Bio ain’t Sustainable

We have all seen some time in the supermarket, in the fruit and vegetable section, some sign in the distance announcing, for example, “Organic Avocado”. Large, to make it are clear. But we get a little closer and we see that for each pair of avocado they offer us a cardboard tray and a plastic wrap as a gift. And if we get a little closer we will also see that these wonderful avocados have been brought, especially for us, from Colombia or another transoceanic destination. Then the question should arise about the real benefits of Bio products and what the Bio label implies. Are they beneficial for the planet or only for us? Because, the fact is that a Bio product may not be sustainable. So, we must be critical and know how to evaluate what impact we are having when choosing a product.

To have a good criterion, we should start by having the concepts of « Biological Product » and « Sustainable Product » clear, because, although we may think that they are something similar or even the same, the truth is that they are not.

First of all you have to know that a Bio product can have different characteristics depending on the label they carry. That is, each Bio Product certification organization will have its own criteria to define if a product has been produced in a “Bio” way and therefore can carry such label.

However, Bio products are mainly characterized by using methods of cultivation and production without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides or other chemicals. These products are usually grown trying to use practices with low environmental impact, avoiding the toxic and chemicals that are then absorbed by the earth and food. This is benefitial for both the planet and the consumer. Depending on the product’s seal, a Bio product may also mean that this product does not have transgenics.

On the other hand, a Sustainable product must take into account all aspects that cover sustainability, that is, it should not take into account only the environmental impact, as it is done many times, but also the social impact and the economic impact.

A Sustainable product is much more difficult to measure and define, since it could include many actions throughout the product’s value chain, from how the raw material is obtained until what it will be done with the product when it reaches the end of its lifespan. The greatest difficulty in judging whether a product is sustainable would be obtaining reliable information about the value chain of that product, which in many cases is impossible and, above all, very ponderous. So, I leave in your hands the will to know more about the products we buy and the impact they have.

Anyway, here you have a list of basic aspects that we can consider when judging whether to buy a product or another:

  • Seasonal product: A non-seasonal product may be grown unnaturally, increasing the need for chemicals and resources to force a proper environment, so it will surely have a greater impact than a seasonal product.
  • Proximity product: It is evident that the less distance the product has to travel, the less CO2 will be emitted by transportation.
  • Transportation method: Not only does distance influence to the CO2 emissions emitted during transportation, the transportation method also plays its role. For example, airplanes emit more CO2 into the atmosphere than trucks to travel the same distance and transport the same products.
  • Packaging: The packaging of the product will have a great influence on the impact of that product, since it does not only has a production cost, but also a great cost of the waste disposal generated by these packages. A minimal, reusable or biodegradable packaging reduces a lot the final impact of the product.
  • Production conditions: In order to also include the social and economic aspects in our judgement of a sustainable product, we should also consider whether the production or manufacturing conditions of the products have been carried out ethically.
  • Reusability: A reusable product will prevent the production of a new product and, therefore, all the impact that this product entails.
  • Disposal of the product: It is also important to consider where does the product that we have bought will end when we have finished using it, since the treatment of waste is a very complex world and rarely the products are treated or recycled as well as it should be, mainly because of the high cost that these processes entail.

Therefore, and returning to the initial topic, it should be noted that a Bio certificate only considers the product production method, but not the entire value chain. Therefore, the impact of the product during its processing, packaging, distribution, etc. is not taken into account. All these elements fall on our criteria. Therefore, when we try to buy something environmentally friendly or sustainable at all levels, let’s not be guided only by the Bio label (or any other label), because many times a bio product will not be as sustainable as we can think. We must have our own criteria to judge what we buy and take into account many factors beyond whether the product is Bio by meeting a production criteria.


Author: Marta Llovera Bonmatí


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