Understanding Our Impact

July 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm 7 comments

In my last entry, The Butterfly Effect, I suggested that people would make different choices if they had a better understanding of the social and environmental impacts of their consumption. While products and services bombard us with words such as green, environmentally friendly, organic, rain forest certified, dolphin free, sustainable, local, etc, their meanings are at least confusing and at worst deceptive.  My idea is to create a simple and easy to understand grading system (A, B, C, D and F) such as the ones you see posted on restaurants that guide people as to the social and environmental impact that a product embodies. The idea is to offer people with an easy way to become socially responsible consumers and businesses.

Such a grading system could be called the Environmental & Social Impact Grade (ESIG), the Social Responsibility Indicator (SRI), or the Embodied Energy Grade (EEG). My current favorite, however, is the Product Impact Grade (PIG).  This grade would be a composite picture of the product’s impact and could include such elements such as its carbon footprint, embodied energy, employee’s working conditions and pay, social impact, management pay, expected life of product, impact on human health, and corporate transparency.  These are just some of the element’s I’ve come up with off the top of my head.  The grade could represent a statistical percentage or something more simple such as A=Excellent, B=Good, C=Improving, D=Poor, F=Fail

Ideally, this grade would be prominently printed on each product label – products ranging from cigarettes to diamonds, coffee to cars, and from food to furniture. While I’m sure there would be a great deal of controversy and heated debate about what elements should be reflected by the PIG, it’s also a discussion that is long overdue.  Ideally, by reflecting a product’s sustainability, the PIG will also become a reflection of the social contract we hold with each other and our environment regardless of race or religion, wealth or politics.

Imagine if customers went into a Wal-Mart store and found most of their products labeled with a big fat “D” or “F”.  They would still be the same products we’ve been consuming for years, but the grade will give people a sense of the sustainability of that product.  No one likes a D or an F and such marks would provoke people to wonder what is behind the grade.  The labeling would be tied to a product database that details the reasons for the grade.  The grade would gradually affect consumption patterns and businesses will be forced to adapt.

This is an inexpensive, within-the-box solution that uses education to inform both consumer choices as well as business behavior.  It does not need a global treaty to implement.  Other than possibly requiring the grade to be printed, the PIG doesn’t need any government legislation.  The result could be that people choose less sustainable practices because of price, but at least our unsustainability will be the result of our conscious choice and not our blind ignorance.


Entry filed under: Consumerism, Design, Economics, Environment, Leadership, People, Sustainability, Thoughts. Tags: , , .

The Butterfly Effect Time to Change Our World

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Martina Weitsch  |  July 31, 2012 at 6:50 am

    I think this is a great idea. The trouble is that it would require some sort of agreement on how to go about measuring all these things to come up with the right grade for each product. And all the things that are going to feed into the grade need then to be weighted to allow for a proper grading. So it’s maybe a bit more complicated than it looks. But worth working on, certainly!

  • 2. Kelly S.  |  July 31, 2012 at 10:12 am

    The Good Guide does this for online consumer goods. In fact, you can install a toolbar on your browser that pops up and gives you sustainability ratings for products you are shopping for online. I wrote about it here: http://agirlinmotion.com/2012/02/29/you-are-what-you-eat-or-buy-being-an-informed-consumer-online/
    Now we just need to translate this to the offline world and get more people to use it!

    • 3. rghusted  |  July 31, 2012 at 11:43 am

      Hey, thanks for the link! http://www.goodguide.com is essentially what I’m proposing, but as you said for the offline world. The big difference would be that a printed grade would make it effortless and obvious. Cheers!

  • 4. justinwpaxton  |  July 31, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Reblogged this on jpax2themax and commented:
    Great article on a grading scale for the products we consume!

  • 5. thinkofitasanadventure  |  August 2, 2012 at 6:15 am

    I hate being a nay-sayer but information is not the missing piece. We are overwhelmed with information. What’s missing is a value system that values present and future life on this planet, role models who have connected the dots and who act visibly different than the mainstream, a clear sense of personal responsibility for our actions, and motivation to do what is right even if it is difficult.

    • 6. rghusted  |  August 2, 2012 at 10:15 am

      Oh, please do nay-say! Because I agree 100% with you. But, the question still remains how do we get the world from where we are to where it needs to be? My idea is simply one tool that I think would raise common awareness faster. I hope better ideas are out there. Thanks for taking your time to comment :-)

  • 7. seathechange  |  November 28, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Hi, thanks for coming over and liking my blog. I really enjoyed reading this article and will be following your blog now. I love to hear about innovative ideas and I completely agree with you that people should at least make an informed choice with what they’re purchasing :)


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