Dear Umbra,

I just switched to all-natural cleaning products (Seventh Generation, it’s great!) and I wanted my switch to have the most impact possible. I was thinking about sending emails to the companies whose cleaning products I had previously used, telling them why I switched, describing the nasty effects of their products, and encouraging them to change their products to be earth-friendly. I also thought I would send this email to all of my friends, encouraging them to send it to their friends, and cc’ing the company in question each time.

Since I have never sent a letter to a company before, I was wondering if this would be a good way to go about things. What do you think? Do you have any tips to make this project effective? Are there any other ways to make these companies take notice?

Seattle, Wash.

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Dearest Rebekah,

I seriously considered providing a two-sentence answer to this question. To wit: This rocks! You don’t need me! Your plan is the very one used by grassroots activists around the world who want to effect change in the corporate sphere. (Or any sphere, actually: the tactic you describe is also Amnesty International’s hallmark.)

Dig deeper to give your letters that extra

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As for tips for refining your excellent project: First, be aware of how the brand you formerly purchased fits into the company’s overall product line. For example, Tide is a Procter & Gamble brand; Procter & Gamble also owns Mr. Clean. Do a little research, using these tips [PDF] from Co-op America, so that you and your friends can be sure to mention each brand associated with the company in question. (The company might even sell some eco-friendly, biodegradable products, which you could mention as positive examples.)

The Co-op America tips can also help you find the specific person to whom you should direct your letters. Do what you can to make the letters personal, especially since they’ll be sent via the relatively impersonal, easy-to-ignore medium of email. At the end of the letter, request a reply detailing the company’s plans to lessen the nasty effects of its products.

One more tip: the company you choose may already be a target of an environmental campaign. If so, your letters may have more impact when coordinated with said campaign. Punch the company name plus “campaign” or “letter writing” into the search engine of your choice, and see what you can find.