Breakthrough technology could increase sustainable product choices

A new technology being developed will allow consumers to count the cost of a product's impact on the environment.

As part of a £2.6m study, involving Nottingham Trent University, experts are developing an electronic system to provide shoppers with a rating of how sustainable a product or service is.

Using smartphones, the system will enable people to scan barcodes and instantly receive data on a product before they buy it.

The aim is for consumers to easily identify which products have the smallest carbon footprint, which use the least resources and which are the healthiest for them to consume.

Shoppers will also be able to view information about their own carbon footprint online using a system similar to reward or loyalty card schemes which would record the cumulative ecological cost of the products or services they have purchased.

Head of the Advanced Design and Manufacturing Engineering Centre at the university's School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, Professor Daizhong Su, said: "The aim is for consumers to make a more environmentally conscious decision about what they buy. For example, shoppers may choose a 'greener' product over another item which is the same price if they know that it has less of an impact on the environment.

"The desired knock-on effect of this would be that manufacturers would refocus their priorities and make their products and processes more sustainable, with luxury packaging, for instance, becoming a thing of the past and being deemed distasteful by society."

The system, which can be applied to any product or service, from groceries to travel tickets, will utilise existing accounting systems to allow for the flow of information in a similar way to how VAT is communicated.

Professor Su added: "Delivering ecological cost statements to consumers is a real breakthrough which will inform shoppers about their impact on the environment and help them make more sustainable choices when buying goods and services".

Su said it could also enhance the corporate social responsibility of businesses and provide them with an incentive to be more sustainable in their own practices, such as by sourcing more renewable materials and supplies or using less fossil fuels in their vehicles.

"In order to safeguard the earth's capacity to support life and to respect the limits of the planet's natural resources, it's essential that shoppers and businesses are more aware that what they buy and consume not only has a financial cost, but an ecological one as well," added Su.

Co-funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme, the three year project is being undertaken by a consortium comprising Nottingham Trent University, Boots UK, Ecover Belgium, GS1 Germany, CFF Carbon Calculator, the Wuppertal Institute, Enviro Data, Robert Mostyn and TriaGnoSys.

Leigh Stringer


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