What if there was a nutrition label for the planet?
Introducing the Eco-Footprint Label. Helping make environmentally-conscious decisions by informing shoppers of the “ingredients” in their packaging and costs of shipping.
Update #2: I have so many ideas for inventions that I’ve decided to give them away for free. I’m proud to say I thought of this idea around 2005 and created the label in 2007, and since then it has been presented to the Australian Parliament, incorporated into a UC Berkeley student’s MBA research project and generally been making an appearance on mainstream products such as Apple Computers, albeit in a different form. The hard part about a good idea is implementation, so if you can implement any of the following good ideas, please email me an update to share. Feeling accomplished is my reward.
Here is a conceptual label design for a can of corn produced locally. The environmental cost is still staggering even for a local can of food, which includes minimal transportation costs.
What is the true cost of food? A 1994 US study (1) reported that 400 gallons of oil a year are used to produce the food for the average American. So, it was easy for me to calculate that the average person uses 1.1 gallons of oil per day, which is 17 times more energy than a person actually gains by eating the food. Some independent studies report as much as one gallon of oil is consumed to grow, fertilize, pesticide, package and ship one can of food, and the cost increases when you include all the other factors such as water. It takes an estimated 500-5000 gallons of water to grow one pound of beef. So, at an average of 2500 gallons per pound of beef, that’s $2.50 using Phoenix tap water or $1350.00 dollars using New York City tap water.*
So, how much does something really cost, especially if you include the subsidies and tax incentives? And what about the future cost of topsoil erosion, pesticides and pollution (some which take over 50,000 years to degrade), aquifer depletion, oxygen depletion, loss of natural habitats and biodiversity, global warming, et cetera — No one knows the true cost of food.
What is an ecological footprint? Ecological footprint analysis is an estimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate (if possible) the resources a human population consumes and to absorb the corresponding waste. This estimate measures how many resources, defined by a land area called global hectares, it takes to support a given population. The United States citizen consumes 9.6 global hectares, meaning it would take 9.6 planet Earths to sustainably provide for the United States alone.
Why should you care? Even if these numbers are greatly exaggerated, eventually this will affect everyone as our environment becomes increasingly polluted and degraded, causing an increase in health problems, rise in the cost of living and a lower quality of life. The Eco-Footprint Label allows consumers to make educated decisions of how their everyday purchases affect themselves and the environment.
How can you make better choices? The Eco-Footprint Label can be applied to all consumer products, similar to a nutrition label for food. You could call it a nutrition label for Mother Earth. It would measure the resources needed to manufacture a product and ship it to the market place, giving consumers tangible evidence of their cost of consumption.
Examples of better decision making: What if you are on a small budget yet want to maintain a healthy lifestyle? You could compare the Eco-Footprint Label and Nutrition Labels of competing products. What is the cost of vitamins to supplement the low-nutritional value of mass-produced, genetically-engineered and processed foods? Maybe it is actually cheaper to spend more money upfront on organic whole foods and free-range meat.
What if you’re an animal rights activist? Which decision makes more sense: To buy synthetic shoes made from Saudi Arabian oil, shipped to China, manufactured into shoes, shipped to the USA and trucked across the country? Or to buy those leather shoes locally made? Which has bigger consequences on the environment and ultimately everything that lives in it?
Or, what if you are eco-friendly, health-minded vegetarian. Does it really make sense to eat that tofu packaged in plastic, with a fancy label using toxic, non-degradable metallic inks, and shipped from Asia? Maybe it is healthier for everyone to modify your diet to eat locally produced, seasonal meats and vegetables to reduce environmental pollution, and depletion of non-renewable resources.
Now, I leave it to you to spread the word to those that can make this work!
Update #2: The public announcement of this concept and design on my blog represent what’s called “prior art” in patent law, which basically means that a big corporation can’t patent this concept. Now, why would that be a good thing? Often corporations buy technology simple so that they can prevent something from undermining their profit margin, even if it is overall detrimental to society.
1) “Food, Land, Population, and the U.S. Economy” by Drs. David Pimentel of Cornell University and Mario Giampietro of the Istituto Nazionale della Nutrizione, Rome.
* I cross-referenced dozens of resources on the internet to find accurate numbers.