How to create positive environmental impact through consumer demand..

As consumers become ever more environmentally conscientious, giving them access to the data to help make informed spending decisions would force businesses to tackle sustainability.  The emergence of block chain and the Internet of Things is making this concept a real possibility.

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Today there is much concern for our Earth’s environment, and climate change appears high on many peoples’ agendas. The media shows us that high profile protests are increasing, such as those from Extinction Rebellion this year in London, and the rousing words from Greta Thunberg in late 2018.

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Sir David Attenborough has also helped increase the world’s awareness of what impact  our consumption habits are having upon the planet and nature around us. The Google Trends chart below shows the dramatic increase in searches for the term “Plastic Recycle” immediately after Sir David’s Blue Planet episode showing how single use plastics are hurting our planet. Approximately one year on from the first broadcast of this episode GlobalCitizen.org reported that it has changed the lifestyle of 88% of viewers. Fast forward to Spring 2019, and Attenborough’s hard hitting new documentary episode on the effects of climate change is set to have a similar impact.

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Despite all of this attention that the subject is attracting, it dawned on me some time ago that currently there is scant information available to enable environmentally conscious consumers to make informed decisions. What products have high carbon footprints? By making some small changes to consumption habits, how can a person’s carbon footprint be reduced? Food packages have nutrition information on them, why don’t we have something similar for climate impact? While considering these questions, I came across the excellent website and app gikibadges.com which allows you to scan bar codes of supermarket items to find out how they impact the environment and your personal health. I would strongly encourage all readers to download and use this app.

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Giki is an exceptional tool and a step in the right direction, however I feel that the business world could do a lot more to help us and them. For me, an optimal solution would combine the world’s obsession of social media, the internet of things and block chain. This solution would give people a user profile that updated their carbon footprint with their spending patterns. These profiles could be kept private, or for advocates who are proud of how they have reduced their footprint, made public. This would create some friendly competition between consumers, which in turn would lead to further carbon footprint reductions.

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How would such a tool create revenue? Each user would be a strong climate change protection advocate. For each of these users there would be data available showing all of their spending patterns. The environmentally conscientious business could access this data and propose alternative purchases to users to further reduce their carbon footprint. This creates a virtuous cycle, where environmentally friendly suppliers are selected ahead of others, causing more suppliers to follow suit. It also creates a system whereby those businesses that place sustainability high on their priorities have the chance to be rewarded for it. On the other side of the scale, suppliers who were unwilling to participate would eventually be overlooked by consumers, forcing them to adapt or lose market share.

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With block chain now becoming widely used, it will soon be possible to track transactions throughout a product’s entire supply chain, and thus claimed carbon footprint values can be verified. While the Internet of Things will allow us to upload all purchases onto our profiles immediately. Meanwhile there are also some forward thinking businesses that are now providing ‘extra-smart’ electricity meters that show you usage of each individual appliance. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see a world where our carbon footprints are measured and recorded real time, and businesses are able to see where they can help us make improvements.

The question I have is: Who will move first to take advantage of this? A supermarket and social media partnership? Amazon perhaps? I will be watching this space..

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