‘Conscious Consumer’ talk promotes business sustainability

By Patrick MacCormack

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Even the flyer for the event had a reminder written: “PLEASE RECYCLE ME!”

That flyer was for “The Conscious Consumer,” a talk given Monday night at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts. The event featured two speakers, including Alex Freid, a University of New Hampshire graduate, and Cynthia Barstow, a marketing professor at UMass. Both are founders of movements that promote environmentally sustainable business practices.

Both speakers aim to end “corporate greenwashing,” which occurs when a company claims to be environmentally ethical but actually is not. Freid and Barstow criticized the lack of transparency of certain big businesses as it relates to environmental stability.

Freid is the founder of the Post-Land Fill Action Network, or PLAN. According to its website, PLAN works to create “zero waste solutions” in campus communities across the country.

PLAN currently has nine member schools, including UMass, and is growing each year.

The University’s new PLAN-affiliated program, New2U, allows college students to buy used items for their dorms and houses. Freid said that PLAN’s position as a non-profit network allows him to tackle his goal of creating a world without waste.

“Our goal is to add 40 campuses by the end of the semester,” Freid said.

Taking a turn away from campus recycling, Barstow went on to mention her two movements for change, which she is the president and founder of both.

The first, Seed to Shelf Marketing for Sustainability, works with companies that are interested in turning “a sustainable seed into a product for our shelves,” according to its website. Barstow said that the organization researches the validity of food labels such as “natural” and “organic.”

According to Barstow, companies are deceitful in telling consumers what is actually in the products they sell.

“People want transparency,” Barstow said.

She cited the use of the word “natural” by food companies as an ad gimmick and greenwashing. An example she gave was Nature Valley, which profits on the notion that its food is connected with nature.

Barstow published a book titled “The Eco-Foods Guide: What’s Good for the Earth is Good for You!” in 2002.

Barstow also told the audience about her organization, Protect Our Breasts. This group strives to communicate safe ways to reduce exposure to everyday toxins that could cause breast cancer among young women.

Barstow said that the project attacks the notion that everything causes cancer. According to Barstow, those working with Protect Our Breasts know which products do not cause cancer.

“This information can save your life,” Barstow said when talking about buying products that are free of cancer-causing toxins.

Barstow mentioned that the pink breast cancer ribbon is not trademarked by anyone and is unjustifiably used by major corporations.

“I put this pink breast cancer awareness ribbon on my product but it still causes cancer,” Barstow said about a process called pinkwashing, or when businesses profit off of breast cancer awareness.

Barstow mentioned how buying a product from a company that is toxin and chemical-free sends a big message.

“Buy what you want them to give you,” Barstow said in a closing statement.

Patrick MacCormack can be reached at [email protected]