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Question: Do you have faith in consumers?

Jeffrey Hollender: I have faith in consumers, but will never depend upon them to solve all of the challenges that we face.  I mean, yes, the marketplace is important, and there are more and more consumers every year buying green and sustainable products.  That’s a good thing.  But consumers face some fundamental challenges. 

When I talk to young people, they constantly ask me, why are the good things expensive and the bad things cheap?  We have created an economic construct through rules and regulations and tax codes that allows businesses to escape from most of their negative impacts. 

So, if you're an automobile manufacturer and you sell a car that gets poor gas mileage and that poor gas mileage creates a lot of air pollution that translates into increased asthma, allergies, cancer—you as a manufacturer bear no responsibility for those negative impacts.  Those negative impacts are dumped onto society and we pay those negative impacts as a society. 

Now I think that if you’re going to do bad stuff, if you’re going to be a farmer and use pesticides that pollute the groundwater, you should have to pay for all of those negative impacts.  And if that was the case—if traditional growers of food paid the full cost of soil erosion, water pollution, adverse health affects on their farm workers because of exposure to pesticides—something quite amazing would happen; organic food would cost half the price of what traditional food would cost.  And we wouldn’t ask consumers to make a very difficult decision, which is do the right thing, make the right choice, buy the sustainable product, but don’t get any financial benefit for making that choice.

So, ultimately we have to change the system.  We have to change the economic landscape so that business and consumers are all aligned and incentivized to make the sustainable choice.  You shouldn’t have to pay extra to buy a hybrid car.  You shouldn’t pay extra to buy organic clothing.  Those products are better and more sustainable and more responsible for the planet and they should cost less.

Recorded on June 11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

How to Make Organic Food Cheap

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