In marketing especially, high-tech marketing it is important to understand the ‘learning curve’ needed by customers to buy or use a product or service. The steeper the learning curve the tougher the sell.
In sustainability it is the same. Lets take the example of the food sector. If customers need to understand the vast amount of information and knowledge required to understand the life-cycle of the food they eat and then compare the various food products on their own it will be a nightmare.
Expecting customers to do the research for ethical and environmental reasons is right in moral terms however, in the harsh reality of the practical world, it is not possible for customers to do this.
In the world of marketing for example Brands provide a easy to understand message. In a similar sense, the CD and MP3 player markets have followed the button design of the cassette player. Why? To make it easy for the customer.
One such product or idea in the Eco world is labelling. A standard label provides information to a customer in terms which is easy to understand and consistent on all products.
David Miliband, the environment secretary in the UK, is suggesting a eco-label scheme for the UK food products and clearly he understands the challenges.
This kind of “carbon labelling” would help both consumers who often felt “confused and powerless” and producers who felt their environmental efforts were going unrecognised and unrewarded, he said.
Tesco, which said in January that it planned to introduce new labels on the 70,000 products it sells to allow shoppers to compare carbon impacts.
It is currently investigating how to develop a “universally accepted and commonly understood” measuring system and has not said when labelled products will be in its stores.
“This is not an easy piece of work and will take time, particularly if this includes the whole life-cycle impact of food from production to distribution,” he said.
“In the shorter term, we want to develop environmental standards specifically for food production. This could cover a range of factors including energy inputs, fertiliser use, soil management, waste management and water pollution.”
The idea to provide a ‘eco label’ similar in design to a nutritional one is a good idea as it means a lesser learning curve for the customer.
The goal should be to create a label which is consistent, adheres to the highest standards and encompasses the entire life cycle and not just the ‘carbon’ cycle of a product.
- TreeHugger suggests Eco-labels.org as a fact-checker for all “green label” claims.
- A good introduction to Eco Labels (PDF) from Landcare Research NZ.