Over time, I have had the opportunity to speak with a lot of people from varied backgrounds and different mindset’s regarding the environment. While some of them deeply resonate with me when I say we are spoiling the environment, some of them say that there is always a trade-off between the environment and the economy. While some are genuinely trying to do their best, some have been oblivious to the harm that our actions create on the environment.
Amongst all these differences of opinions, lifestyles and emotions, there has been one common observation that I have made, that is of accountability. Everyone I speak to has always said, “Oh, we are just simple citizens; there is nothing that we can do. It is the big corporations that are polluting the earth. It is the government’s responsibility to rectify this.”
I do agree with everybody. However, when one just pauses and thinks, there are many questions to ask. Who is buying these products? Who is reaping the benefits of this harm that the “accountable people” are creating? Who is buying that packet of chips? It is us, and hence, it’s not just the government or the corporates, but also us, the consumer.
Maybe the lack of awareness about the process behind a product is what pushes us to put the onus of accountability on the producer. We don’t know about a particular product that we buy. We don’t know where it comes from. We see an advertisement, it serves my purpose and I buy it. That’s all my role is as a consumer.
Through the Writers’ Training Program by YKA, I have been able to understand and get insights into a lot of different things when it comes to environmental justice. One thing that was very evidently seen from consumers and businesses I spoke to was that there is indeed scope for better regulations and awareness.
The Concept Of Eco-Labelling
While researching for my second piece, I came across the concept of eco-labelling. It is a type of recognition that certifies a particular product to be environmentally friendly. If a product has an eco-label, then it means that the product has neither caused any environmental harm during the course of its production nor will cause any harm during the course of its usage and disposal.
In 1991, India launched the eco-mark scheme, which is a type of eco-label given to consumer products. The aim of the scheme was to promote consumerism driven by environmental consciousness.
Keeping all this aside, let’s dive a little deep into the benefits of eco-mark. With respect to consumers, the label will play a tremendous role in building trust. Just like the Hallmark certification for gold, an eco-label will not only spread awareness of the goodness of a product but will also help consumers make better choices.
The scepticism of the genuineness of the eco-friendly nature of a product can be overcome by eco-labelling. A government-sanctioned certificate will naturally provide the much-needed trust consumers need for these products. Eco-labelling has tremendous potential to shift consumer behaviour for the better.
With respect to producers, it can nudge them to start building sustainable businesses and products. I believe it would nudge them to start looking at their processes, re-evaluating them and trying to incorporate processes and products that do not harm the environment.
Eco-labelling has the potential to become a reward that every business would want to have. This will naturally change the manufacturing industry of the country to become more sustainable. It will not only give a sustainable recognition to products and processes but, in the long term, can also help in other related policies and benefits that would help in ease of business.
Despite all the benefits that eco-labelling can bring, unfortunately, even after nearly 20 years of starting the eco-mark labelling, none of us has even heard about it or seen it in our markets, and hence, the scheme has failed to achieve what it intended to do.
According to experts, some of the reasons for the failure of the eco-mark scheme are:
- It was started at a time when consumers didn’t really have awareness about environmental consciousness.
- The fact that it was a voluntary certification did not provide the manufacturers with enough push to get the certification or work towards getting it.
- The other reason was also that producers who got the certification and used the logo on their products did not really see any change in consumer behaviour. There was no evident reaction to this particular step.
What Can The Government Do To Improve Eco-Labelling?
With the current boom in the sustainable and eco-friendly market, the government can reap great benefits by strengthening the eco-mark scheme. According to a report by the CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment, there are several ways in which the government can strengthen the eco-mark scheme:
- Restructuring the eco-labelling board to include all stakeholders like consumers, scientific community, environmental & business groups.
- Proper categorisation and prioritisation of products to be considered under the scheme.
- A more dynamic and forward-looking scheme that takes into account, not just the rapidly changing technology.
- The scheme should be strong enough to enable mutual recognition with other countries in International Trade.
- Active Awareness Campaigns to educate both consumers and producers about the eco-mark label and its benefits.
Although these recommendations are extremely promising and seem very obvious, it is not an easy task to put into action. Restructuring an entire board to include all the stakeholders is way more complex than it sounds on paper. For one, when we say the board should include Consumers, who are these consumers we are talking about?
For any country, and especially a country like India with so much diversity, there is a large consumer base, and hence, a large difference in the consumer classes — gender, age group and financial status, to name a few.
So, if the board has to include “consumers”, who would they be? Do we include representatives from each group? Then the board would have around more than a thousand people from the consumer bracket Itself. It’s a similar case with the producers, so many products, so many processes; how would we choose who would represent these stakeholders?
It’s not something we can’t achieve. It just requires the attention, dedication, passion and time from people who can make it happen, the government. What we as conscious and caring consumers, can do is help the government identify this as the need of the hour. It is very appreciative to see how environmental consciousness is growing in the Indian subcontinent. All this passion, all the love we have for mother earth, needs an effective way of channelling.
We, as the vast majority, have the power and the agency to reach out to the people who can lead us in saving the world. All we have to do is take that first step to tell decision-makers that we care and we need help from them to turn our concerns into action.
Some of the things we can do are keep writing to them seeking active action on environmental justice, spread awareness amongst our co-consumers and co-producers to see through the lens we are and read about and connect with concerned people around the world.
This article is my first attempt to share that I want to turn my concerns into action and if you feel the same way, connect with me and share your stories and ideas. It was originally published on Youth Ki Aawaz as a part of the Justice-Makers Writer’s Training Program.