‘Choice Editing’ – the role of the retailer in sustainable development

‘Choice editing’ is the phrase used by the Sustainable Development Commission (http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/pages/you-are-what-you-sell.html) to describe how retailers restrict choice to consumers by only supplying environmentally sound goods. An example of this is with fridges, since it is argued that it is very difficult to buy a fridge that is not got a very high energy label because retailers won’t stock them.

If you are shopping around the high street, or the Internet, you often come across retailers selling goods in a ‘green’ section of the store. In this sense the retailer is trying to offer attractive goods to those that buy on ethical lines without compromising their other goods they offer. This is an example of a retailer using the the potential of increased sales to label goods rather than taking an ethical or responsible attitude to what they stock and how they trade generally. I would consider them to be implementing a green marketing strategy rather than becoming a green business.

Of course it is not always easy to identify green retailers or green products. There are a large range of labels and standards which imply ethical, environmental or social standards are being met but it can be confusing to the consumer. The Sustainable Development Commission say that consumers should choose products that they think will ease poverty, reduce climate change and promote a one planet economy.

I think there is a stronger argument for not limiting oneself to the product but at looking at the policies of the organisation selling it. Are you convinced that the organisation is committed to sustainable practices? Does the organisation demonstrate knowledge of the issues that it needs to address? Does the organisation communicate to its customers accurately and effectively to help them make choices?

Green labels are fine. However, they can also be a smokescreen to promote a green image without necessarily understanding or acting on key sustainable issues within their business (energy, transport etc). A really green business will use its position in the market to influence suppliers and ensure that suppliers supplying goods of a dubious nature (child labour, climate damage and exploitation) are not traded with. There is a strong business argument for this and examples of successful companies who adopt these practices (Body Shop and animal testing). Organisations have a lot to gain commercially by being seen as sustainable and responsible.

At Greenhouse, we have adopted ‘choice editing ‘ practices to support our ‘sustainable printing‘ goals by ONLY supplying paper which is either recycled or has FSC certification. We also have ONLY used vegetable oil based inks as standard. ALL of our internally printed products are produced using our ecoprint-system4 process (www.ecoprint-system4.co.uk). We do not offer choice in these matters. There is no ‘sustainable’ option. And consequently we have customers that feel confident in the fact that when they are dealing with us, they will be getting an ethical and sustainable product, whatever they order.

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