I’m going to preface this blog by saying this will be the first of 4 parts, combating food, energy, waste, and mobility efficiency in relation to green consumerism. And believe you me, there is definitely a combat element about it; the fight we as humans have on our hands for a more sustainable future is massive. The reason I’ve picked these topics to focus on is because I believe they are 4 of the areas where the biggest amount of change can occur to aid in making earth a more sustainable place to live.
To make the rest of the reading easier, it’s best I get the definition of ‘green consumerism’ out of the way. I’ve taken it as Connoly and Prothero’s (2008) definition, meaning a form of consumption whereby issues with the environment are addressed through the adoption of environmentally-friendly behaviours and consumer trends that differ from our societal norms. Phew, there.
Now some food for thought…
The entire life cycle of highly demanded food products involves processes that contribute to the main sustainability issues faced by society today (Tanner and Kast, 2003). Production, trade and consumption of food causes emissions of greenhouse gases, arable land erosion, excess sewage, the accumulation of avoidable waste and loss of biodiversity, to name but a few (Jungbluth, Tietje et. al, 2000).
There are many examples of unsustainable foods. When choosing something off a shelf in the supermarket, more often than not the chances are that it has unsustainable elements to its production. Relatable examples are the consumption of lamb and cheese (not necessarily together as a meal, that’s a horrifying suggestion). In terms of emissions, eating 100 grams of lamb is equivalent to driving a car for 7 miles, and eating 100 grams of cheese is equivalent to driving a car 3.5 miles (Hamerschlag and Venkat, 2011). To put things into perspective, one could drive from Lancaster to Preston (25.5 miles), purchase 250 grams of each, and the journey there would have been roughly as harmful to the environment as the production of the amounts purchased (IME, 2013). And that’s just carbon emissions! Up to 15,500 litres of water are used to produce just 1 kg of meat (beef, for those wondering, it’s 10,500 for lamb). Now for those of you that work in the unit showers, that’s roughly 238 showers! (Alliance for Water Efficiency, 2017)
The negative effects of food production can be tackled by encouraging change in the life cycle of foods. If consumers were to stop purchasing intensively manufactured foods, or foods using other unsustainable practices, and instead opt for ‘green foods’, their change in behaviour would be realised all along the supply chain, helping to prevent any exacerbation of the effects listed above.
An issue with this is what exactly constitutes ‘green food’. Tanner and Kast (2003) state “it is domestically cultivated rather than imported from foreign countries; they are organically rather than conventionally grown; they are seasonal and fresh rather than frozen; they are not wrapped; and they support fair trade”. This highlights the issue of the consumer having difficulty purchasing ‘green foods’ when the majority of food does not meet the criteria above.
However, given the current state of the Earth, I believe it is about time we start seriously striving for such change, before the choice of what to do is made for us.
(1) Connoly, J. & Prothero, A. (2008) Green consumption: life-politics, risk and contradictions. Journal of consumer culture, 8, pp.117-145
(2) Tanner, C. & Kast, S. (2003) Promoting sustainable consumption: Determinants of green purchases by Swiss consumers. Psychology & Marketing, 20(10), pp.883–902.
(3) Jungbluth, N., Tietje, O. & Scholz, R. (2000) Food purchases: Impacts from the consumers’ point of view investigated with a modular LCA. The international journal of life cycle assessment, 5(3), pp.134–142.
(4) Hamerschlag, K. & Venkat, K. (2011) Meat eater’s guide to climate change and health.
(5) IME. (2013) Global food: Waste not, want not.
(6) Alliance for Water Efficiency (2017) Showering: Showering to savings.
(7) Joshi, Y. & Rahman, Z. (2015) Factors affecting green purchase behaviour and future research directions. International strategic management review, 3 (1-2), pp.128-143.
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