25 Nov 2014


When you visit your local supermarket or store, do you seek out sustainably-sourced products like toilet tissue made from recycled paper, MSC-certified seafood or Fairtrade coffee?

If you answered ‘yes’, you’re actually among the enlightened minority. Approximately 95% of people don’t make the sustainable choice, even when it’s available. However shoppers aren’t intentionally seeking out the unsustainable choices - there are a whole host of rational and understandable reasons why the more sustainable products aren’t dropped into the shopping trolley.

People often aren’t aware which products are sustainable, they don’t have the interest or time to seek out the sustainable options, and these options in many cases, are more expensive are therefore inaccessible to those on tight budgets.

In some situations there is skepticism as to the integrity of labels proclaiming sustainability credentials and even the often misguided expectation that ‘sustainable products’ are of a lower quality than their equivalents. Consumer interest in sustainably-sourced products is of course growing and this is being reflected in growing demand for more sustainably produced products, largely in specific ‘categories’ like toilet paper, seafood, chocolate, coffee, eggs and washing powders. However this growth in interest and demand is just not fast or broad enough to save the places we care about, the unique ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef, Amazon rainforest or forests of Borneo, which ultimately are impacted by the production and extraction of commodities and ingredients used in the food and grocery products we buy.

It’s clear that simply relying on shopper’s ‘choice editing’ and picking sustainably produced products is not enough in itself to create the transformational changes we need. 

Ultimately to avoid a reliance on consumer decision-making there shouldn’t be a choice between an unsustainable and a sustainable product in the supermarket. We should be able to buy any product in a supermarket or pick out a specific brand reassured that the supermarket or brand has done the hard work to ensure the product has a low-impact on the environment, provides social and livelihood benefits and meets minimum animal welfare standards. Logic follows that we need supermarkets and brands to make strong commitments to change how they source and produce their products.

A good example of this is Australia’s leading salmon producer, Tassal. Through a partnership with WWF, Tassal committed to the challenging goal of becoming the first farmed salmon operation in the world to achieve Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification for all its operations by 2015.

WWF recognises ASC certification as the global gold standard for responsible aquaculture. It is independent and designed to properly manage the significant potential environmental and social impacts of salmon farming and help alleviate pressure on marine ecosystems through reducing exploitation of wild-caught fisheries.

In November 2014 and ahead of schedule, 100% of Tassal’s salmon operations became ASC-certified. This is a huge achievement for a company that accounts for over half of the Australian salmon market. The commitment to ASC made by Tassal three years ago required leadership and vision; it demanded years of ongoing effort, focus, significant investment, extensive collaboration and engagement.

As a consumer this now means you can buy any Tassal salmon product with the reassurance that it meets the highest environmental and social standards for farmed seafood. Tassal doesn’t provide an unsustainable alternative for customers. So does this mean you as a consumer should stop looking for sustainable products in your supermarket? Absolutely not: Please do keep seeking out the sustainable choices. But please also support and encourage supermarkets and brands that are making bold commitments and following through on these with transformational changes to their operations and supply chains.

Change requires enlightened consumers, but also enlightened business.