to follow suit. —Martha van Gelder
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Individual Members are at the core of our Green America campaigns. By
pressuring the target company through phone calls, e-mails, petitions, social media, and protests, you let the company know the public outrage is real. When you take action and then educate your friends, it builds awareness in a stronger, more personal way. When members call the target company, it forces it to staff its phones, costing more than an e-mail or petition. E-mails and petitions add to the momentum. Social media can put a unique type of public pressure on a company. Last year, we asked our members to give Cheerios feedback on GMOs though its Facebook page. Cheerios social-media staff were so embarrassed, they shut down a Cheerios app and stopped posts for over two weeks. Anti-GMO Facebook comments continue to plague Cheerios a year after this action first began.

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Green Business Network Members Our campaigns nearly always include a strategy to mobilize the influence of our Green Business Network® members. Business pressure was instrumental in getting Hershey to agree to certify its products.
For our GMO Inside campaign, we asked hundreds of member businesses to stop carrying products containing GMOs and to let their customers know why. We also allied with Friends of the Earth to encourage nutritionists, chefs, and retailers to pledge not to promote or sell genetically engineered salmon, should it be released into the market. If a target company is hearing from both individuals and retailers, it’s more likely to change, as angering both of those groups could mean a significant hit to its bottom line.

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Mobilizing Shareholders Publicly owned companies have to answer to their shareholders at every annual meeting. Anyone who owns stock in a company can go to the meeting—and Green America happens to own exactly two shares of General Mills. Our campaigns director Elizabeth O’Connell voiced concerns at the General Mills meeting last September. She brought petitions signed by tens of thousands of our members and told shareholders that the public outcry against GMOs could hurt company profits. CEO Ken Powell responded that “GMOs are safe and poised to feed the world,” and indicated no interest in addressing GMO concerns. This means we’ll increase the campaign’s pressure and return to next year’s annual meeting.

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Allies Green America reaches out to allies who have complementary strengths or represent different groups of people. GMO Inside is a coalition of organizations representing grassroots activists, food companies, and food-education groups. In addition, our Non-GMO Working Group complements the activist-side of our GMO work by bringing together stakeholders from all along the food supply chain. We’re working with multi-billion dollar stakeholders—from agribusiness companies, to seed companies, to food manufacturers—to identify and remove the barriers to non-GMO food production.

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Drawing Media Attention All this collective outrage—as well as carefully staged protests—often draws media attention. “Businesses don’t like their competitors to see that they’re being called unethical—they absolutely hate it,” says Todd Larsen, Green America’s director of corporate responsibility. Media coverage may encourage the brand’s competitors to decide to make the ethical choice, putting further pressure on the target company and moving the industry in the right direction.

 




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