It is my privilege to welcome you all to this session on ‘Comparative Testing
for Sustainable Lifestyles’ and compliment CI on having decided to focus on
this subject. Will this session mark a major milestone for the consumer
movement? Time will tell.
Comparative testing for sustainable lifestyles, you would all agree, is
A novel concept
A new perspective
A fascinating challenge
I am not going into the “WHY” of sustainable lifestyles. We had a session in the
morning on ‘Sustainable Consumption and Tackling Climate Changes’. We
all know the importance of “WHY” we need to move towards sustainable
Comparative testing (CT) has been a very important tool used by consumer
groups, to empower consumers to make an informed choice in the market place
and get value for money. Traditionally, consumer groups engaged in
comparative testing have been testing products for their safety and
performance. Since 1936, when Consumers Union started its testing with
breakfast cereals and milk, comparative testing has come a long way. It has
evolved in terms of the nature of products being tested, to test methodologies
and parameters, to presentation of results to readers. And the evolution of
comparative testing is still on.
It has led to products becoming better and safer.
After comparative testing became a successful tool for campaigning for quality
products, consumer groups extended comparative testing to services. This
helped to provide consumers with comparative data on services, which was, and
still is, an issue of concern in most countries.
After this, comparative testing has moved to include the rating and ranking of
products on corporate ethics. VKI - Consumers Association of Austria was the
first to do this. Such comparative corporate tests supplement the results of
product tests. Consummentenbond - The Netherlands has also worked in this
area, including corporate ethics tests with product tests.
Having tracked in brief the movement of comparative testing, you would all
agree that comparative testing is elastic, and keeps responding to the needs of
So today we discuss, how we can look at comparative testing for sustainable
If we look closely, product test reports in the last few years have been already
expanded to include some aspects of sustainable lifestyles. If the product test
report on water efficient showerheads by CHOICE, Australia indicates which
brand consumes less water or the work done by CONSUMERS KOREA brings
a halt, to the use of Endocrine disrupting chemicals, we have already walked in
that direction. When INSIGHT magazine, brought out by CERC, India,
published with its ‘Tea’ test report brandwise information on pesticide residues
and heavy metals, it was a product test report looking at environmental criteria
as well. We can conclude that the consumer movement has been tiptoeing into
comparative testing for sustainable lifestyles.
We therefore highlight in today’s session what has been the experience so far
and what should be the methodology to follow. Most countries have an eco-
labelling scheme and set criteria for a product to get an eco-label. Could we
include these in the product testing reports for consumers? CERC, India and
GTZ, Germany, are jointly doing a project on ‘Consumer Advisory for
Environment Friendly Products’ wherein we have selected products, for testing,
which fall under the voluntary eco-labelling scheme of India. E.g., we are
testing Toothpastes, for lead and arsenic, and Food Mixers for energy
consumption and noise over and above the usual performance tests.
Another way would be to include the ‘Sustainability’ feature when testing and
reporting, e.g. A test report on ‘Mobile Phones’ can also include brandwise
information on how long the battery will last, for how many years the
manufacturer will be able to provide a replacement battery, spares, etc. for that
model. Often the only reason for which we have to change our mobile phone is
the non-availability of ‘battery’, as most mobile phone manufacturers consider a
model obsolete within a year. It is important to reduce this ‘USE AND
THROW’ trend that is fast developing with many products.
There are several ways to telescope sustainable lifestyle parameters into
comparative testing. Comparative testing can help navigate consumers
towards a more sustainable lifestyle. This session will also look into how
readers would respond to such information. However, we all know that giving
such information to consumers does not guarantee in itself a more sustainable
consumption. This depends on various factors. Comparative testing for
sustainable lifestyles cannot be fully successful unless consumer groups ensure
that consumers have sound information and education on the environmental
impacts of their buying decisions and lifestyle choices. But, by and large, we
can expect a positive response from readers.
Comparative testing for sustainable lifestyles has therefore a tremendous
potential. In fact, in countries where products are becoming more and more
similar and safer, it is a challenge for consumer groups and magazine editors to
bring out the differences among brands tested. Hence adding the dimension of
sustainable lifestyles to testing could be the way ahead.
But there are some problems too, that we should not overlook. And one of them
is when environmental values conflict with the traditional price quality ratios; it
is not always that consumers are ready to pay more for environment friendly
products. Also products may meet environmental criteria but not quality
parameters and vice versa.
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