By Ilyth Burton
In Australia, we are globally recognised for our vast agricultural systems. Unfortunately however, our food production can is sometimes be unsustainable with environmental, social and even economic costs. Many people have started their sustainability journey through their food consumption habits. This ground-up approach is not only a great way to minimise our agricultural carbon footprint, but also a great way to encourage the market to provide more sustainable options for consumers and help change the way we think about our food and our consumption habits.
Here are some key ethical buying principles that may be helpful when thinking about food sustainability:
The Fairtrade Mark is a globally recognised label that certifies a number of products as providing farmers with fairer prices, better terms of trade and increased funds for their surrounding communities. This includes things such as education, healthcare and environmental sustainability, which aims to reinforce better working conditions and a better investment into product quality. A key goal of this organisation is to promote fairness and transparency within trade systems, therefore, when purchasing an item with a Fairtrade Mark, consumers know they are supporting local farmers and communities.
2. Australian Made:
In order to support local manufacturers, processors, farmers, fisherman and further, local economies; many consumers opt to buy Australian Made products. Due to the support for local economies, Australia’s high food and workplace standards, as well as the decreased carbon emissions due to globalised transportation methods, buying Australian Made products have ethical and environmental advantages. The Australian Made Logo certifies over 15,000 different products that are Australian made and owned and also classifies the percentage of ingredients that are Australian Made.
3. Manufactured Sustainably:
Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of products through processes that minimise negative environmental impacts while conserving both energy and natural resources. A number of companies have moved into sustainable manufacturing behaviours in order to increase operational efficiencies by reducing waste, and to protect and strengthen brand reputation and public perception by outwardly promoting their ethical behaviours.
4. Chemical Free:
Found in a range of different products, some chemicals such as: Petrochemicals, Parabens, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, Phosphorus (just to name a few) have very harsh and damaging effects to the body and waterways. Some cause allergic reactions, irritations, increased cancer and disrupted hormone production, as well as algal blooms and higher salinity levels. While it is scientifically impossible for anything to be ‘chemical free’, the quest for consumers to avoid products with certain chemicals is increasingly evident.
5. Cruelty Free:
The term ‘cruelty free’ in product labelling simply refers to the product not being tested on animals. Due to the cruel nature of animal testing, especially for cosmetics and skincare; consumers make ethical considerations to buy products with the Choose Cruelty Free rabbit logo. Many other cruelty free ambassador websites including PETA, have databases in which cruelty free companies and products can be discovered.
A major buying principle that is prominent in most consumer behaviours is the nutritional value of products that are purchased and consumed. For people dieting or simply trying to weigh up ‘healthier’ options, the energy intake is often considered. Considerations for sugar and salt levels, preservatives, artificial colouring and additives are also considered for nutritional aspects.
7. Carbon Offset/Food Miles:
As carbon emissions and climate change are at the centre if many major policy debates, people make ethical considerations for processes of globalisation, transportation and carbon offset for the products they consume. Websites with ‘food mile calculators’ are particularly helpful for consumers to become knowledgeable about what products have less or more food miles.
Although it may not be so much of an ethical consideration, a major aspect of consumers buying behaviours centres around ideas of taste and ‘freshness’. Markets are becoming increasingly ruled by the concepts of aesthetic taste as products are marketed and advertised based on more experiential and emotional value rather than functional values.
A major consideration for most people within their own consumer behaviours is the price point and cost of products. Cost/price of products often come as a major constraint for consumers. Considerations for personal financial status, the overall price of the shopping basket, as well as cheaper alternatives are often made during weekly, even daily, shopping routines.
10. Organic/Genetically Engineered (GE) Free:
With consumers becoming increasingly aware of the health and environmental risks emerging from chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers, hegemonic agriculture practices and genetic engineering, consumer behaviours towards organic, biodynamic, GE free, niche, boutique type markets are increasing. By engaging in these localised, organic, GE free markets; larger, more dominant markets are forced to reconsider damaging behaviours.
As aforementioned, consumers are becoming increasingly more aware of the environmental damages of mainstream agricultural practices; to further this argument, consumers are becoming better informed about the damaging processes of manufacturing, production and land fill. In order to make better ethical decisions, people often look for a recyclable logo, and non-plastic packaging, in avoidance of pollution.
12. Company Record:
Through processes of ‘green washing’ many companies have marketed their products to appear environmentally considerate or sustainable. Combined with a lack of concise, well defined definitions to Corporate Social Responsibility, businesses and corporations have mislead consumers. Through researching and investigating into a company’s environmental and corporate social responsibility records, consumers are able to better understand the company’s intentions and make better, more informed, ethical decisions in their consumer behaviours.
Don’t be disheartened by the amount of ethical buying principles and try not to get swamped under in trying to live completely ethical in terms of your food consumption because you may lose interest or feel overwhelmed. The key here is small steps!
All too often we get caught up in trying to decide what is best for both our bodies and our Earth in our everyday consumption habits. Truth is, we can be limited by access, capacity and utilisation when it comes to ethical consumption. Sometimes you don’t always remember the keep cup, sometimes the locally sourced, organic, chemical free, cruelty free, ethically manufactured, recyclable, GE free, Fairtrade certified (you get the point) option isn’t always what’s feasible for you at that point in time. That’s okay! Remember – small steps!
If you’re finding areas of food sustainability that you’re comfortable with just try your best to stick to them and be proud to be a part of a change towards greater food sustainability and overall environmental consideration. Once you learn more about food sustainability and ethical consumption you can aim to incorporate more sustainability into your lifestyle. You are on your own journey here!
Hopefully by touching on the unsustainability of current food systems and what you can do to help, the ethical buying principles may prove useful in your next shopping experience.