By Josh Caplan
With President Barack Obama entering the second half of his final term, the road to the White House is well underway. Despite no official announcement from any candidate, seasoned politicos and fresh-faced newcomers, from Hillary Clinton to Rand Paul, are gearing up for the race. But until 2016, what can members of civil society at large do to bring about positive and sustainable change?
With each and every purchase made, we can vote every day for social entrepreneurs like actress Jessica Alba of The Honest Company, the wildly successful nontoxic consumer goods company. Alba was inspired by the 2008 birth of her first child, Honor, and her own history of childhood illnesses to create a company that offered a more healthy approach to conventional baby products. There are serious claims such products possess toxins like petrochemicals and synthetic fragrances. Alba became serious about starting the Honest Company with co-founder and business partner, Christopher Gavigan, a former nonprofit CEO and author of a best-selling book, after a product recommendation ended up causing one of her children to break out in welts.
Instead of purchasing goods that can be harmful, we can advocate for cleaner products by purchasing goods from brands like the Honest Company. The concept of voting with your dollars, or dollar voting theory, is nothing new, nor is it perfect. But it has been successful in bringing tangible change to not only the consumer household goods industry, but to other industries as well. Tech journalist Jason Del Rey posed the question in a new piece on the socially conscious company, musing if The Honest Company will be the next Johnson & Johnson. Those paying close attention to The Honest Company believe the food and beverage industry is the next frontier for the socially conscious company to push, and here’s why.
In the past decade, the demand for organic food has exploded: Pegged at a little over $6 billion at the beginning of the 2000s, the industry ballooned to $31 billion by 2011. Another shift in the food industry impacted by dollar voting theory is the decline in meat consumption.
“Even though both economies are experiencing a recovery and per capita disposable income is going up, there is a decline in per capita meat consumption due to the negative perceptions of red meat in diet, associated with high cholesterol and heart disease. As a result, consumers are looking at alternative diets … vegan and vegetarian options and fish as well," says IBISWorld analyst Jeffrey Cohen.
Yet, dollar voting is criticized because a handful of multinational conglomerates hold ownership over a variety of socially conscious companies and therefore, no mater who we support, the big guys always win. The nay-sayers of dollar voting point to the now infamous graph, illustrating a majority of most well-known food companies that are owned and operated by corporations such as PepsiCo, General Mills, Associated British Foods and Nestle.
For the most part, this viewpoint is largely untrue and short sighted. It proves multinational corporations are seeking out companies producing healthier products because they reflect the future of consumer wants and needs. In the last decade, Coca-Cola has acquired more than 10 companies, ranging from tea to coconut water beverage companies. How can one honestly question whether dollar voting is effective when soda sales have declined steadily in the past five years?
Dollar voting for healthier beverages is spilling (no pun intended) into the political arena itself. According BusinessWeek Magazine, "New York’s then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s the majority owner of Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s parent company, Bloomberg LP, tried to cap most fountain drink sizes at 16 ounces within the city."
For those who want seismic change, staying the course is key. Remember, Coca-Cola had revenues of over $45 billions in 2013 with an operational reach in over 200 countries. For consumers pushing for radical shift in product offerings, we must remember, “Rome was not built in a day."
Shifting from theory to practice, our own social enterprise, Tea of the People, makes innovative teas that run for elections in grocery stores everyday. Like a political debate, each tea box is a candidate stating its case to obtain votes, or in this case be purchased by constituents, who come in the form of grocery shoppers. The other tea companies use non-identifiable green tea and frequently use harsh extracts to achieve a desired flavor, where we use Dragon Well, the most antioxidant green tea on earth and blend super real fruits into our innovative teas.
However you chose to support social enterprises, like The Honest Company or Tea of the People, remember this: We have the power to shift markets, drive product innovation and bring organizational change to companies regardless of size and sector.
Josh Caplan is Founder and Chief Activist Officer of Tea of the People.