Author and activist Julia Butterfly Hill, the opening speaker at Natural Products Expo West 2004, is probably best known for her two-year tree-sit in the ancient redwood christened Luna, in an effort to save a grove of old-growth forest. Hill?s first book, The Legacy of Luna (Bt Bound, 2001), describes her experience in the tree, while One Makes the Difference (Harper SanFrancisco, 2002) addresses the ways that consumers can have an impact on the world through the way they choose to live.
Her belief that each of us can make a difference is the key to her message. ?What I know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt,? she says, ?is that every time we make a choice we are affecting our world. Asking ourselves if we can make a difference is not the relevant question; the relevant question is, what kind of difference do I want to make?
?We have been tricked into believing that we are separate from the rest of our ecos, yet any time you pull a thread, you?ll see how it connects with so much of this tapestry of life that we live in.? Consumers, retailers and manufacturers should keep this connection in mind when making choices, she says. For businesses, this means paying attention to the underlying principles they espouse. ?It?s truly about what we want to have grow in the world and, unfortunately, a lot of businesses are growing a larger and larger disparity between the rich and the poor, they?re growing ecological devastation, they?re growing pollution in life-sustaining systems, you name it,? Hill says. ?And, yet, there are solutions where both businesses and consumers have the opportunity to grow health and justice in the world.?
?For conscious businesses,? she says, ?it means not just paying lip service to those principles as an afterthought, but building a business around those core principles. Then, when a consumer buys the product, they feel invested in it.?
Smaller-scale retailers have some key advantages over larger competitors, such as personalized service and education. ?One of the ways small businesses can survive is by going into communities and finding out what their real needs are,? she says. By tying in to the needs of the community, such businesses can respond more quickly and effectively than larger corporations.
Businesses play a substantial role in how people relate to the world, whether negative or positive. ?People have an inherent longing to do good, to have a feeling of meaning and a sense of purpose in the world,? Hill says. Corporate interests can use this knowledge for their own aims, playing upon our fears and longings, using the language of activism and green consciousness to sell more products. ?The big corporations will always steal the words we come up with because they recognize that people ultimately long to make good choices,? she says.
Unfortunately, the language of marketing and branding, which the media uses to influence our choices, is foreign to the movement of consciousness, she says. But conscious businesses, too, can learn to use the media to help change the way we view our choices and their impact on the world.
Perhaps the toughest job, Hill says, is re-educating consumers, who receive so much of their information from corporate media. ?Our biggest challenge is combating a very large corporate media machine.? she says. ?We not only have to educate people, we have to re-educate people, and that?s a much bigger challenge, because the re-education of a mass disinformation campaign is quite a large task to take on. But we need to hold very large systems accountable, as well as holding ourselves accountable.?
The key to a lasting change in how we relate to the larger planetary system is changing the way we view various choices. For example, if we always reach for the biggest, shiniest apple because that?s what we value, then we won?t choose the unwaxed organic apple; but if we take the soil, the water and our own health into account, and choose on the basis of substance over style, we?ll reach for the organic apple every time. ?We have to teach people that choosing a hybrid isn?t hippie and choosing a Hummer isn?t cool, that buying local is much more fashionable than buying corporate, even if it means spending an extra dollar.?
Julia Butterfly Hill will speak on Thursday, March 4, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 204.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 2/p. 22, 26