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In today’s marketplace, brands are actively marketing products as more sustainable, enticing consumers with promises of environmental benefits. Apple’s recent announcement about carbon-neutral products and Amazon sharing pollution reports for individual devices are just a few examples of this growing trend.

As consumers, navigating these claims can be challenging. Amidst the buss of eco-friendly advertising, it’s essential to understand the actual impact of our choices on the environment. Justine Calma, a seasoned science reporter with expertise in environmental matters, recently explored this topic, shedding light on the complexities of sustainable consumerism.

In her discussions with John Thøgersen, a professor at Aarhus University specialising in consumer behaviour and sustainability, Justine questioned the significance of consumer behaviour in achieving global climate goals. Professor Thøgersen highlighted the increasing role of private consumers, accounting for about 60 percent of final consumption. However, he stressed the need for a balance between individual and collective responsibility in influencing consumer behaviour.

While some argue for individual lifestyle changes, Professor Thøgersen emphasises collective solutions like efficient public transport systems and renewable energy adoption at a national level as key contributors to sustainable living.

Addressing the growing trend of brands purchasing renewable energy to match consumers’ energy use, the professor sees this move as an incentive for companies to reduce energy consumption in their products, a more impactful effort than mere offsetting.

Recognising the challenge of distinguishing genuine sustainability from marketing tactics, Professor Thøgersen advises relying on third-party eco-labels and certifications endorsed by NGOs and public organisations to avoid falling prey to greenwashing.

When it comes to impactful consumer actions, the focus lies on three major areas—food, transportation, and energy consumption in homes—accounting for 75 percent of total impact. Notably, the professor highlighted the disproportionate climate footprint of beef and lamb, suggesting a significant shift from these meats can notably reduce environmental impact.

Moreover, Professor Thøgersen emphasised the significance of transitioning to energy-efficient appliances and, importantly, ensuring home energy is sourced from renewables for maximum impact.

In summary, while individual consumption plays a role, sustainable consumption primarily remains a collective responsibility. Policymakers must create frameworks that encourage and facilitate environmentally responsible choices for consumers.

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