The discussions we have had this week have me envisioning a more transparent approach to the ways in which consumers are able to understand the environmental impact of a product. There’s an app I use sometimes (EWG HealthyLiving) in order to see the health impacts of drugstore products (ex. Lotions, shampoo, etc). You can enter/scan the product in the app and a rating will be displayed of how bad it is for you in terms of a number of health considerations, with 1 being low hazard and 10 being high hazard. (they take into consideration cancer risk, allergy inducing risk, asthma, etc). A hazard score is given individually for each of these factors, along with an overall aggregate score. Along with the hazard scores, the products also get a data availability score to reflect how vigorous the assessment is.
In line with what we have learnt about life-cycle assessments, I think it would be very interesting to take this sort of idea and apply it to products/services at a governmental level, where legislation ensures that a product/service is given a rating in terms of how it affects some of the different human health and environmental indicators that life-cycle assessments take into account (ex. Global warming, acidification, terrestrial toxicity, water and land use, etc). Consumers would be able to tailor their choices to reflect their environmental values, and products with too high an environmental hazard rating would not be allowed to be sold at all.
Obviously this vision be a very difficult thing to regulate and put into action. Would products not be allowed to be sold until enough data could be collected on them to provide such a rating? How would a rigorous enough rating process be ensured? I don’t see a system like this actually coming into place anytime soon, but it is clear that life-cycle assessment thinking needs to be done more in order to truly assess the scope of an environmental impact of a product, and there needs to be a way for consumers to tell if a product is environmentally sound without either being overwhelmed by too much information, or by being greenwashed.