Climate friendly consumer choices are too hard: Australia needs a labeling system

I’m doing what I can to vote with my wallet and make climate-friendly purchases. The larger the purchase the more sense it makes to spend significant time to get it right. However, small choices can be really difficult. Here are some examples of decisions I made during a recent grocery shopping trip.

Me, on the inside

Decision 1: Woolies or Coles?

Yes, I know that ideally I’d be riding my bike to a localvore bulk food store but bear with me. All other things being equal, I would pick Woolies purely to send a small signal that they have hit the mark with their “Discovery Garden” promotion. So much better than those insidious little landfill-in-waiting product advertisements targeted at children from the “Little Shop” of Horrors. But… Coles is closer to our house. Do I burn the extra petrol driving to Woolies? What’s the carbon cost of that decision?

Winner: Woolies. Consumer signals are important.

Decision 2: Plastic-wrapped organic, or conventional?

Ideally I’d like to buy organic, but the organic produce is predominantly in plastic punnets and wrapped in plastic bags.

Winner: conventional produce without packaging.

Decision 3: Individually packaged snack size party fun packs?

Easy – no thanks. I’d rather buy a big pack and put a few treats in a small container in the kids’ lunchboxes.

Winner: Tiny Teddies were the only product I found that had a “small treats in a big box” option.

Decision 4: Cheese, cheese or cheese?

This one was also easy. I just grabbed the biggest pack because then I have to buy fewer plastic bags throughout the year. Unless I’m deciding between Artavaggio and Taleggio (while we still have them) I don’t think it matters that much which cheese I get. Of course it won’t matter at all once I finish transitioning to a vegan diet… :/

Winner (for now): 600g Family Pack of shredded something.

Decision 5: Local plastic or imported cardboard?

This was a tough one. Do I buy the locally-made plastic-wrapped pasta because it has lower food miles? Or the imported option encased in cardboard?

Winner: packaging wins again. Hopefully some market researcher somewhere spots an emerging trend and we will get a local cardboard option.

As I rolled along the aisles considering all these little decisions, I thought about how much easier it would be to make climate-friendly choices if we had a rating system similar to the energy star ratings on appliances: the more green stars, the more climate-friendly the product. Perhaps we can import an existing system from New Zealand. Or perhaps we could develop an augmented reality app that takes consumers through a discovery process of what’s most important to them and then overlays personalised ratings onto products. I reckon that would be a winner – and I’d shop at whichever grocery store introduced it first.

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