Thursday, November 4, 2010

Crazy Ideas for Crazy Consumers

I am in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. They have not only trash and recycling pickup here, but also compost. I also saw a Canadian TV commercial discouraging purchasing of food products with wasteful amounts of packaging. I have neither seen nor heard of either of these 2 things in the US. Its time to learn from the Canadians. We need everyone composting to dramatically reduce land filling, and we need to reduce are dependence on disposable plastic, and we should invest money in educating people as to the true costs of the products they buy. And, just like the surgeon generals warning on cigarettes, i think that ultimately the corporations that produce products should have to label those costs on the product themselves. In addition to nutrition info, there should be an environmental impact per-unit-product label. If I buy a carton of milk i should know the carbon footprint of the factory that made it, the amount of feces and methane produced by the cows, and how many thousands of years the container will take to decompose (should i fail to recycle it). This would require a policy change, which I think would be beneficial. It would mean that companies would be more responsible in their manufacturing practices because the public would actually know what they are buying into. Maybe some customers would still choose the cheapest product no matter the other factors, but at least they would now know that the cost of an out of season Chilean grape bought in California is not simply 1.99 per pound, put it is 1.99 per pound plus X million tons of container boat exhaust spewed to bring it northward.

But until such a labeling law a arrives we should not be afraid to publicly decry waste and environmental hazards no matter how common place and no matter what percent of consumers are participatory. The more educated the public the more the public can make informed decisions. I think most people will chose to save the earth, (and thus themselves), when presented with a choice. But pure TV driven commercial consumerism does not provide a choice, it just creates an empty feeling in side of you that you try and fill with the neat gadgets and colorfully labeled processed foods that commercials present. We need to balance out product commercials with educational commercials. Or require that product commercials present a more whole perspective of their product. Does any company ever do product satisfaction surveys and then include undistorted results on commercials for that product. ‘Did this product make you happy?’ should be the first survey question, because most every TV commercial is implicitly saying, ‘If you use this product you will be happy’, which is a lie. We should not assume anyone will see around this lie, especially in this the age of identity by consumption.