Three key trends have become more prevalent in the last few years around food and consumption in the UK.
- food provenance concerns (fairtrade and ethical sourcing, as well as the impact of certain ingredients on the planet, like palm oil)
- increased vegetarianism/ veganism
- packaging ethics (not only the material of the packaging, but how necessary much of it is)
All three can broadly be termed “ethical consumerism” and it’s neither something that is going away, nor something the associated industries should ignore.
As a digital service provider, it would be easy to think this was not an area that touched our professional lives - but I believe the digital industry can spearhead changes that allow ethical consumerism to flourish. To change behaviour, tools for measurement and comparison must be created. Understanding the problem will help motivate people to solve it, and as we know from the most basic analysis of what makes people change their behaviour, they must feel affected by the outcome. For example, Greenpeace have created a calculator to help you understand how much plastic you may use in a year. It’s a basic tool that relies on self-analysis and leads to the relatively passive call to action (CTA) of signing a petition to request the government to implement plastic bottle deposit return schemes. But the point is that there are precious few tools out there to help you understand the impact you are having. Living in London, I have noticed a sea change this year in the way people are behaving around the use of plastic. I see bars do not use plastic straws any more, and in addition to the plastic bag levy, people refusing packaging at lunch, from markets and in service transactions (like printing receipts or taking a ticket).
We’ve recently experienced a demand-led report of the gender pay gap - I’m sure statistics on plastic usage are not far behind. Does the House of Commons canteen use plastic cutlery? Are you served a drink in plastic at the BBC? All of these things may seem eye-rollingly small in the grand scheme of things, but that is exactly the point. Public sector organisations have an extra obligation to contribute to the behavioural change needed, in the ‘do what I do not what I say’ model. Recent reports show that we are woefully ignorant of what can be recycled from our convenience lives, and over-estimate how much of what we put into the ‘green bin’ actually ends up being recycled. If we are going to make permanent changes to the way we use our world, it’s the smallest things in the biggest volume that are going to be most important.
Digital services companies can contribute in various ways - reporting the issues and providing alternatives. Found a retailer giving out plastic like there’s no tomorrow? Report it. Looking for ways to use less plastic at home? Input your usage and find alternatives in the supermarket. In fact, here’s a list of ideas for apps and digital services we had over lunch one day.
- Plastic usage monitor (like myFitnessPal - for individuals)
- Where did this come from? (food source app - for individuals)
- Is this fairly traded? (provenance discovery app - for individuals)
- lack of recycling bins (reporting tool - to be used by individuals to report to councils)
- find an alternative for an unrecyclable product (crowdsourced /supplier provided info service)
- “is this recyclable?” (education app for individuals)
If you’re interested in partnering with us to make any of them a reality - please give us a shout!