Q Could you make recommendations on pressure tactics that might stop Whole Foods from carrying water from Fiji?
A Forget Evian. Search the globe and you probably wouldn’t find a greater antithesis to buy-local movements everywhere (well, everywhere but Fiji) than Fiji Water.
Canada has plenty of pristine springs (as pristine as you can get in a world where pollutants blow halfway around the globe), so it’s ridiculous to ship/fly/truck a bottle of water over 12,000 kilometres to your lips. Not that we should be drinking locally bottled water either, when purity junkies can just add filters to their home taps, but that’s beside the point. The point is, Fiji Water is pissing you off, and the fact that it’s carried by a health store that claims to be green aggravates you even more.
Truth is, Whole Foods screens products for all kinds of reasons (like whether produce is organic or a species is overfished), but distance travelled from source to shelf isn’t one of them. Not surprising, really, since health foods and non-health foods alike contain plenty of exotic ingredients like coconut or seaweed, or highly unsustainable palm oil from South Pacific rainforests. Still, while you can’t grow a coconut in Canada, water is in fact everywhere.
Nonetheless, health stores are now justifying their Fiji agua fascination by pointing to the water company’s 2007 move to make its product “carbon-negative” (using wind power, biodiesel and offsets to “more than make up for” the GHGs Fiji creates). Indeed, a Whole Foods rep tells me, “Fiji Water does a lot of global giving back.” The outrageous irony that half of Fiji’s residents lack access to clean water while the factory ships over a million bottles a day to the U.S. market alone hasn’t escaped everyone, though.
What to do about it? Consumer pressure can be powerful. Getting a flesh-and-blood petition circulating is a start (see Q. #2 for more on petitions), and if that’s combined with a strong phone-in and letter-writing campaign, you’re going somewhere. If enough peeps get peeved, you might just convince head honchos that carrying the trendy water is more trouble than it’s worth.
While you’re on a roll, ask the chain why it’s carrying Nestle-owned water bottles. Beyond the 30-year-long Nestle boycott related to its aggressive marketing of baby formula in the developing world, this past summer activists lost the battle to stop the corporate giant from pumping 300,000 gallons a day from Michigan springs.
Q Where can I find petitions on eco issues – and do they really work?
A Back in the old days, you had to do lots of dirty work to get a petition rolling – you know, like standing on street corners and trolling rallies to garner signatures for your cause.
Plenty of groups still circulate real petitions, and you could try hunting them down individually – or you can just head online. Naturopack.org, for instance, hosts a petition around banning stryofoam takeout containers in Toronto on its website.
Or check out e-petition sites that centralize name-collecting for thousands of different causes. Seach sites like Ipetitions.com, Petitiononline.com or my favourite, the social-justice-oriented Thepetitionsite.com and you’ll find a few hundred people have already signed on to call for a plastic bag ban in the T-dot, and thousands have endorsed a campaign to keep a highway from running through the Brazilian rainforest. FYI, these sites also encourage you to start your own petition if you’re inspired.
The heavyweight queston of the day is Do they work? And the answer is, er, well, um, it depends. E-petitions can be riddled with problems. For one, too many people sign several times (especially on unmonitored sites), making the whole thing look a little dodgy. And unlike hard copies, most virtual petitions don’t ask for addresses, which causes them to lose some legitimacy. Ditto for the lack of physical John Hancocks.
The dumbest petitions in e-mail land are the ones that don’t even tell you which corporate or government office to send the bloody thing to. Others lack clear demands.
But, yes, petitions can have an impact. Remember, Californians ousted their previous governor via petition. Unfortunately, David Suzuki failed to persuade John Baird to take serious action on climate change when he presented the enviro minister with 30,000 signatures backing the green cause, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying!
Beyond signing your name to paper, phone calls and e-mails directly hassling your local MP/MPP/councillor and corporation of choice about whatever’s bothering you are even more effective. Just try to stay on point and make your concerns clear and concise. Every personal phone call and letter represents up to 1,000 other people who think the same thing but are just too lazy to pick up the phone.
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