A French organisation has launched a system which allows consumers to evaluate the health and environmental impact of the products they buy, by giving each item a ‘green’ rating.
By scanning the bar code on a mobile phone application or visiting the website of Noteo, shoppers can see which chemicals are present in some 45,000 different products. Compiled by the institute over five years, the products include soaps, shampoo, soft drinks and cheeses.
Similar websites already exist in France, such a guidetopten.fr, an initiative carried out by WWF-France and the consumer association CLCV. But it only measures the environmental impact of a number of products for the home, not the effects on health, like the Noteo service unveiled on 27 November.
“Our first objective is to shed light on the choices of consumers and to decrypt the information”, said the president and founder of Noteo, Baptiste Marty.
Marty said his organisation uses an average of 400 pieces of information to decide on a rating for a product.
The team includes a toxicologist, a nutritionist and expert to analyse a product’s lifecycle. It uses a scientific committee composed of some dozen members, including the toxicologist André Cicolella, a spokesman for France’s Health and Environment network (Réseau Environnement Santé).
Same budget, better health
Noteo claims that it is completely possible for the average shopper to improve the health and environmental impact of the products they buy, while keeping to the same budget, the French daily Le Monde reported.
Companies whose products come out with a worse rating will be worried that the service will drive shoppers away. But Noteo says that often having a greener shopping list does not necessarily mean changing label, just the product.
For example, the institute compared two baskets, each with seven hygiene and beauty products – including shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste, and make-up remover all from the same manufacturer. One basket came out with a rating of 1.5/10 for health and 3.4 for environment, due to some less desirable chemical components; the other received 7.1 and 7.4 respectively, despite being within the same price bracket.
Environmentalists will hope services like Noteo will provide an incentive for companies to become greener, now that their components are laid bare.
The group hopes to add over the next a further 45,000 products to the database, which is free.
When it comes to buying environmentally-friendly goods, consumers may not always match words with deeds.
According to a 2009 survey of Europeans' attitudes towards sustainable consumption and production, 83% of consumers say they worry about the environmental impact of the products they buy.
However, consumers do not always opt for the most sustainable products, because quality and prices are also of great concern to them. Virtually all survey respondents (97%) said that quality is an important element in making purchase decisions. But an almost equally high proportion (89%) also stressed price as a priority.
As the economic crisis continues to bite, the European Commission believes that consumers will become even more price-aware in the future.
- DG Environment: Sustainable Consumption and Production Policie