When you go grocery shopping, do you know the environmental impact of the products you\u2019re buying? You probably know that meat and dairy both have high greenhouse gas emission and land use impacts in general, but how would you compare with alternatives?\u00a0Should you buy lamb from the UK or New Zealand?\u00a0Should you pick oat, soy or almond milk instead?\u00a0Are you optimising for carbon emissions or nutritional content?\nThe problem is that while all products have detailed information about their ingredients and nutritional values, the environmental impact of your purchasing decisions is unknown. It is also unknowable. Whether it is carbon emissions, water usage or energy inputs, it is impossible to know the environmental impact of food because the information is not reported.\nInformation is power\u2026but few companies provide enough information\nThis not unique to food \u2013 very few products provide sufficient information to be able to make accurate environmental assessments. Some industries have adopted voluntary environmental certification standards, such as the\u00a0RSPO standard for sustainable palm oil\u00a0or the\u00a0FSC certification for paper, but they are the minority. Broader schemes like\u00a0Fair Trade\u00a0are also useful because they incorporate not just environmental standards but are known for their ethical credentials. But very few products are covered.\nCompany level reporting is starting to be adopted. Amazon was recently forced to release\u00a0its 2018 carbon footprint\u00a0after 9000 employees wrote an open letter criticising the lack of transparency:\n\u201cWe, the undersigned 8,695\u00a0Amazon employees, ask that you adopt the climate plan shareholder resolution and release a company-wide climate plan that incorporates the principles outlined in this letter.\u201d \u2013\u00a0Open letter to Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Board of Directors\nReporting standards for sustainability\u00a0exist and there are voluntary schemes, such as\u00a0CDP, for companies to submit environmental data in a standardised format. However, not every company participates \u2013\u00a0Amazon\u00a0does not, but\u00a0Google\u00a0and\u00a0Microsoft\u00a0do.\nIndeed, some technology companies are leading in how they approach environmental reporting. Apple is a good example of publishing detailed environmental reports as well as issuing report cards for every one of its products (at the bottom of the environmental page). Microsoft\u00a0does the same for its Surface products\u00a0(although it is not up to date with the latest 2019 line-up).\nComplexity vs consumers\nThe\u00a0consumer demand is there\u00a0for \u201csustainable\u201d products but it is currently too complex for most consumers to figure out what they should actually buy.\n\u201cThe current trend of pursuing a sustainable food production through critical purchase decisions rather than through regulation is shown to be problematic, as shopping for a more sustainable food system might be much harder than initially believed due to the conflicting values and inherent trade-offs entailed in the different notions of sustainability. Thus, critical consumerism may give way to false expectations as the complexity of choices transpires.\u201d \u2013 What to Buy? On the Complexity of Being a Critical Consumer, Gjerris, M., Gamborg, C. & Saxe, H. J Agric Environ Ethics (2016) 29: 81.\nUnfortunately, it hasn\u2019t changed much since that study was published to 2016. New companies and\u00a0startups can build environmental reporting into their culture\u00a0but established organisations need to put in more effort.\nSupply chains are complex and it\u2019s not just one company that needs to report \u2013 every element of the chain must do so. However, gathering and releasing data is crucial and the larger the company is, the more leverage they have over their suppliers.\nWe know food labelling works (especially if it is simple) but the information needs to be available. The format \u2013 whether traffic light colours on packages or detailed numerical reporting \u2013 will be determined by who the audience is, but companies should publish all the data they have.\nWe already have financial reporting requirements because without them investors cannot make informed decisions. In the UK, reporting on greenhouse gas emissions has been\u00a0required by all quoted companies since 2013, and reporting of global energy use since 2019. However, these are limited because they are published in aggregate. Any company that comes under the reporting requirements is likely to have more than a single product. Without the granular product level data, it isn\u2019t particularly useful for external observers.\nThis might seem like overly heavy government regulation but reporting can easily be abbreviated for smaller organisations (just as financial statements are). It is better for government to force disclosure of information and then have the market develop its own approaches to analysing and comparing product options rather than having the government force product specific directives on companies. This is becoming easier with tools such as\u00a0Salesforce\u2019s Sustainability Cloud\u00a0and new startups such as\u00a0Emitwise. Change voluntarily or have changed forced upon you.\nWhy can\u2019t environmental impact be like the price mechanism in a properly competitive market?