Consumer power has 10x the impact and leverage of policy

In a few days, Denver will be voting on whether green roofs should be mandated for both old and new buildings (with certain limitations). San Francisco has a similar mandate, and Washington D.C. and Chicago offer incentives. The roofs can be covered in greenery, or the likes of solar panels. 

Green roofs, from Farm to City

Green roofs, from Farm to City

What I notice about this is the tendency for environmentalists and proponents of social good to use policy as the tool to influence business. Believe me, as a Berkeley native, when I announced I was going to business school, more than a couple people thought I was selling out. One of my conservative relatives even crowed to my dad, "I won. She's joining my side." I disagree with this dichotomy (yes, the familial one, but also the one between business and social good). It perpetuates the idea that business is separate from us, and that policy is the principle lever for controlling the evil of business. I'm not saying that regulation is not important. It is. 


I am saying that the propensity to pass legislation that pushes businesses in a certain direction is much less effective than using consumer power to influence businesses. Consumer power - where you shop, what you buy, how much social/environmental factors influence your decisions, how you voice those decisions to businesses - can have a more lasting effect than policy, and is much more internally influencing to businesses. You can mandate a socially and environmentally conscious policy that causes some department to be delegated to deal with it. Or, you can shop with your conscience and impact the bottom lines of companies - both positively and negatively - and that is going to get the attention of employees from the CEO to the marketing team to the finance department, who will now all be interested in aligning with your values. Much more powerful, and a much more collective response. 

I'm also not saying that mandates and incentives may not be a useful tool for encouraging businesses. I think green roofs are awesome. I want one! I'm proud of San Francisco for leading the way. And I hope Denver passes this green-roof legislation. But, I hope we start shifting our solutions more into our shopping and consumption because that offers a more holistic approach than targeted policy changes.


1. Kaplan, Desiree. Voters Consider A 'Green Roof' Mandate For Denver Buildings.