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Can Consumer Power Deliver a Cool Climate Deal?

It’s a good time to be a consumer. I am guessing you weren’t expecting that first sentence. Well it’s the truth. More than ever, consumers are changing the way companies do business— the way they treat their employees and care for the environment.

And we don’t have to look far or dig deep for the evidence to prove it. After the tragic murder and worldwide outrage of Cecil the lion, a petition got Delta Airlines to halt the transportation of animal trophies.

This past July, citizens in British Columbia, Canada were stunned to learn that Swiss-based Nestle bottles their local groundwater on the cheap. A citizen led petition forced the local government to reconsider the rates.

And just last month, Shell announced it was ceasing all exploratory activities in the Arctic for the foreseeable future. While there is no direct mention to the Greenpeace campaign “Shell No” there is reason to believe that mounting pressure from Greenpeace and others forced Shell to change course. These are just a snippet of recent victories and more are on the way.

Public campaigns are not only holding corporations accountable but also creating vocal and educated consumers; ones that are looking for information on resource management, fair wages, and the environmental impacts of their favorite brands.

Collectively we are the savviest consumers the world has ever seen; and companies, the smart ones anyway– are taking notice. Shoppers now do their homework in advance of making a purchase— they consult friends, blogs, consumer indexes like Behind the Brands and follow companies’ actions in the news, then share their experiences and opinions on social media.

This increased level of awareness around corporate social responsibility and the role of consumers make for an extra special and exciting World Food Day.  We are celebrating all the hard fought victories you helped achieve. But we know this is not the end of the battle. Together, we, the lovers of food, face another test, and that is the climate talks which begin in Paris next month.

Putting our attention on the climate talks in Paris can make governments and companies invest in people, especially those that need it the most.

While there have been signs that governments are listening to the demands of their citizens and that consumers have the attention of companies, we have to make sure the most vulnerable among us — those that actually plant and grow our foods — get heard too.

Many companies are also demanding greater action by our world leaders. Just recently, a number of the largest food and beverage companies took out a whole page ad to call for meaningful action on climate change.  We need to come out of Paris with a balanced deal that invests in climate adaptation (dealing with the impacts of climate change) and mitigation (minimizing greenhouse gas emissions). They are two sides of the same coin yet adaptation historically has been neglected, leaving the most vulnerable with the most risk.

Is it a tall order? Absolutely. Can we pull it off? Yes, we can.  Consumer power can double as citizen power. If we as consumers could get food giants like General Mills and Kellogg to commit to addressing climate change via the Behind the Brands campaign – why can’t we do the same as citizens to influence world leaders?

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