How to reach radical transparency

Most studies on consumer purchasing preferences continue to show that shoppers will prioritize price and quality over green credentials. Very recent findings even seem to indicate that green purchases have hit a peak and that sales are slowing down. Yet, a trend persists: more consumers would like to know where the product or service they are buying comes from and an increasing number are demanding that this information be made available to them.

For consumers to buy the greener and healthier option (healthier for us, the planet and for others), several things must happen:

1) The belief that all green products are always more expensive must change. Some products continue to be more expensive, especially when it comes to food, but many others are actually priced quite reasonably, and may even be cheaper in some cases. WeGreen’s research indicates that one must be careful to not immediately assume that green products are always more expensive and that price often doesn’t have very much to do with how green a product is.

For many companies, embracing CSR and improving all processes by making them greener result in substantial savings that can be passed on to consumers. We must therefore distinguish between the situation today where only some green products are cheaper with the longer term reality where we hope that the majority of green products will have reached price parity with non-green products and will even probably be cheaper. In this new reality, the non-green products will sell less and less.

2) There must be some regulation at the country and European level to ensure that proper and clear systems of certification and labeling are in place and that false marketing claims are closely monitored and punished. This regulation must provide minimum standards around which companies and consumers can develop a proper system of radical transparency.

3) True and honest CSR efforts must continue to spread within companies and governments. Consumers and employees can help stir this movement towards a desired state whereby companies that offer truly sustainable products and services are rewarded by the marketplace with higher sales and revenues. Companies that refuse to adopt a sustainable philosophy will sell less and become inefficient. Some of their employees will lose their motivation and will go work for green competitors.

4) Consumers must be given the tools to access this information. Proper labeling is one step in the right direction but the full story behind labels and certification schemes must be made available to consumers, especially as long as there will continue to be an overload of different labels and accreditation systems. We must provide consumers with an honest, clear and impartial way to learn about the sustainability of a company and its products. Consumers must have the ability to get instant information at the point of purchase, and this information must be clear, believable and quick to understand. Consumers should have the choice to dig deeper if they want to, as well as to access this information online when they have more time to read, learn and compare.

WeGreen and LGMi are working to bring these tools to European consumers, to empower them to make better and more sustainable choices and thus, to send companies the message that the marketplace will reward the ethical corporation.

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