How effective do you think consumers can be in creating positive change through better purchasing decisions?
I think consumers hold loads of power since ultimately manufacturers need their business. If there was a total boycott of a particular product or company worldwide then that company would go out of business in a few months.
Political democracy is indirect – we vote for a party and then they run the country. But consumer democracy is quite direct. We are constantly voting every time we make a purchasing decision. One dollar one vote!
consumer democracy is quite direct
Obviously it’s not that simple, but increasingly companies are responding to direct action by, or even perceptions of, consumers. This is due to the huge increase in information flowing around and the speed at which it flows. Despite a globalised supply chain, news travels so fast that incidents or worker conditions overseas make it to local news within a day or so. With the potential to affect purchasing decisions, companies need to react fast.
What issues do you care about the most when choosing products and services?
This is a bit like trying to choose your favourite child when you love them all!
I try and think about the main impacts of the type of product (the most important issues) and then whether the product I am looking avoids or reduces those impacts.
Wiping out a forest or losing a species due to habitat destruction is final – you never get it back.
Having said that, I have a bit of a soft spot for nature and ecosystems. Wiping out a forest or losing a species due to habitat destruction is quite final – you never get it back. So I tend to be pretty careful when choosing products like paper and timber that have high impacts in those areas.
What are the 3 most important issues for consumers to think about when choosing paper?
I was talking to an organisation the other day about how confusing it was buying ‘green’ printer paper. They said “there are so many things to think about – we get confused.” I went through the issues with them on a whiteboard. We narrowed it down to three key things:
- Fibre sourcing – make sure the paper users either recycled content or FSC certified,
- Bleaching – make sure its either Elemental Chlorine Free, Processed Chlorine Free or Totally chlorine Free
- Carbon – buy carbon neutral if possible.
In that order. Some suppliers will switch the order to cover up for their weaknesses on fibre sourcing or bleaching.
Whatever you do, don’t buy paper unless the source of fibre is certified and it provides details about how it is bleached.
Tell us about a product you can’t live without
I can’t live without my KeepCup reusable coffee cup. I now have one at home for weekends and one at work for the morning coffee. It’s a great example of a no regrets product that works as well (in fact better) than the disposable product it replaces. I’ve been using mine since 2009 when the first batch came off the production line.
The KeepCup has also been used by organisations to promote a sustainability message to staff. It helps breaks down barriers by showing how easy and rewarding it can be to make a green choice. The theory is that once people make one green choice we gain the confidence to make more.
Stephen Reardon is ECO-Buy’s green product specialist. ECO-Buy advises organisations about sustainable purchasing. Stephen spends his time working out which products are green and which ones are greenwash. For more from Stephen, read his blog.