The Protective Power of Mothers
Today we give thanks to the mothers out there, who use their power as consumers and investors to keep us safe.
This Mother’s Day, we’re all showing our gratitude to our Moms for everything they’ve done to keep us safe and healthy. Moms do so much to make sure that the food they feed their children is good for them, and that harmful substances like medications and harsh cleaning products are far from the reach of small hands.
Ellen Kennedy is one of those mothers, but Ellen’s work allows her to protect a lot of other people’s kids too. Ellen is a senior sustainability analyst here at Calvert, with a particular focus on consumer staples and “farm–to–fork” sustainability analysis of our food supply. Ellen’s home life and professional life overlap constantly.
“Having my own children at home while researching consumer staples companies at work offers me such a variety of roles,” says Ellen. “As a mom, I’m doing everything I can to keep my kids safe. But I also take the investor perspective, and that gives me the scope to keep other people’s kids safe as well. In a sense, it links the personal, individual mom with the collective of moms everywhere.”
Consider just a few of the things Ellen thinks about all day. If you’re anywhere near our part of the world, you probably know that strawberry season is just around the corner. Maybe you were thinking about getting chocolate–covered strawberries for your mother for Mother’s Day. For Ellen, a strawberry is so much more than just a strawberry. She knows, for instance, that strawberries appeared on the Environmental Working Group’s 2014 Dirty Dozen list of most pesticide–contaminated produce. Her concern is not just for her own children (or yours if they eat the berries), but for the children of the farm workers who harvest those strawberries.
When I was in grad school, I used to earn money by translating from Spanish to English at conferences, and I got the opportunity to translate at an event focusing on female farmworkers. What I heard from them never left me. They consistently talked about the importance of buying organic produce, because they were so concerned about the pesticides to which their kids were exposed every day in the fields. When another parent implores you to take a simple action to help protect their kids, it hits you hard.
That’s why Ellen joined the board of directors at the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI). EFI is working to develop a sustainable and responsible certification system for food. EFI recently piloted its system with a strawberry farmer in California to train farmworkers in product safety and leadership, and to reduce pesticide exposure.
Strawberries are just one example. There are a lot of things that worry Ellen: processed foods that contribute to childhood obesity, lead– or cadmium–contaminated paint on toys that has a neurotoxic effect, and chemicals in plastics that may damage kids’ delicate hormonal balance, just to name a few.
But Ellen also sees a lot of reason for hope. For example, there are now apps that allow you to scan a barcode in the store and learn more about the product. Consumers are increasingly seeking out organic and Fair Trade–branded food. Awareness in on the rise, and so is information. This is good, because Ellen thinks it shouldn’t be so hard to do the right thing. She remembers how things were when she first started out.
There I was, this super aware, educated woman, and I still didn’t really know what to buy! I had the Dirty Dozen list of fruits and veggies. I had the list of which fish are safe to eat—from the point of view of mercury contamination—which I would cross–reference with the “green” list of which fish were considered sustainably harvested by one group, though another group might disagree; boy was it tough! We shouldn’t need huge matrices to figure out what’s safe. We shouldn’t have to make more money or have more education to buy what’s safe. It should all just be safe. As an investor, I’m working to change entire industries. If we keep at it, the day may just come when the only products on the shelf are ones that are good and safe for our kids.
We couldn’t agree more. Raising tiny people is difficult enough, so we make it easier for Moms to make the same great sustainable choices in their investments as they do in their purchases.
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!
Ellen Kennedy leads Calvert’s environment program, coordinating the advocacy and research of Calvert’s sustainability analysts working on climate change, water scarcity, energy, toxics, and other environmental issues. She has focused her own research and advocacy on the consumer staples sector for the past decade, particularly on farm-to-fork sustainability within food companies, and biodiversity. Ms. Kennedy holds an M.A. from UC Berkeley and a B.A. from Haverford College.
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