Gary Hirshberg has transformed from an organic business leader and sustainability evangelist to political advocate. The leap may seem small for the former CE-Yo of Stonyfield, after all he’s written books and worked the speaker circuit touting his passionate views for years. He’s made great change in the natural products industry because of his daring and sharing.
Now, not only has Hirshberg dedicated himself to the Just Label It GMO labeling campaign, he’s calling on those in the natural products industry to get political. “Money is not an end, it is the means,” he told natural products business leaders at the annual Naturally Boulder's Spring Fling event in May as he expounded upon the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that defines a corporation as a person. “We are political organizations that have power to inspire.”
Money may pump politics but grassroots voices foster change. And nobody stands at the ground level like natural products retailers.
Take Mark Squire, owner and manager of Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, Calif., who joined the industry in 1968. Through the years, he’s spread his beliefs beyond his store’s doors. Nationally, he helped found the Non-GMO Project. Locally, he authored Measure B, which prohibited outdoor cultivation of GMOs in Marin County, Calif.
Squire is among retailers Natural Foods Merchandiser talked to this month about their grassroots activism.
How natural retailers inspire change
Natural foods leaders spread the word through newsletters, in-store signs and fliers, social media, and hosted meetings and round tables. PCC Natural Markets in Washington State even chartered a bus to take concerned citizens to the state capitol when a GMO labeling rule came before lawmakers.
Store owners certainly must weigh the pros and cons of voicing political opinions and advocating for or against issues. But such action will improve the industry for everyone—consumers and businesses alike.
The issues we face range from environmental and health concerns to industry-changing laws. It’s easy to rally around banning plastic bags. Pictures of the floating islands of plastic in our oceans cause us all to cringe. And gathering for GMO labeling appears to be going mainstream as more than 1 million people have signed on to the Just Label It petition to the Food and Drug Administration.
Grasping the draft New Dietary Ingredients guidance is not as easy, but political action caused the FDA to pull the draft in June for revision. That’s an industry win but an issue that will remain. Many natural products trade associations work for you every day, cultivating lawmaker relationships and participating in the Washington, D.C., political process. But it takes real people, real voices to move those politicians. And that means the industry needs you more than ever.
The “Think globally, act locally” phrase likely sticks to bumpers of many cars in your parking lot. But sometimes we need to act as big as we think. And you can help inspire that change, just as Hirshberg asks.