Shrink the Footprint of Your Shopping Spree!

by Nelson Harvey
Whether or not you think the rise of green consumerism is enough to solve our environmental problems, there’s little doubt about one thing: it’s getting pretty sophisticated. The organization Climate Counts is a case in point. Using a scorecard of 22 performance indicators, the group grades companies on their response to climate change, asking whether they’ve inventoried their own emissions, made reductions, or taken a positive stance on climate legislation. These conclusions are drawn based on publicly available information.

But that’s only the half of it. Recently, Climate Counts partnered up with the activist telecommunications company Working Assets Wireless to design a service where customers can receive instantaneous information about a company’s climate performance over the phone. Thus, a customer considering a purchase of Dannon yogurt could send a quick text message and learn that the company had earned 50 out of a possible 100 points on the Climate Counts scale, and was “striding” compared to its competitors. (Climate Counts likes the running metaphor; the other two broad categories to describe a company’s performance are “stopped” and “starting).”

This tool rests comfortably within the framework of consumerism, since it doesn’t encourage people to ask “do I really need this product?” but rather, “which of these products is less harmful?” Its also unlikely to be the most effective method of consumer education, since it requires some effort on the part of the consumer. Product labeling efforts, like those currently being pursued by companies like Timberland or Tesco Supermarkets in Britain, are a more convenient way to get information across.

But the Climate Counts project is unique in allowing consumers to send a message (quite literally) back to companies that they’ve investigated to express their views on company policy and urge improvement. Once messages like these reach a certain volume, it becomes economic suicide for a company not to consider them. The list of brands that the organization evaluates is long and growing. Check ’em out before your next shopping trip.

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