Consumers asked to get ethical

Government has taken the unusual step this week of asking the public to take responsibility for sustainable consumption and think about the environmental impact of the purchases they make.

In a move away from the nanny-state moniker that has plagued the New Labour government, Environment Minister Margaret Beckett has called on the electorate to face up to its share of the responsibility to create a sustainable UK.

Responding to the launch of a report of the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable think tank, I Will If You Will, Mrs Beckett promised the Government would try to keep consumers informed to help them make the right choices but it was down to us, the public, if we wanted to see real changes.

The report says there is a deadlock, with Government and business waiting for consumers to start going green while consumers want to do the right thing but can’t see the point of acting in isolation.

That impasse, it says, could be broken by introducing catalysts for behaviour change that affect both the public and private sectors as well as consumers themselves.

These could include giving airlines a clear incentive to introduce carbon offset on an ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt in’ basis to wake people up to the impact of flying, making on-site energy generation a common sight in new homes and public buildings to make people feel more connected with climate change, rolling out smart meters to help people get to grips with energy use, enabling schools to serve balanced, seasonal, quality food, to get children into good eating habits and giving serious incentives to low carbon cars.

The roundtable argues that action on all five catalysts together would have a powerful cumulative impact on individuals, helping to break habits and shape new behaviours.

Alan Knight, co-chair of the Roundtable, said: “The Government has got to stop relying on information leaflets and hoping for the best – and start working with businesses and NGOs to get practical measures into people’s lives.”

Margaret Beckett said: “I thank the Roundtable for its excellent work, combining as it has a wide range of inputs from business and interested organisations. I thank it also for its excellent timing,” she said.

“There is an increasing public interest in the environment and in ethical consumption.

“The government is taking a lead both through its own choices of consumption and also in enabling consumers and business to reduce their environmental impacts.

“If everyone consumed as we do in the UK, we would need three planets’ worth of natural resources. In the UK, and in most other rich and developed countries, we are currently consuming way beyond our environmental means.

“Consumers can be strong where they become empowered and enthused. Increasingly, we are seeing retailers and manufacturers, and the media, respond to this new consumer-driven demand.”

She stressed the Government was not washing its hands of its share of the responsibility, and pointed to a number of initiatives it was undertaking to enable sustainable living.

Among these were continued investment in and promotion of recycling, energy efficiency labelling for cars, windows and boilers akin to those in place for white goods, clear labelling of sustainable timber and plans to encourage manufacturers of electronic goods to ensure products only used 1 watt while on standby.

“This is an issue for us all,” she said.

“Business, industry, individuals and government all share a responsibility to use our power as consumers to reduce our impact on the planet.”

Sam Bond

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