Julie de Vaan
Insight into the impact of our consumption will help us make sustainable choices
The production and consumption of consumer goods goes along with all kinds of environmental and social costs. These are invisible costs that are not paid when purchasing a product, but that have to be paid back in the long term in order to keep the earth livable. We need to become aware of these costs and the impact our consumption has on the world. This is a very important first step to counteract the negative impact of our production and consumption.
Why would this help to make more sustainable choices?
At this point, creating awareness and giving people more insight is a great frist step because of the stage we are in as consumers. Many people do want to make sustainable choices, but have little knowledge about what is sustainable and what is not. This is not strange, since barely any information and clarity is giving about this.
Compare this to information about health and nutrition. We've been getting this all our life. Most of us at least broadly know which foods are good for our health, and which are not. And if not, there are tools to help get us started, such as the ingredients and nutritional values on the packaging. And new initiatives such as Nutriscore will make choosing healthy easier in the future. So, if we care about health, at least we are empowered to make well-considered food choices.
But our knowledge and understanding of social or environmental impact goes no further than: animal products are not environmentally friendly, and Tony Chocolonely and Fairtrade are committed to reducing a negative social impact. It is important that we increase insight, clarity and information about this for consumers. This way, people who find sustainability important, can at least make well-considered choices.
How should we do this in practice?
Organizations such as Eosta and True Price are committed to expressing the environmental and social impact of (food) products in costs, and making it visible to consumers. It's great that models are being developed that allow us to calculate the impact in terms of costs. Actually asking fair prices for products based on impact may initially be a bit much to ask, but this can at least give an indication of the actual costs to consumers.
People find sustainability increasingly important, and in this way we at least enable consumers to make more conscious choices if they want to. In addition, it will not only affect consumers, but also (other) producers. Because consumers find sustainability increasingly important and gain more insight into what is and what is not sustainable, organizations will have to take serious steps towards a more sustainable business and image.
Converting and expressing the impact of consumer goods in costs, has the advantage that it is unambiguous and clear. In addition, people are used to evaluate products on the basis of (among other things) costs. But there is also a danger. We are used to the fact that expensive means better. More expensive products are therefore often associated with sustainable products, while more expensive in this case means more environmental impact. This can be confusing at first and therefore lead to the wrong decisions.
In addition, until the fair price is actually asked for products, and until this money actually comes back to where it belongs, we want to prevent people from thinking: I can afford it, so it's fine. While we would rather have them buying lower impact products. That is why, especially until a fair price is actually asked for products, it is a good idea to also attach a clear evaluation to those costs. That is what Nutriscore does, for example, with the help of the colors of a traffic light. In this way we can give people extra guidance in what is good and what is not good for the world.
So, in short?
Our consumption has a major impact on the world. We need to help consumers make more sustainable choices. Because people currently have little insight in and knowledge about the impact of their consumption on the world, providing insight and information is an effective first step. This can be done, for example, by calculating and clarifying the social and environmental costs associated with the production and consumption of goods. For clarification, we should also evaluate these costs and indicate the magnitude of the impact. In this way we at least enable people to make more sustainable choices. Stimulating them to actually do so comes next.
The inspiration for this article comes from van this episode of Zembla (NL). Also see: