Harnessing women's spending power to help the environment

By Sharon McLoone
Monday, August 23, 2010

When Takoma Park resident Diane MacEachern visited Mount Kilimanjaro in 1983, she was humbled by its sparking glaciers and frosty trails. When she returned in 2000 with her husband and children, she was stunned by its waning beauty. The snowfields capping Africa's majestic mount had virtually disappeared.

Experiences like that prompted her to spend years urging Congress and companies to adopt policies that she felt would reverse global warming. But one day in 2007, MacEachern found her solution.

She went shopping.

It had dawned on her that women like to shop -- and one way to change the world is by choosing environmentally friendly products.

With American women spending 85 cents of every dollar in the marketplace, there's a lot of power packed in a purse.

"Women can use that power in a way that can't be ignored," said MacEachern, who wrote a book, "Big Green Purse" and launched an accompanying Web site to help women think about the way they spend money and the impact their spending has on the environment. Her book, published in 2008, is available online and in bookstores, as well as at Whole Foods markets.

She said consumers are used to being told what to buy instead of telling companies what to make.

"We can use the marketplace to put a bright green carrot in front of companies" to spur them to make more environmentally friendly products, she said.

While men and women are increasingly looking for healthier products, research shows that women are usually making the choices about what to feed their families and what kinds of detergents to use.

"Women are looking for safer cosmetics, baby bottles, greener cleaners, safer health care, and for the most part they've only recently understood that something that's more environmentally friendly and green is likely to be safer and healthier," MacEachern said.

She's started a campaign on her Web site encouraging women to join the "One in a Million" initiative by pledging to shift $1,000 of their household budgets to green products and services. To date, about 5,100 women and men have joined the program.

She's found that there are several key issues that seem to stand in the way of consumers making greener purchases: convenience, quality, cost and "the philosophy that if you don't do it all, why do it at all." Her book and online efforts try to allay those concerns and encourage people to take some action, whether large or small.

Through her business, officially named the World Women Want LLC, MacEachern has built a formidable stream of revenue from her books, public speaking, consulting and editorial work. Big Green Purse is an independent trademark. She's also written "Enough Is Enough! The Hellraiser's Guide to Community Activism" and "Beat High Gas Prices Now!"

Like many small-business owners, she has come up with creative ways to generate revenue. For instance, she sometimes hires consultants who are familiar with a particular group to help her develop a specific marketing strategy for that group.

She has had some success presenting to the "green teams" at law firms through this approach.

She also runs an Ad Buddies program on her blog in which she exchanges ad space for equal or equivalent space on another blog.

"It's a way for me to spread awareness of my brand without having to pay for it, but it's also a way I can provide a service to another blogger," she said.

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