Eco-awakening could doom climate without proper tools

This article was written by Isabel Schatzschneider and was published in the Toronto Star on May 26, 2021.

The UN’s International Day for Biodiversity was celebrated on Saturday and it’s evident that consumers are waking up. There is an eco-awakening where environmental consciousness and consumerism intertwine.

However, faced with a lack of transparency, consumers are often unable to make the right choices, dooming the climate unless we adapt transformative solutions.

After 2020, consumers made one thing clear: They want a more sustainable world. The World Wildlife Fund reported on this eco-awakening, claiming that 93 per cent of Europeans consider biodiversity a “very serious” problem.

Yet, as more consumers transition to eco-friendly choices there is a risk of companies marketing unsustainable products as sustainable to meet demand.

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority has released a statement promising to tackle misleading “green” claims after finding 40 per cent of globally advertised products feature false or misleading environmental claims.

The term “organic” has been particularly controversial. For instance, a U.K. study discovered organic produce yields 40 per cent less than alternatives, therefore requiring 1.5 times more land. Consequently, a report from MIT Technology Review found that due to this increase in land — which was often outsourced to vulnerable tropical forests like the Amazon — organic produce releases 21 per cent more greenhouse gases than its counterparts.

This “greenwashing,” i.e. disguising environmentally harmful products as environmentally friendly, will only grow as consumers transition to sustainable options. This is partly due to a lack of accountability, but also because consumers are often unaware of a commodity’s carbon footprint.

The issue with consumer-led change is it must be based on transparency and accountability. Studies show that sustainable adaptations, like certification schemes and eco-labels, contribute to transparency but many consumers are unsure how to use them in everyday life.

Technology makes it possible to create systems that educate all consumers about a product’s true environmental impact.

Governments can ensure businesses source products sustainably through legislation, which protects biodiversity, limits deforestation and promotes certification schemes.

For example, Malaysia succeeded in reducing deforestation every year since 2016, in large part because of its nationally mandated and legally enforceable Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification scheme, proving that government enforced regulations can help commodities meet high standards in line with global standards.

Ultimately, if governments and technology combine efforts to support consumers in becoming more eco-friendly, then the climate crisis is one step closer to being solved.

Isabel Schatzschneider is an environmental activist and researcher specializing in food ethics, religious ethics and animal welfare based at Munichbased NGO, Schweisfurth Foundation.

Author: Ray Nakano

Ray is a retired, third generation Japanese Canadian born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario along with his 4 younger sisters. He resides in Toronto where he worked for the Ontario Government for 28 years. Ray currently practises in 2 Buddhist traditions: Jodo Shinshu and that of Thich Nhat Hanh. Ray is passionate about climate action and very concerned about our Climate Crisis. He has been actively involved in the ClimateFast group (https://climatefast.ca) for the past 3 years. He works to bring awareness of our Climate Crisis to others. He has created the myclimatechange.home.blog website, for tracking climate-related news articles, reports, and organizations. He is always looking for opportunities through the work of ClimateFast to reach out to communities, politicians, and governments to communicate about our Climate Crisis. He is married and has 2 daughters and 2 grandchildren. He says: “Our world is in dire straits. Doing nothing is not an option. We must do everything we can to create a liveable future for our children, our grandchildren, and all future generations.”

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