Posts Tagged ‘Robert Kennedy Jr.’

Third day of Not So Green Exposure Project. I open the Business Section of my daily paper and I read this:

With just a few days left before Christmas, the nation’s retailers are in a lather to attract last-minute shoppers to salvage what has been a mediocre December.

Department-store operator Macy’s Inc. has slashed prices on everything from clothing to jewelry, while Toys “R” Us is offering price cuts of up to 75 percent this weekend. At stake are retailers’ profits for the year and perhaps even the strength of the economy.

While consumers jammed stores at the start of the season for big discounts and shopped early for Nintendo Co.’s hard-to-find Wii game console, popular video games like “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” and Australian sheepskin UGG boots, they waited until the end for most everything else, to take advantage of the best deals amid a challenging economy.

The biggest disappointment comes from women’s apparel, extending a downturn that’s grown deeper in recent months and serving as an ominous sign for the health of retailing in general. Women do the primary shopping for the family, so analysts say it’s troubling that they are spending less time in the stores.

“I have no money or time to shop,” said Tina Morabito, who just started her holiday shopping on Friday morning at the Providence Place Mall, in Providence, R.I. She was buying some greeting cards and mint chocolates, but didn’t plan to buy clothing.

“There’s been a malaise” among women’s clothing sales and “it has spread to other areas,” said Dan Hess, chief executive of Merchant Forecast, a New York-based research firm. “The panic button has been pushed, particularly in department stores.”

And even with an expected sales surge this weekend, which traditionally accounts for about 10 percent of holiday sales, Lazard Capital Markets analyst Todd Slater expects that the last-minute spending will be “too little, too late” to save Christmas.

“When people think they are in a recession, they spend like they are in a recession,” Slater said.

A series of snowstorms hampered spending in recent days, but clearly, economic worries – particularly higher gas prices, an escalating credit crisis and a slumping housing market – weighed on shoppers’ minds.

According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a research company that tracks total sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets, business for the week ended Saturday slipped 0.4 percent compared to the same week in 2006. Total U.S. traffic for the same period slumped 8.9 percent from a year ago.

The apparel market was hit even harder because there was nothing new that wowed shoppers. The new style – cropped jackets with bell sleeves – failed to generate a lot of buzz, says research analyst Jennifer Black.

Hess estimated that discounts at department stores are about 10 percent to 15 percent higher than a year ago, a worrisome sign for profits. Price-cutting at specialty clothing stores, which had better control of their inventories, were at the same level as a year ago.

Slater said that he estimates that large department stores are missing their sales plan by as much as 10 percent so far in December.

Slater noted that even gift card sales have been disappointing; in some cases, the gift card business may be “even down,” based on spot checks with retailers. Gift card sales have been a bright spot in recent years though they mute pre-Christmas business because sales are not recorded until recipients redeem them.

The toy industry is expected to match last year’s sales, at best. In addition to a challenging economy, the industry was hurt by a slew of recalls of Chinese-made products that made some shoppers cautious.

Online retailers, which have had an uneven season, are ending with a strong finish. According to comScore Inc., consumers spent almost $25 billion online from Nov. 1 through Dec. 18, a 19 percent increase, though a bit below its 20 percent forecast.

While it’s hard to discern how much of the discounting in the final hours is unplanned, stores are clearly slashing prices to eke out sales wherever they can. Toys “R” Us stores are staying open till midnight every night until Christmas Eve. Beginning Friday at 7 a.m., several of Macy’s stores in the New York metropolitan area, including its flagship store in Manhattan, won’t close until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

At Macy’s Herald Square store, the entire inventory seemed to be on sale. Plenty of women’s career apparel was discounted by 50 percent, for example.

“I usually do all my shopping on Black Friday. But I missed it. So I waited for the deals,” said Goednee Coteland, of Manhattan, who was leaving Macy’s Herald Square store Thursday night carrying bags of clothing marked down 50 percent.

Subtle, but powerful. Our whole economic language is imbued with capitalistic values. Consumer spending needs to be up, and so do profits. At stake is a ‘strong’ economy. The signal I get as a consumer, is that spending is good for my country. Not a single mention of the associated environmental costs in greenhouse gases emissions. Spending would be good if it took into account those costs. Really, I am all for free market capitalism. But there’s got to be a new way of looking at and talking about consumer spending. I have heard it best described by Robert Kennedy Jr. Listen to his words – and forget the lousy image quality, this is the only video I could find that fully captures his views on free market capitalism – :

The common financial and economic language needs to make room for words like, green, carbon, environment. It needs to reflect a shift in the way our economy views and incorporates the external costs of greenhouse gas emissions. It also needs to make the distinction between goods and services that make a positive contributions to the environment, versus the ones that don’t.


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This morning, in the Huffington Post, Robert Kennedy Jr. shared a great example, of how technology can be used as a tool, to help us take personal responsibility for our share of a global environmental problem. His article about ‘Coal’s True Cost, is not just a denounciation of coal mountaintop removal practices, but also a celebration of ingenious web technology:

‘Well now you can visit coal country without ever having to leave your home. Every presidential candidate and every American ought to take a few seconds to visit an ingenious new website created by Appalachian Voices, that allows one to tour the obliterated landscapes of Appalachia. And it’s not just Arch Coal, Massey Coal and their corporate toadies in electoral politics who are culpable for the disaster. The amazing new website allows you to enter your zip code to learn how you’re personally connected to the great crime of mountaintop removal. Using this website Americans from Maine to California can see these mountains and the communities that were sacrificed to power their home. The tool uses Google Maps and Google Earth as interfaces to a large database of power plants and mountaintop removal coal mines. A November 15, 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the site as one of the most innovative, cutting-edge uses of these powerful tools. The site puts a human face on the issue by highlighting the stories of families living in the shadows of these mines.’

I tried it, and it showed how I am a passive accomplice of coal mountaintop removal in four sites in the Appalachian Mountains. The least I could do, was to sign the petition to stop these practices. The picture of the US map, with the arrow linking me to those four dots on the other side of the country, is quite powerful. Another example of the power of images to induce attitude shifts and behavioral changes.

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I was remembering a statement made once by one of my teachers in social work grad school, something to the effect that we are all a product of our culture. What is it about the American culture that makes it so hard for me to lead a green lifestyle? There are the obvious culprits: advertising, easy access to credit, merchandising, convenience, . . . But what about the more insidious factors, all the subtle messages that condone consumerism, and go contrary to the three Rs of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle? Listening to NPR business hour the other day, I was struck by the journalist’s excitement as he mentioned ‘Consumer Spending is Up’, as if it was a good thing. Of course, we live in a capitalist economy, that depends in large part on consumer spending for its well-being. What is missing though, is the other half of the story. This is the story I heard from Bobby Kennedy Jr., during one of his brilliant speeches on behalf of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Bobby’s take is that we ought to have a different kind of accounting, one that takes into account the external costs imposed upon our environment, as a result of our capitalist endeavors. If there was another economic indicator, that measured how well we are doing in terms of our carbon emissions, this factor could then be used to adjust our overall economic index. I, as a citizen would get the message, and would be more inclined to think twice before buying yet one more thing. What is needed is a paradigm shift, that reflects the new priorities for the 21st century.

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