The idea of buying things is central to CHOICE's existence. In 1960 when our organisation launched, consumer markets were exploding as people's incomes grew and major household appliances were becoming affordable for the first time. People were keen to use their new buying power, but they needed help in a world where they had few consumer rights.
More than 60 years on, there's a shift to a more considered form of consumption, as many people think about the environmental impacts of the things they buy. But working out which is the most sustainable choice isn't always easy – and the research tells us that many people who care deeply about the environment are confused about what they can do to have the greatest impact.
That's not surprising, because these decisions are often neither obvious nor simple. Even everyday purchases like fruit and vegetables present some interesting conundrums. Lots of people quite rightly question why fresh fruit and vegetables need to be wrapped in plastic. But in some circumstances, wrapping fresh food makes it last much longer, reducing food waste. Which is more harmful – more plastic in landfill or the impact of food that has been produced and shipped but not consumed?
Many people who care deeply about the environment are confused about what they can do to have the greatest impact
There are similar dilemmas in food production, where businesses that hold patents for genetically modified organisms point to lower pesticide use and the potential of drought-resistant crops, while many others worry about the impact of GMO on human health and biodiversity.
If looking for an ethical investment, you'll find yourself confronted with a broad range of approaches. Some ethical funds completely avoid investment in activities like coal-fired power production while others are activist investors, deliberately taking a small stake in some activities that harm the environment in order to drive change from within.
In one sense, these are unfair choices. Ultimately, business practices should evolve to make more sustainable choices accessible, without the need for major compromises. We need supermarkets to use all the data they're collecting to reduce food waste through better supply chain management. We need to support the development of new strains of crops that aren't dependent on GMO. And we need the shift to renewable energy to be driven by strong government policy rather than relying on investors.
I hope those changes aren't too far away. Meanwhile, we'll keep doing our best to help, recognising that these are often very personal choices, influenced by your means, personal values, health conditions and where you live.
Our role is still all about choices, as it was in 1960. And by helping you make them, we have the opportunity to help create a more sustainable world for all.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.