Author Archives: Tom Watson

Getting the public on the train

Businesses and governments have finally begun to get the message about product stewardship. Now it’s time to take full advantage of the most powerful weapon in our arsenal – the public.

Okay, enough with the military imagery. Even though advancing product stewardship can seem like a war sometime, it deserves a better analogy than that. How about this: It’s time to finish this fantastic green building we’re constructing. We’ve laid the foundation, and built the walls, thanks to a growing number of progressive businesses and governments. Now we need to put the roof on that sucker, by making public awareness of product stewardship a real priority.

A lot of what I do in my job these days is public outreach in the Seattle metro area, using mainstream and social media to try to answer questions and help the public understand the complications of recycling and global warming. I also do a lot of presentations to groups. When I talk to people about product stewardship, you’d be surprised how often their eyes light up – even when they’ve never heard of the concept before – and they say something like, “I LOVE that idea.”

With public support, more product stewardship legislation will get passed, and better laws will get crafted because legislators will know their constituents support them. When the public becomes fully engaged, they’ll tell us what they want from product stewardship. We need to listen to them, because that will make the whole movement better and more sustainable.

How do we bring the public in to the product stewardship tent? The first and hardest thing is to make a little time in our schedules for public outreach. Take an hour or two a week to write an article for a community newspaper (or, if it’s great, go ahead and submit it to the New York Times), or pitch a local radio interview, or talk to a senior group (seniors are interested, and they vote). If you have someone in your office who is fluent in Spanish, ask them to work with you on an article about product stewardship for the local Spanish-language newspaper. If you have a successful product stewardship law in your state, have your agency do press releases or media events to show how successful it’s been.

I know – Public outreach and dealing with the media is messy, and makes our bosses nervous, because we don’t have as much control of the message as we would like. But it can also be fun, if you can find someone in your organization who actually likes to do it. That’s key – don’t try to force someone, including yourself, to do public outreach if you really hate it. The messenger needs to be passionate about product stewardship, and be a people person, and want to share that message with folks.

We really don’t have a choice anymore. If we want product stewardship to survive and grow, the public needs to jump on board. There we go – a nice train analogy. I love it. Let’s get everyone on the train and blow that damn whistle for product stewardship!

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