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Amazon’s green choice may help, but it’s not the answer

According to the Financial Times today:

“Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has patented a system that would allow its customers to choose slower shipping methods or recyclable packaging to reduce the environmental impact of their online purchases.”

The FT says that

“…the system as described would give shoppers an unprecedented level of transparency concerning the environmental impact of their ordering decisions. It would also give each customer a reading on the cumulative environmental impact of shopping decisions and the option to purchase carbon offset credits.”

My bet is that Amazon won’t find this as easy to roll out as many people might think.

Tesco has long slowly backed away from its all singing all dancing carbon labels plan, as it was announced some time ago. A good thing too in some ways, since there are much smarter ways to invest money in sustainability than labelling eggs.

Meanwhile Wal-Mart’s much heralded move to rate suppliers on greenery has proven rather more complex than the company probably first thought.

So whilst the chattering classes of social media CSR commentators will no doubt herald this as a revolution, we should be sceptical about what it will mean in practice.

No doubt it will be a very useful way to engage consumers in the issues, depending on how it’s done.

If you make sustainability easy to buy, and cost-neutral vs. competing products, consumers will buy more of the greener products than they do today. Maybe a lot more.

But it’s best not to give them that choice, just make it all sustainable, or failing that, a whole lot greener. Then compete on price, brand and everything else.

As we all know, ethical consumption is not the panacea it is sometimes hyped up to be. Regulation, (where appropriate!) standards raising and B2B procurement expectations are the real key.

As the FT points out in another article today:

“However, in spite of the overall growth, global SRI assets totalled just €7,000bn, only 6.3 per cent of the $111,000bn global assets under management in 2009, according to Boston Consulting Group.”

(Tony Juniper hits the nail on the head in an excellent article in yesterday’s Observer newspaper)

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