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Person of the Day: Hazel Henderson, pioneer of ethical finance

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
11th June 2012


Hazel was forty years ahead of most of us, pioneering the research into ethical finance, ethical economies and alternative metrics since the 1970’s and she is now putting her energies in Ethical Markets TV, which brings ethical enterpreneurs to the attention of a wider audience.

The following is excerpted from an interview conducted by Forbes magazine:

What made reforming economics, conventional metrics and ethical advertising the focus of your work?

As an early environmental activist, I worried about my baby breathing the dirty air in New York City. After co-organizing Citizens for Clean Air in the 1960s, I realized all economics was based on obsolete textbooks that allowed companies to “externalize” their costs to others, such as the pollution of air and water. We contacted the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and arranged for a helicopter ride around New York City to show him all the sources of air pollution and why our group proposed correcting our national GNP to subtract the costs of pollution and other externalities. Sen. Kennedy was convinced and went on to make his famous 1968 speech about GNP’s mistakes and why we needed to correct this narrow scorecard.

As I dug deeper into economics textbooks, I began to connect all the dots in other scientific areas, realizing that we were living at the end of the 300-year Industrial Revolution based on fossil fuels and outdated methods of production. I wrote Creating Alternative Futures in 1978, followed by The Politics of the Solar Age in 1981, where I described the great transition already underway to economies based on efficiency, renewable energy and resources managed for long-term sustainability.

So why did your research on this global economic and technological transition lead to your focus on media and ethical advertising?

I realized since the 1960s that U.S. mass media are funded by advertising—quite different from in Britain, where I grew up watching the BBC. I first wrote to the TV network bosses asking them to carry the city’s air pollution index on their weather shows. Then I found after much effort an advertising agency, Carl Ally Inc., which agreed to create a volunteer public service campaign for Citizens for Clean Air. This campaign ran free in all media in New York City with the volunteer help of several concerned media moguls. After all this media attention, public awareness of New York’s air pollution led to the first local environmental ordinances. I was propelled onto NBC’s Today Show as well as ABC and CBS morning shows – and realized that media was key!

Today we have what I call “commercial censorship,” where major advertisers dominate the airwaves, still promoting fossil fuels and mass consumption of unsustainable products—often unhealthy foods, sugar snacks and beverages—and using fear and anxiety-producing ads to sell patent medicines, clothes, make-up, even manipulating consumers with neuromarketing techniques.

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