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Consumers

    Consumers play an important role in agri-environmental questions. Do consumer purchasing habits reflect concern about environmental issues? Do consumers have enough knowledge on the environmental impact of products, or move over, the impact of products on the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea or biodiversity?

    Current situation

     

    More and more consumers are beginning to pay attention to the environmental impacts of food. There is still much to be hoped for concerning the consumer behaviour, eg. throwing away large amounts of food daily. Has a banana grown on the other side of the word travelled a long way to end up in a dump in Finland? Must we consume meat every day?
    Some consumers are very conscious about their choices but some have no interest, or feel as though their choices would not make a different. Studies have shown that even environmentally conscious consumers often do not choose the environmentally product at the moment of purchase.

    Consumers in cities may have a distorted view of the origin of food and agriculture. Sometimes even farmers spreading manure as fertilizer to fields can be seen as polluters, when in fact it would be important to use all manure as fertilizer (according to regulations, naturally).

    Consumers do not have enough knowledge to make environmentally friendly choices. In recent years, several indicators have been created to estimate the environmental impact of food, but more often than not these indicators are related to climate and not eutrophication or biodiversity. It is impossible to create guidelines that would apply everytime because the amount of variables is massive. For example, the impact on the climate can vary hugely depending if a tomato is cultivated in a green house using bio-energy or fossil fuels.


    Goals

    More information should be given to consumers. Even consumers that are concerned about the environment do not have access to information needed. On the other hand, those consumers that are not concerned would need basic information in order to make environmentally friendly choices.

    The goals should be:
    1) Offering more information to consumers about environmentally friendly products
    2) Change consumer behaviour to be more environmentally friendly


    To do

     

    1) Information to consumers through campaigns. Consumers cannot be forced to make the right choice. By favouring environmentally produced product consumers will also guide the production to be more environmentally friendly.

    For example, when consumers purchase organic products, they can be sure that the food has been produced environmentally friendly and ethical. However, only 0,5-4% of food purchased in Finland is organic. Consumers that want food produced in a clean environment where nutrients are recycled and animal wellbeing considered should buy organic products.

    2) Environmental education for children. Schools and public canteens should add environmentally friendly products to their menus.

    3) Back to old, good habits: food should not be wasted. According to a Swedish study, the environmental impact of throwing away food is larger than thought. Read more (in Finnish).

    4) Adding environmental footprint to labels. The work on this has already started, but it is not a simple task. Consumers would greatly benefit from this so long as there is not too many different signs to confuse them.