Michael McCarthy: Low-carbon consumerism - a new ethical choice

Share

When, as a careful consumer, you read the label on a packet of crisps, what do you look for? How much salt it contains? How many additives, E-numbers, artificial colouring or preservatives? Perhaps you look for all of those.

But consider this. What if the label also told you how much carbon dioxide had been emitted in its manufacture? What if it informed you just what part in causing global warming had been played by the process of putting this snack in your hand? And furthermore, what if a comparison of labels showed you that X Crisps were responsible for fewer emissions of CO2 than Y Crisps? Would it not affect your buying decision - and would not X Crisps get your vote?

This is a new, powerful and radical idea that is just starting to take off - the idea of embedded carbon. How much emitted CO2 is embedded in those crisps, that is, how much was involved in making them? How much in that instant chicken tikka you're having for dinner, or that sofa you covet, or those new trainers you want to buy? This is not fanciful - it can be calculated. Indeed, the Carbon Trust has been calculating it with Walker's Crisps.

When it is calculated more widely, the embedded carbon in a retail product may become as big a turn-off as artificial sweeteners. High carbon content may get the same thumbs-down from careful consumers as high salt.

You doubt it? Well. the first stirrings of this quite remarkable trend - to view carbon in the retail sector as a pariah material, socially - are already visible. Sales of 4x4 cars, desperately trendy until only very recently, are now falling through the floor. That has been prompted by widespread feelings that the amount of fuel they use, and thus the amount of greenhouse gases they emit, are quite obviously egregious, and unnecessary, even to live a busy family life with children to be taken to school in London or other major cities. The 4x4 is becoming socially unacceptable because of its carbon.

But the 4x4 is indeed obvious. The Carbon Trust's breakdown of the UK's carbon footprint into consumer sectors shows just how far the idea can be taken. Virtually everything we wear, sit on, clean with, heat with or eat contains embedded carbon - which can be reduced if the manufacturing companies concerned try hard enough. And, of course, the companies get a powerful incentive to try, they are looking at a high street marketing advantage.

Hitherto we have tended to look at the great heavy industries, especially energy generation and manufacturing, as the places where we must seek to make our greenhouse gas emissions cuts. That is natural, because they are the biggest single emitters.

But when the traditional view of CO2 emissions is turned on its head, and the emissions are reallocated to the point of consumption rather than the point of manufacture, we can see just how much a part we as individuals could play in cutting emissions by the purchasing choices we make.

It just goes to prove the truth of a couple of sayings that the environmental movement has always held dear. The first is, The Personal is Political. And the second is, Think Globally, Act Locally.

Believe it or not, that may become an appropriate way to view your future purchases of Cheese 'n' Onion (or Smoky Bacon, for that matter).

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star