consumer goods 74 percent of consumers who actually read the product labels do not know what half of the ingredients or where to learn about them - companies need to make it easier for consumers to undestand the products they buy. Getty
Home » Consumer goods » Are You Trying To Buy Sustainably But Discouraged By All The Confusing Words On The Product Ingredients List? You Are Not Alone.

Are You Trying To Buy Sustainably But Discouraged By All The Confusing Words On The Product Ingredients List? You Are Not Alone.

95 percent of Americans say sustainability is a good goal — but many are finding it difficult to put into practice – why? Convenience, lack of awareness and availability are top obstacles to sustainability according to nearly half of consumers. Although we are all in agreement in the effort of becoming more sustainable, when 74 percent of consumers who actually read the product labels do not know what half of the ingredients or where to learn about them, it is understandable that many give up. A survey by Genomatica conducted on 1,000 people US adults illustrated the hard task of being a sustainable consumer. 

It is easy to feel as a single consumer, a single grocery-store run, or the one ugly Christmas sweater gift you gave to your coworker for secret santa is not going to have much of an impact on our planet’s climate change. You’ll be surprised to learn that it can indeed. According to a study by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), Greenhouse gas emissions are not falling quickly enough to achieve climate targets and switching to renewable energy can only cut them by 55 percent. The remaining 45 percent of emissions come from how we make and use products, and how we produce food. Therefore, as a consumer – great  power and responsibility is in fact in your hands.

It is time to change our ‘take-make-waste’ short-sighted economy, to a sustainable ‘borrow-build-recycle’ one. A step-change is needed to put the world on track to achieve zero emissions by 2050 to meet the 1.5 ̊C target set out in the Paris Agreement. To date, the strategies have mainly focused on transitioning to renewable energy sources. But as stated above, this is only 55 percent of the issues, the remaining lies on the other side of emissions- it lies in production. By increasing the use rates of assets such as buildings and vehicles, and recycling the materials used to make them, reducing the demand for new materials – we can begin to tackle the 45 percent of emissions.


Underpinned by a transition towards renewable energy, a circular economy can help tackle the overlooked 45% of emissions by transforming the way goods are made and usedModified from the Ellen McArthur Foundation Study: Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change

But who is going to induce this change? Christophe Schilling, Genomatica’s CEO says “There’s a real opportunity for the industry to educate consumers to help them get over these hurdles, and for brands to market and deliver more sustainable products with greater transparency on where they come from to feed this surging demand.”96 percent of all manufactured goods are enabled by chemistry and consumers aren’t aware that so many of their everyday products are made with chemicals derived from fossil fuels — including crude oil, coal and natural gas. With more transparency from industry and products consumers will be able to more easily decipher the product ingredient list – and hereafter make sustainable purchasing choices.

Sustainable production and manufacturing practices may not always be more cost effective. However, one in four consumers say that they would spend more money with their favorite brands if the brand increased their sustainability. Furthermore, there can be opportunity and market share lost if companies don’t increase their sustainability as 46 percent of consumers have boycotted a brand due to unsustainable products or practices.

In order to meet climate target a transformation in how we manufacture and use goods is needed. Industry should provide more transparency and allow for greater convenience, availability and awareness about sustainability. A circular economy reducing emissions by transforming the way we design, produce and use goods is a necessary response to climate change. According to the EMF study, with this circular economy applied to four key industrial materials (cement, steel, plastic and aluminium) it could help reduce emissions by 40% in 2050.

Thank you to Stephanie Michelsen for additional research and reporting in this post.

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

Originally published on Forbes


John Cumbers

John Cumbers is the founder of SynBioBeta. John is passionate about education and on the use and adoption of biological technologies. He has received multiple awards and grants from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences for his work in the field. John has been involved in multiple startups such as those producing food for space, microbes to extract lunar and martian resources, and hoverboards! John is an active investor through the DCVC SynBioBeta Fund and his synthetic biology syndicate on AngelList.

Stephanie Michelsen

Stephanie Michelsen is pursuing her M.Sc. in Biotechnology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She recently got accepted as an International Innovation Program (2ip) fellow, a program designed to connect Danish life science students with the biotech start-up industry in the Bay Area. She is therefore currently living in the San Francisco Sunset district with four other Danish students learning about biotech entrepreneurship. As a 2ip fellow and as a writer and editor for SynBioBeta she is fortunate enough to further explore her interest in the many possibilities of synthetic biology.

Click here to join our weekly newsletter. We want to hear what you think about this article. Got a tip for our news team? Write to

Add comment

Job opportunities