We’re all becoming increasingly aware of the devastating impact mankind is having on the fragile ecosystem we share.  While pressure groups and political parties are beginning to wake up and slowly enact legislation to control our wasteful ways, the question remains:

Is it too late to reverse the damage we’re causing, in part due to use of plastic packaging with a lifespan and capacity to do harm for centuries to come?

Waste management is a complex subject, with a tension between what is right, and what is convenient.  The explosion of consumerism, online retailing (with associated packaging and delivery), vested interests from packaging manufacturers, and global supply chains are all conspiring to  negatively affect our chances of improving the situation.

However, rapid change is possible, when driven from the end consumer upwards.

One simple way that our supermarkets might make a positive change is to identify those brands known to do more than their competitors to recycle, source products closer to their point of consumption, or use more environmentally-friendly packaging.

These products would be placed in a “virtue aisle”, allowing a discerning consumer to select the best (or least harmful) choice for shampoo, cat food, cereal, deodorant, or battery.

We all want to do our bit – this approach would help us feel more aware of the environmental impact of our decisions.  My bet is that the very visible popularity of these areas in a supermarket will effect popular change fast – faster than legislation or any other top down initiative ever would: One supermarket adopting this approach will see an almost instant improvement in the perception of their brand and the uplift in sales will drive packagers to better behaviour.

Of course, the ability to impartially measure one products environmental worthiness over another is extremely complex – but not impossible. 
A number of organisations already exist, particularly the Ethical Consumer Group , which have already gone a long way in sorting the good from the bad.  

An Environmental Impact Index, which aggregates ease of recycling, product miles travelled, and use of reusable containers would be included as factors to judge product eligibility for the Virtue Aisle.  This index would be maintained by an impartial body with the maximum possible global reach.  The burden of evidence would be placed on the product manufacturer, who would each complete a category-specific questionnaire as a binding and verifiable legal document.

This Index will not be absolute and comparative across different product lines, but based on categories.  For example, shampoos compared with each other for ethical and environmental worthiness.

As individuals, we have discretion in our choices, and those choices would be made much easier to exercise with the adoption of the “Virtue Aisle”.  Let’s make #virtueaisle a symbol of our intolerance for the status quo.

We’d welcome your comments and feedback on this article – get in touch with your thoughts….

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