An Interesting Green Map

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Retail Industry’s Return Policy – Impact on the environment

Retail industry is in a never ending race to keep prices low and remain competitive and appealing to customers. In reality, operational costs and other capital costs are always rising and never come down. However retailers are forced to remain competitive (quality and price), in addition to providing a set of perks to customers.

One such perk being the return policy. Let us try evaluating the impact of one returned good on the environment.

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Each time a consumer walks in to return his purchase, he gets his money back.Examining the retailer’s side of the story – allowing customers to feel empowered means ensuring themselves (retailers) a loyal customer base and also a possible increase in the number of customers. It sounds like a win-win right !! Rather, the actual story may be otherwise. All this has a cost, in terms of economics and the environment.

One of the three things is what happens to the product.

  • It is dumped in a trash can if it is a produce or a consumable,
  • sent back to the supplier if the product is faulty
  • goes back to the shelf for a reduced (open pack) price. 

Any of these scenarios translate into a financial strain on the retailer. Most retailers try to maintain a customer friendly return policy and allow return of a product in the most deplorable state. Though this looks appealing in the short term, both the customer and the retailer lose in the long run.

How does this happen?
Every return adds up to the operational and overhead costs for the retailer. By law, retailers and suppliers have a limit on the number of products they can account for as write-offs. They have to consider logistics cost and stocking/inventory management of the returns before they are sent in through the proper channels (as mentioned above). All this means added costs for retailers/suppliers and a an inevitable struggle to remain competitive in a cut throat franchisee environment. This could mean quality deterioration. Although consumers may not observe sudden drop in quality, it does happen over a period of time. Every retailer tries to increase pressure on the suppliers, manufacturers and transporters to keep costs low. But  that doesn’t happen always. At least a part of the costs have to be borne by the retailers themselves. That means costs are invisibly passed onto consumers. Thereby we, as consumers, have unknowingly increased the future costs for ourselves.

Impact on the environment…
Let us look beyond our wallets and assess this issues in terms of impact on the environment. Environmental costs associated with every product begins from its source of raw material, adds up through the entire value chain and ends with its consumption and disposal of packaging products. Use of non bio-degradable products adds to the stress on the environment as they are here to stay – forever!

For a product to qualify as being environment friendly, it needs to be green at every stage in supply chain/value chain.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, manufactures and retailers are supposed to account for the impact their product has on the environment, this process is environmental accounting. Every Enterprise Resource Planning software has a provision for this accounting process. I have my own doubts whether a profit-oriented organization will ever look into the environmental aspect seriously. Eco-impact calculators are supposed to be a part of every audit which happens in companies. What bothers me is if they ever look at these modules beyond their computer screens and the spreadsheets.

What we could do…
We as consumers can work on our consumption patterns and think twice before billing a product. It is difficult to see why many Indian friends of mine have eased themselves so well into this binging mentality. Indian retail industry never allowed for returns or even exchanges in some cases. Consumers have to be conscious of what they buy. What I cant come to terms with is the way Indian consumers behave in the USA. Cheap and shady behavior of (Indian) consumers in the US, and things they get away with is shocking. Does it never occur to them that it is going to come back to them (in true economic sense). That is how economics works!…and it doesn’t take an Amartya Sen to understand this.

Do we need to add more than the usual to this?

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Organic food in plastic packaging?!!

Organic produce and food products are a nice buy..keeps one thing off your mind – all the pesticide residue. But is it not an oxymoronistic approach to sell organic and other “green” products in a non bio degradable plastic package?

What is the idea behind all the reams of plastic which went into packaging them? I have no clue…I don’t expect things to be clear cut black and white but this packaging issue is stretching things too far!!!!! (Not that its ok for other products to be stuffed in plastic bag/wraps to be shelved in a retail store.)

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We cannot justify these pre cut organic fruits being sold in ridiculous individual packs. Even the most popular organic food stores indulge in this kind of mockery of green issues. Are they ignorant or do they just don’t care?…It must be fun to meet all those who are into planning and execution of product packaging decisions in these organic and eco friendly companies. I really need to ask them one thing… how do these aisles in organic food store qualify as eco-friendly?

Most argue about the strain green packaging would put on the environment…but is it necessary to add more indigestible plastic junk for the planet to bear? Another arguement is of the corn plastic – the amount of money, effort and the resources which go into producing a single corn plastic container is not worth the effort.


 I don’t know if it is just me or if there are others out there who are bogged down by guilt while buying groceries and other processed food. Its like an anti-thesis when companies which claim to sell organic produce and products, say even cosmetics, don’t think twice before investing in plastic and other non-eco-friendly packaging material. I know I have cribbed and whined about this earlier.

Enormous demand for products and produce results in a significant strain on the environment, and then,  choosing paper or other eco friendly packaging material only adds to the planet’s travails. However, when we weigh the pros and cons of going green and remaining economical, green idea wins- always. It is necessary to understand one base rule – any polymer based synthetic good produced is never going to decompose or biodegrade. However expensive it may be, earth friendly is the way to go (with the packaging as well). Smallest things like the plastic lid cap on glass bottles and jars matter to me. If an item on my grocery list is unavoidable, then I ensure that the jar I buy has a metal cap and not a plastic one….How many of you freak out like I do?

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Any inputs – welcome!!!!

I do not buy these plastic wrapped fruits and vegetables and feel good about not adding some more plastic to the environment.

We need to remember that each product we try, buy and consume is a vote of approval for the company to mark that product as a “success”. So think before you try out a new product, be it consumable or other wise…your vote makes a difference. Simple things like making a choice between –

this jar 

and this


 When the sales go down, these companies are forced to change their strategy and cater to what we consumers demand…Time and again I have been mentioning this – we are at a stage where we are only making trade offs. Living green is a long winding road for the civilized world..the least we could do is to start making a difference…(I make a special mention of this thanks to all the flaky criticism  I put up with due to my green advocacy).

So the next time you are in a super market aisle, make an intelligent choice and Keep the planet happy!

Cardamom – A greener mouth freshener

We all know cardamom as one of the most popular Indian Spices, which works wonderfully in both sweet and savoury dishes. No payasam or kheer is complete without that dash of crushed cardamom (powder). You may wonder if I have confused my food blog with the green one…No, I have not. I wanted to write about use of cardamom as a mouth freshener and as a way to reduce our carbon footprint. Sounds out of syn?

If you are among those who are used to munching a strip of a mouth freshener of your choice, you have just voted for the existence of at least three different industries – the Gum industry itself, Sugar processing plants, packaging industry and the transportation and retailing industry. And supporting these industries by chewing a strip of gum did not necessarily translate to over all economic growth.

On a personal level, you have invited a few health issues for yourself. How you may ask! Think about the amount of sugar you have consumed (without even realizing it). This is apart from causing a decent amount of damage to your jaw (applies to frequent chewers). You also consume all the artificial colours and flavours which went into manufacturing this gum and they aren’t good for your kidneys.

Waste management…
You have generated unnecessary garbage by disposing three layers of packaging for every strip of gum consumed. Can we forget the thin plastic film which was used to protect the gum’s “freshness” ? (If you dint know- every product packaging includes a layer of plastic, even the tetrapacks).

The label printed must have had a small amount of ink that used up some resource (from its raw material to final product and shipping stage. Plastic container used to ship the ink cant be ignored).

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How could we ignore all the cartons the company uses it to ship boxes of the gum to dealer warehouses and to the retailers for shelving. We could explore the entire value chain piece by piece and this post would never end!  All this is similar to every other consumer product, but a chewing gum doesn’t necessarily have any utilitarian value in your diet and it doesn’t really freshen your mouth. It leaves an after taste and also makes your teeth prone to germs, thanks to the sugar added to it. Even the “sugarless” variety has saccharides which is just a sugar replacement.

Phew! It is hard to see all this when you reach out for your pack of gum, but shifting to eat a simple Fennel/saunf or elaichi works well for you as well as for the environment. It is not a major shift to being green because of growing, harvesting, packing and shipping these spices surely has an impact on the planet. What we do by reducing our dependence on at least one processing industry is that we reduce the strain on resources by say 50%.  Shifting to natural products is not a fool proof solution, but only a trade off for the planet. Not just the planet, you are being kinder on yourself. If Elaichi seems like an expensive option, then we could explore similar natural breath fresheners. Most spices such as cinnamon and clove have similar freshening effect on our breath. Clove plays a dual role by not only freshening your breath but also being good for our teeth and gums.

Time and again, I have been advocating that green living doesn’t have to be just black and white. It is more of a learning process with each passing day. All we need is an open mind and will to change for the better. As a civilized society, we have reached a stage where most of us refuse to go back to living minimal. But starting off with a decent set of trade offs would be better than trying to believe that “one change wont really make a difference”. May be, with an shift like this, we would be able to explore more such ways and means to reduce our take it easy mentality. We could take a step further in reducing (human) impact on the planet. {I seem to be saying everything possible for the processing industry to gang up against people like me 🙂 }

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On a lighter note…we could avoid this….

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A Green Christmas (Tree)

 Happy Christmas to All

This is our first ever Christmas tree and as a part of being green, I decorated a wooden corner stand with mini multi-coloured lights and strings of beaded-stuffed-cloth birds. I anchored all the lights and decorative strings on a traditional brass lamp. The stand, lamp and the ornaments are handicrafts from different states in India. Corner Stand – Uttar Pradesh handicrafts; Brass lamp – Traditional lamp from Tamil Naadu;Beaded bird string – Gujarat handicrafts. It may not qualify to be called a tree…but it ushered in the holiday spirit into our tiny apartment.. 🙂

Hope you all have a great holiday

Home made cosmetics

I have a lot on my to-do list while waiting to recover from a truck load of things. One of the to-dos is to try concocting my own cosmetics (including soaps). This would take my `make everything from scratch` agenda one step further .

I have been bookmarking a list of blogs and sites with recipes and articles on home made soaps, scrubs and creams. This is to improve on my trials to avoid all the plastic and other non-biodegradable packaging from the FMCG industry. Crafting Green is one such webstie/blog I found while looking  for eco-friendly arts and crafts. Their article about Do it yourself – make your own beauty products looks quite promising. Do check out their articles on more eco-freindly ideas for everyday living.

Crafting a Green World

Updates – Green Bag Lady Bag

 loved one thing about the green bag lady’s Giveaways. She asks each one of us (who has received her bag) to send in a picture of the bag being used. And she promptly publishes the picture along with the mail we write in while sending the picture…A great way to ensure accountability and also make us (receivers) feel special, right! (really thoughtful)

My update has been published too…Ah! I am a mini celebrity now! She has published my pictures in her blog – I have been sick so had sent the picture a bit late (and that also explains why I look so drained out :)….Here is the link to the post`

I am using my green bag lady bag (printed one in the front ) with my cotton bag from the university days and the orange bag, a gift from my brother (gifted to me about five years ago, honoring my green efforts!)…Until next time….Take care and keep the planet green!