Choices govern our lives. With choices we make our mark on the world around us. Unlike the typical post-War scenario in western economies or earlier Communist regimes, markets the world over have for long been offering ever expanding choices with thousands of product lines on offer. Choice editing for sustainability is about cutting out unnecessarily damaging products and have enormous significance for the environment.
Choice editing relates to issues such as:
Scope of Choice Editing
Choice editing relates to consumption and consumerism. It is not only about what we shop but includes all the ways we adopt to use the earth’s resources. This not only includes what we eat and wear but also where we take our holidays and how we dispose of our waste. Through these four areas we generate four-fifth of our overall impact on the environment. As all these are within our control, with choice editing we have tremendous scope of bettering the conditions of the planet.
There can, however, be no fit-all-sizes formula. Consumption patterns differ across the world. In the developed countries 20 percent of the world’s population accounts for 80 percent of the lifecycle impacts of consumption. The developing countries are in a growth phase where almost 80 percent of their infrastructure will be developed over the next decade. The third slot is occupied by the bottom-of-the-pyramid economies where equitable growth and poverty eradication is of prime concern.
Choice Editing by Industry
One effective way of implementing choice editing is voluntary removal by industry, including retailers, of all unsustainable or less sustainable products and providing in their place a wide range of sustainable products and services in all price ranges. This directly shifts the field of choice for consumers towards real sustainable products.
Governments of different countries may also introduce roadmaps for elimination of unsustainable products and can intervene and ban certain unethical products from hitting the market. For instance, China is phasing out incandescent lightbulbs which could mitigate 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, equal to about half the climate-warming emissions of Germany. The European Union is scheduled to “choice edit” out inefficient lightbulbs within a decade.
Industry, by playing this kind of a leading role in choice editing, ensures that the responsibility of bringing about sustainability is not left exclusively to a small minority of green shoppers.
Choice Editing by Consumers
Another approach to choice editing is improving sustainable consumption without making the consumer believe that there is any restriction on his right to consume. Banning products limits customer choice as it already removes a lot of items from the menu.
The choice in this case rests with the consumer. A choice between sustainable products or services and those which are known to have a negative environmental impact. The question of banning unsustainable products does not feature in this scheme. This way the consumers are presented with a wide choice to edit.
If only ethical products are allowed in the market it would mean not leaving the choice to the consumer who will have to choose ethical products by default.
Findings of a series of research studies by the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable (SCR) made the following observations:
- Green consumers are in a minority and on their own are not capable of changing the mainstream product
- Marketing plays a vital role, but only if the product is competitive in the given market. Sustainability is not a selling point in itself
- It is important that sustainable products perform up to the expectations of the relevant market. Attributes like ‘sustainability’ becomes attractive if the marketing mix, including price, is within the expected norms of the relevant product category
- Providing product information was found to motivate only a small percentage of people to buy most energy-efficient domestic appliances. This changes when labeling was combined with action on the part of regulators, retailers and manufacturers.
- Fiscal incentives are effective if they are able to close the price gap for more sustainable products or help bring about significant tax rebates for their use.
Barriers to Choice Editing
Though ethical consumers are in a minority, this is a growing segment and attracting growing attention. Some of the barriers in the way of choice editing are --
- Habit, reluctance to change
- Social norms
- Lack of the right facilities
- Short-term household budgets; making ends meet
- Lack of trust in government and business
- Cumulative impact of advertising and mass media
- Life and Health
- What Retailers Can Do
- Ethical Living Blog
- The Packaging Blog