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Abstract

The $45 trillion-dollar consumer market - 60 percent of global GDP - is the largest driver of human practices impacting sustainability. However, an insignificant number of products offer any insight into product sustainability. Labels like Fair Trade, though useful, have minimal market penetration. In the absence of sustainability information, consumers make purchases based on traditional indicators of product value like price, color, and brand but have no product-specific information on broader human values for issues like child labor, greenhouse gases, worker safety, or endangered species. A straightforward 1-to-5 star sustainability rating (coupled with an in-depth sustainability profile) on each consumer product would harness the power of the market's invisible hand, efficiently steering manufacturing decisions toward sustainability precisely to the degree that global consumers are concerned about social and environmental issues. Sustainability ratings would tweak the global market with every purchase in the tiniest of ways, but multiplied trillions of times over, these small tweaks could transform the marketplace and change the world. Consumers could take sustainability into consideration with every item they purchase. Manufacturers would strive to improve the ratings of the products they make. Store managers could choose to stock only highly-rated products. The world's largest purchasers - entities like Walmart or the U.S. government - have enough market leverage to unilaterally introduce sustainability ratings for the products they procure, setting the stage for a global-scale system. Several different mechanisms can be used to create credible sustainability ratings. This article describes the novel approach of crowd-sourcing consumer preferences to reliably achieve a 1-to-5 star rating for each product.
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