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"I think we can get better and fewer labels out there, but I'm just not sure how far down that path we can get until we quantify sustainability. My worry is that by that time it will be too late because you can usually only quantify something when it's gone — like the cod."
That's my worry, too. So I want my new system to have a big impact — fast — and I think one of the best ways to do that is to make it emotionally appealing, too.
Steve Jobs said we have to put love into everything we design so we have an emotional attachment to them. Mike Berners-Lee agrees.
He's the principal of Small World Consulting Ltd., which is affiliated with Lancaster University and was instrumental in putting Booths, a premium U.K. supermarket chain, on a low-carbon path. He applied many things he learned about human nature from his work with Outward Bound to his popular book, How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, which points out the carbon footprint of, well, nearly everything, from major surgery to your cremation.
"That [emotional appeal] is completely essential," he said in a phone interview from Lancaster. "The intention of this book is that you would pick it up because it was fun to pick up — you would actually enjoy it and then you would read all this stuff. Some of it would be trivial, and some of it would be really important things, but the hope was you'd almost get tricked into understanding the really big important things."
For Crofton, the key is getting beyond the mindset that technologies are going to solve all the problems. "You can't move through the world with a whole bag of marks and tools and technologies and protocols, and expect to proceed without being conscious," she says. "I don't think it will get us as far as we need to go."
And that will take a whole lot of things, like more education, and consumers changing their values, like buying less, buying quality — and buying sustainably.
As for Ho, rather than building a new universal mark system, she'd prefer to focus on "bigger picture" strategies with more leverage, like working with government and business leaders to drive them to change, especially big ones like Wal-Mart, which have so much clout in the marketplace.
Still, consumers can make a difference.
London Drugs started its What's the Green Deal? program in 2007. It includes flagging products on shelves with little signs and backing that up with more details on the company website to educate customers about the benefits of sustainable products.
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