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Technology to Allow Shoppers to Count the Ecological Cost

Consumers will be able to count the cost of a product's impact on the environment with new technology which could revolutionise the way people shop. As part of a £2.6 million study involving Nottingham Trent University - which is being coordinated by Bavarian-based company TriaGnoSys - experts are developing an electronic system to provide shoppers across the globe with a rating of how sustainable a product or service is.

Using smartphones, myEcoCost will enable people to scan barcodes and instantly receive data on a product before they buy it. The aim is for consumers to easily identify which products have the smallest carbon footprint, which use the least resources and which are the healthiest for them to consume.

Shoppers will also be able to view information about their own carbon footprint online using a system similar to reward or loyalty card schemes which would record the cumulative ecological cost of the products or services they have purchased.

Professor Daizhong Su, head of the Advanced Design and Manufacturing Engineering Centre at the university's School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, said: "The aim is for consumers to make a more environmentally conscious decision about what they buy. For example, shoppers may choose a ‘greener' product over another item which is the same price if they know that it has less of an impact on the environment.

"The desired knock-on effect of this would be that manufacturers would refocus their priorities and make their products and processes more sustainable."

The system - which would be applied to any product or service, from groceries to travel tickets - would utilise existing accounting systems to allow for the flow of information in a similar way to how VAT is communicated.

Co-funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme, the three year project is being undertaken by a consortium comprising Nottingham Trent University, Boots UK, Ecover Belgium, GS1 Germany, CFF Carbon Calculator, the Wuppertal Institute, Enviro Data, Robert Mostyn and TriaGnoSys. Nottingham Trent University's research focuses on calculation models and the communications infrastructure.

Professor Su continued: "Delivering ecological cost statements to consumers would be a real breakthrough which will inform shoppers about their impact on the environment and help them make more sustainable choices when buying goods and services.

"It may also enhance the corporate social responsibility of businesses and provide them with an incentive to be more sustainable in their own practices, such as by sourcing more renewable materials and supplies or using less fossil fuels in their vehicles.

"In order to safeguard the earth's capacity to support life and to respect the limits of the planet's natural resources, it's essential that shoppers and businesses are more aware that what they buy and consume not only has a financial cost, but an ecological one as well."

Dr Markus Werner, Managing Director of TriaGnoSys, said: "Developing a universal accounting software program is a very complex undertaking. However, with values other than cost at our fingertips, a new social concept of sustainable consumption is not far off. More expensive food might appear cheap in ecological terms and the advantages of sustainably designed packaging will become more apparent."

Source: Nottingham Trent University - Technology to Allow Shoppers to Count the Ecological Cost