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