Better Labels, Better World

The idea of consumer education, awareness and responsibility is one that is gaining some traction in activism circles. The idea is that if consumers are aware of the total sum of their actions they will change their actions and behave in a more responsible, sustainable and “green” way.

There are many organizations that strive in through education to change the way consumers behave; PETA (www.peta.org), Greenpeace (www.greenpeace.org), World Wildlife Fund (www.wwf.org), and Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org). All four have different ways of trying to change consumers behavior, but my personal favorite are the various Fair Trade Initiatives (www.fairtrade.net) around the world that specifically try to influence consumer behavior through positive labeling schemes.

Maggie and I were talking about this they other day as we stood in Costco and debating which coffee to buy. They carry several brands. Two were organic, and one was fair trade organic. We bought one organic and one fair trade organic, just to try them both out.

Once home, we brewed up a cup, and my mind started doing the jitterbug. “Maggie” I said, “I’ve just had an astonishing idea!” She stood there slack jawed as my ideas raced like a Ferrari across the blacktop of her consciousness. When I was done she took my rest of my coffee and threw it down the sink and walked away. I’m not sure what she meant by that. Oh well.

Producer responsibility should be part of the labeling act for every product, to allow consumers to be able to make better choices. Imagine if you had truth in labeling? “This product made by child slaves in Bangladesh.” or “50,000 gallons of drinking water was polluted in the manufacture of this product.” How would the jewelry industry react if they had to put the warning “20 tons of cyanide-laced tailings were left in a watershed in a third world country to bring you this product.” on that engagement ring you were thinking about.

Drastic? Yes. But the labels on the coffee in Costco allowed us to make a choice. We knew that the brands that weren’t organically certified, or fair-trade certified were products that were produced with pesticides and predatory price structures by large multi national companies ill concerned with the growers or the environment. Nutritional labeling and organic certification have gone a long way to making sure companies produce food that is healthy for both the grower and the consumer.

Perhaps it’s time to move away from the obscure to the exact in an effort to let the consumer, who is after all responsible for 100% of the pollution in the world, be able to make the best choices.