Buying Sustainability


Author and Environmental Science and Studies teaching fellow Andrew Case discusses the tensions between environmentalism and capitalism and The Organic Profit on March 28.


For anyone who wants to live a greener, more sustainable life, there’s no lack of products and information you can purchase to tell you how to do it. But where did the curious idea of buying one’s way to sustainability come from? And how do the tensions between capitalism and environmentalism resolve, or not?

Those are the basic questions that led Andrew Case, a teaching fellow in the Department of Environmental Science and Studies, to write his new book The Organic Profit: Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism (March 2018, University of Washington Press), which examines the story of entrepreneur and reformer J. I. Rodale, his son Robert Rodale, and their company, the Rodale Press.

Case will discuss his book on Wednesday, March 28, at 4:30 p.m., in an event sponsored by the Center for Environment & Society, the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and the Department of Environmental Science and Studies. The talk in Litrenta Lecture Hall is free and open to the public and will be followed by a book signing and reception in the Toll Atrium.

The Rodales and Rodale press were pioneers of organic gardening, as well as in cultivating a niche for natural health products in the 1950s, organizing the emerging marketplace for organic foods in the 1960s, and publishing an endless supply of advice books on diet and health in the process. Rodale’s marketplace environmentalism brought environmentally minded consumers together and taught Americans how to grow food, eat, and live in more environmentally friendly ways. Yet the marketplace has proved more effective at addressing individual health concerns than creating public health interventions. It is as liable to champion unproven and ineffectual health supplements as it is to challenge the indiscriminant use of dangerous pesticides.

For anyone trying to make sense of the complex tensions between business profits and the desire for environmental reform, The Organic Profit is essential reading.

“This book deserves a wide readership for its nuanced discussion on the evolving tensions between environmentalism and capitalism,” says Geoffrey Jones, Isidor Straus Professor of Business History at Harvard Business School. “Excellent historical scholarship and compelling contemporary relevance.”

The Organic Profit is a provocative history,” says Adam Rome, author of The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation. “J. I. Rodale and his son Robert built a successful business by promoting what they considered a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, and Andrew Case shows that their efforts raise important questions about the market as a driver of environmental reform.”

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