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At the supermarket, let's think green and local

By : Christine Duchaine  
Original article published in : « Premières en affaires » .- December 2014

Nowadays, the well-informed consumer is aware of the benefits of a healthy and balanced diet. Each time we are the supermarket, we make numerous decisions regarding the products we purchase. These choices derive from the price of products as well as their nutritional value. But do we take the time to wonder about the impacts of these choices on the environment and on local economy?  

Yet, these are important social issues which are greatly influenced by our consumption patterns. This being said, each of us can become a conduit to change and improve the environment's quality while stimulating our local economy.

A green and local grocery store
We must become aware of the environmental and economic impacts of our decisions in order to make informed choices. The packaging in which our products are offered is a striking example. By purchasing small formats and packaging which is complex, oversized or made from non-biodegradable materials, we encourage manufacturers to continue to sell products which will have negative impacts on the environment. Among these negative impacts, we might mention residual waste create by over-sized and non-reusable packaging as well as by the use of non-recyclable materials.

In this sense, one should favor, as much as possible, products made from recycled materials and sold in bulk, in concentrated formulas or in larger formats and which come in biodegradable packaging. 

There is also a collective benefit to buying local products. While it stimulates the local economy and encourages local businesses and employment opportunities, the purchase of local products substantially reduces environmental impacts relating to the transport of merchandise, such as fossil fuels consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute, amongst other things, to the smog phenomenon affecting the health of many.

Government incentives 
The government incentives put in place to encourage consumers to change their habits in ways that will protect the environment are laudable, but rarely force consumers to favor a certain product over another. Although the government has, on occasion, forced companies to modify their products, by, for example, forbidding the use of phosphates in soaps or lead in fuel or by prohibiting the use of BCPs, these measures are generally mere incentives aimed at incorporating into the price of products the environmental costs generated for the management of post-consumer waste. This is the case, for example, of the extended liability laid upon manufacturers of products such as electronics, batteries, paints, oils and tires, which are required to instate recycling and recovery options while companies producing containers, packaging and printed materials are required to absorb the costs relating to selective waste collection. 

The cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, commonly referred to as the “carbon market”, implemented in 2013 in Quebec, is a great example of this trend. This initiative aims to lower the emission of atmospheric contaminants. One foreseeable consequence of the carbon market is a rise in gas prices. It is therefore presumable that this rise will lead to an increase in transportation costs for consumer products and, consequently, in an increase of the cost of these products themselves. This increase might even impact the cost of plastic packaging.

Our individual choices have a real impact  
We live in an innovative era, constantly evolving, from which emerge initiatives allowing the population to make informed decisions. Yet, for our society to fully adopt the green shift, changes need to be made. It is our responsibility, as consumers, to protect our health, along with the environment and our society's economy. Our individual decisions, if multiplied, can quickly become a collective movement. Now, next time you find yourself in a grocery store, take a stand, and opt green.