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How healthy and ‘Green’ is the food you eat?

Nutrition labels are quite commonplace in food products and help consumers make informed and healthy choices about their purchases. As per a recent study, about 57% of the consumers base their choice on the information displayed on food labels.

 

The emerging trend now is Eco-Labels – labels that certify the green credentials of a product. In other words, labels would detail the carbon footprint (i.e. the resources, energy, water etc. used) of the product, to help customers make informed choices on the environmental impact of their purchases.

In mid-July 2009, Walmart Stores announced an environmental labeling program that would require every vendor-no exceptions -to calculate the full environmental impact and cost of their products. Based on this input, Walmart would then assign a green rating to every product in the store. The actual rating system may take as long as five years to implement, but represents a landmark moment for the sustainability movement.

Others are not far behind – Tesco is starting to put a simple carbon label on its food, for e.g. a symbol of an airplane for food transported by air.

 

This is definitely a step in the right direction, but consumers are already overwhelmed with the information, health related or otherwise, displayed on the packaging. Product labels are crowded with health claims (“helps lower cholesterol”) and nutrient claims (“now with omega-3”). And now to add to this, manufacturers and retailers will also reporting the environmental impact of the product on the label. Numerous eco-labels exist even today and for lack of common standards, consumers are not confident of separating the really green products from those just making claims of being so.

 

That said, it’s still badly required in a world where we’re depleting resources faster than replacing or regenrating them! We’ve potentially reached the tipping point where each and everyone recognizes the damage we have done (and are doing) with our current lifestyles and are ready to make the necessary changes to make an positive impact. Such information helps consumers to vote with their wallets, which encourages more and more companies to move to sustainable products and service offerings.

 

Governments and industries will have to work together to come up common standards and rating systems, which will evolve over time to a similar level and proliferation as Nutrition labels today. Nevertheless the direction looks promising.

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  • Nice post. I was thinking about ways people can be forced to go green! Sometime in the future, the government should give tax rebates to people who have their personal carbon footprint below a certain number. That should give people an economic incentive to be sustainable, take public transport, use reusable bags, recycle, use less paper and the list goes on. Eco-labeling is a right first step in our long march towards saving the world!
    • Thanks Girish. Yes, I think it will be a combination of the government setting the guidelines & providing the incentives and people acting. I reckon the awareness is already quite high in people's mind, but many lack the clarity of what they need to do and the extent of difference their actions would make. And this is where much more work is required.
      • This process needs to start from the companies, then to the people.
        The WRI/WBCSD GHG Protocol Initiative is developing two new standards for product and supply chain greenhouse gas accounting and reporting.
        The new standards will include guidelines on both:
        • Product life cycle accounting and reporting, and
        • Corporate-level value chain (scope 3) accounting and reporting.
        Building upon existing and emerging methodologies, the guidelines will provide a standardized approach for companies to inventory, analyze, and manage GHG emissions along their value chains, at both the product and company levels.
  • Interesting thought...to some extent people have already moved into this direction, these days there is a big craze of organic products - we can easily see spices and vegetables being sold in supermarkets under the Organic tag, and the best part is - despite of their extra cost people are still buying them....
    • Thats right - thats the aspect with people feeling responsible and acting on their own initiative, even if it means spending more. But on the other hand, the marketplace is filled with products that wrongly or overclaim their organic and green credentials. And thats where the government and industry need to come up with proper guidelines. And this is happening as well, countries like UK and France already have such systems in place. But currently the market is eveolving at a much faster pace, so there's some catching up to do....