Impact traffic-lighting for everyday products

People in many countries will be familiar with the traffic lights food-labelling system whereby a products fat, saturates, sugar and salt content are ranked by colour. My proposed sensitive intervention is to introduce an environmental ranking system which indicates the products impact over several domains. A label of this kind could state per-unit greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, water usage and single-use plastic, with an overall composite rating. This would enable consumers to make informed choices at the point of purchase and would compel retailers to consider the impact of their supply chains.



This project would begin by engaging with food and clothes retailers, because these two industries have an enormous impact on climate change. The food industry accounts for 26 of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Poore and Nemecek, 2018), while in fashion, the production of polyester alone is responsible for more than 706 million tons of GHGs per year (Muthu, 2016). Each of these industries therefore has the potential to create positive feedback loops across other sectors through their supply chains.


Trigger (intervention)

The intervention for this SIP is to introduce an environmental ranking system on retail products which indicates the products impact over several domains. The label could state, for example, per-unit greenhouse gas emissions, impact on biodiversity, water usage and plastic production. Ideally, the label would also contain a qualitative category for cyclic/linear production and an overall composite rating. The system would enable consumers to make informed choices, increase climate literacy, and nudge retailers towards more responsible choices.



Our system is ripe for change in several ways. Society cares increasingly about climate change and sustainability. There are many existing climate labelling schemes, the proposed traffic light system could build on these bodies methods for impact measurement and verification. Many consumer-facing retailers are already primed for this intervention. Fast-fashion businesses are scrambling to be recognised as climate-conscious, as evidenced by a stream of sustainability pledges from the industry (including H&M, Sainsburys, M&S, and Adidas). More and more clothing retailers are also committing to sustainability schemes such as the Better Cotton Initiative and CottonConnect. The proposed intervention should ride this wave of green marketing to gain traction.


Feedback Dynamics

The implementation of traffic light impact labelling will:

- Create a bandwagon effect: this intervention will have cascading impacts on peer retailers through a race-to-the-top effect (both in the UK and more widely). - Create systemic positive feedback loops through their supply chains (non-linear amplifiers).

- Create social network effects: the scheme will improve climate literacy and increase public salience for ambitious climate action at the national policy level more broadly.

- Drive cost dynamics: as more people buy sustainable products, they will become cheaper over the medium-term.


Timescale and scaleability

These sectors both have widespread and undiscriminating visibility - we all interact with these industries in daily life. By launching this SIP as a voluntary scheme, we can bypass the constraints, delays and unpredictability of a policy-based intervention. Working closely with the pioneering retailers, we can ensure the SIP is implemented with speed and agility.





Grace Bugden

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