Radical transparency about a product’s origin, manufacture and distribution is the key to green consumerism.
So argues New York Times science reporter Goleman (Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, 2007, etc.). Today’s shoppers are bombarded by “greenwashing,” he writes. The decision to buy a certain product—an organic apple, for example—is often based on a single eco-friendly aspect and ignorant of the other factors associated with the apple’s growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping. Because every link in the supply chain affects every other, Goleman notes, only true transparency about a product’s journey to the shelf can lead consumers to change their shopping habits in ways that will have positive effects on the environment, their health and global business practices. Recent polls have shown that people are willing to pay a premium for merchandise they know is free of toxic chemicals or wasn’t manufactured using child labor. Several prototype systems compile the results of comprehensive research into a simple product-rating system. Armed with this information, shoppers will be able to choose the items that are most eco-friendly and thus help dictate how companies run their businesses. As an example of such a consumer-driven change, the author offers the recent nationwide removal of trans fats from foods, prompted by customer demand. Such ongoing shifts in shopping habits could force corporations across the world to re-evaluate the debate that “pits doing good against doing well,” which has historically driven executives to choose their bottom line over ecological responsibility. Over time, Goleman believes, reducing dependence on petroleum and cheap chemical additives will prove to be a profitable practice, which in turn will enable ecologically friendly products to sell at reasonable price points. Dramatic shifts like these reveal the latent “people power” of the free market, avers the author, backing up each argument with well-crafted field support from industrial ecologists, ecologically minded CEOs, toxicologists and other experts.
A convincing case that information alone—provided that it’s easy for shoppers to access—can spur an ecological revolution.