Wal-Mart unveiled a plan that’s been in the works for a few years to label each product they sell with a ‘sustainability index’, so that consumers may make more informed choices. On the one hand — bravo to Wal-Mart! With their massive size, they really control a lot of the market and trends…for example, their push for health care for all employees, and an effort to carry more organic items, which may *hopefully!* drive some of the costs down on organic foods.
However, I am a little wary of said index….firstly because sustainability is such a complex issue and word that has so many different meanings, so it’s tough to have a clearly ranked system. (ex..is sustainability based on the product itself, the company who manufactures it, how it’s shipped, the country of origin, etc…)
Also, I fear that a sustainability index label could become like another nutrition label…one that does have some meaning to it, but only if you understand what it means, the biases inherent in the label, and the subtleties of the various parts of the label. Even though it is great the Wal-Mart is trying to have a fast, easy way for consumers to recognize and choose products, I think some deeper eduction is necessary for it to have the desired effect and actually affect change in the way goods are produced and manufactured.
Hurrah for trying, though! Even if many consumers do not understand the depth of the index, hopefully placing said index will force companies into more sustainable practices.
Amazing how that works…you get all comfortable, think there’s nothing new under the sun, and obviously…you learn so many new things in one week that you realize that there’s always more out there. This week, the news was mixed.
Marion Nestle posted this morning about Horizon Organic Milk’s new ‘natural’ line of cheaper, conventional milk and the implications for the organic milk industry. She also mentioned, which I didn’t know, that Silk soy milk is switching from organic soybeans to ‘natural’….another blow the to the industry and for health (see post below about soy). It’s really too bad, there are enough labeling issues as it is, and throwing in another mysterious label that does not necessary signify a major improvement or difference over conventional milk does not help. Sounds like a cop-out from two brands that know they have a following from organic milk drinkers, and know they’ll retain most of the customers through the switche (remember, Starbuck’s uses silk soy milk and (if I remember correctly) have little Horizon milk juice boxes in their pastry case.)
Quite a shame.