The '#AsktheQ' campaign pushes for greater transparency on sustainability

THE Scottish Government’s 'Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources' consultation, launched on 27th June, proposes ambitious targets to cut Scotland’s waste from households and businesses. 

The more we waste, the greater the demand on our precious resources.

I started the “AsktheQ” Twitter campaign in May to encourage consumers to pressure businesses by asking them basic questions about their regard for the environment. Twitter offers activists and clicktivists the opportunity to share a firm’s shortcomings as well as any commendable efforts, with millions of people.

We set a great deal of store by companies’ commitments to source their raw materials sustainably, use them efficiently and to recycle what cannot be reused. But there needs to be greater transparency. I have found that retailers, hotels, restaurants or transport companies don’t always detail their environmental policies on their websites but that by asking them what their waste management strategies are, it communicates their importance to us.

Key questions consumers need to be asking relate to unnecessary and excessive packaging, the use of non-recyclable materials, independent certification that their products are sourced sustainably, and what their broader waste management strategy is for in-house operations and suppliers.

I’ve been disappointed to hear from businesses that customers rarely ask about the provenance of their products, or what the company is doing to reduce its waste. Perhaps then it’s no surprise that Virgin Trains sent me its most up to date sustainability strategy; with waste management targets for as far back as 2009. It couldn’t provide me with anything more recent.

By encouraging firms to tell us what their sustainability targets are and then tweeting about them, we can better hold them to account. This will also deter businesses from “greenwashing”. WH Smith recently told me “most cards” in its stores are sourced from sustainable forests. When I asked for certification there was no response.

If Scotland is to meet its targets on waste, consumers need to be asking questions.

This article was first published in The Scotsman, on 14th July 2012.