C02 labelling could be new consumer superpower
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Image credit: The New York Times
Mountainous concern over climate change has seen global brands reinvent their products and make promises that their business will be better to the earth. Now, following statements and campaigns, measurability, accountability and transparency are being called for, to show action, prevent greenwashing and give end-users real power. One way to achieve this is through carbon (CO2) labelling.
Similar to how food nutrition labels became mandatory, there needs to be authenticated labels to substantiate the claim that companies are reducing their CO2 emissions, or rather, to demonstrate that is not their goal.
Mandatory carbon labelling would give consumers the data needed to measure the personal impact of their purchases, add pressure on decarbonising industries and make companies set stronger internal standards.
Uptake of carbon labelling across a variety of industries and products would also set standards not only against competitors but a company against itself and past performance.
Currently, there is not enough labelling whereby comparison is possible, but according to Carbon Trust, there is a growing number of companies wanting to put CO2 labels on their products and promote greater transparency.
In a survey of over 10,000 participates in Europe, on attitudes towards carbon labelling, Carbon Trust found the countries with the highest level of support were France, Italy and Spain, with 80, 82 and 79 per cent of consumers saying they think carbon labelling is a good idea.
Considerations for CO2 labelling
It may take some time to implement carbon labelling across the board and ensure there is consistency in measurement and metrics. Attaining the data for a products whole lifecycle is a timely task with measurements including freight, land cleared, fertiliser, feed and water used for a single ingredient having to be calculated towards a total footprint of a product, and would make the CO2 emissions labelled vary wide.
Context and education are also critical to consumers understanding the values of the carbon footprint labelled on products. People need have to be taught how to read the carbon label, make sense of the numbers and understand them in the broader context. This will not be achievable unless there is uniformity and certification from independent third-party organisations. There are currently 463 ecolabel certifications worldwide and the standards required for certification vary widely and labelling may differ across countries or continents.
Where are we seeing CO2 labelling already?
Currently, Carbon Trust's logo is used across 28,000 items from food to smartphones but there are variations of logos that can apply. They include:
‘CO2 Measured’ label
This label shows that the carbon footprint for this product has been measured and certified.
‘Reducing CO2’ label
This label shows that the product’s carbon footprint is reducing year on year and that the company has committed to achieving ongoing footprint reductions*.
‘Carbon Neutral’ label
This label shows that the product footprint is achieving ongoing reductions, and any outstanding emissions are offset**, in accordance with the international PAS 2060 standard.
‘Lower CO2’ label
The lifecycle carbon footprint of a product is significantly lower than the lifecycle carbon footprint of the market-dominant product in its category.
Only available in Sweden, the DO card tracks CO2 emissions generated from purchases and displays the number of Kg CO2 emissions per transaction in a simple app, and then recommends a price to offset those emissions- effectively putting a price on a price on carbon.
The project is United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) certified for climate compensation, and Mastercard are taking part in five active carbon dioxide reducing efforts, contributing to projects including solar and wind power.
It is believed, by having the amount of carbon dioxide from purchases displayed and seeing how much it costs to offset the carbon, people are given the tools to make a change and different choices when spending.
A Finnish hotel, Arctic Blue Resort is changing the tourism industry by showing that sustainability can pay off. When guests consume less energy, attend ecological activities and make sustainable dietary choices during their visit, the price tag of their stay can be discounted by up to 50 per cent. Benefiting the environment means guests can save more at Arctic Blue Resort.
Carbon Calories is a global initiative pushing for greater transparency and individual agency in the carbon emissions ecosystem. They provide consumers with reliable carbon data and a systematic method to assess and mitigate the carbon intensity of their lifestyles.
They aggregate data through collaborative efforts, such as the open-source wiki engine WikiCarbon, and use this data to create definite and standardized carbon emissions reports for the products consumers use.
These reports are their Carbon Statements, which look a lot like Nutrition Facts labels.
Carbon Calories also provide a global Carbon Budget and a Daily Carbon Quota that, if followed by each global citizen, will pave the way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the year 2030.
Oatly, a Swedish oat milk brand, has made it part of their mission to provide radical transparency to consumers and show the carbon footprint of its entire product life-cycle.
The brand wants to create demand for this type of information on all foods, and let consumers easily find and recognise climate-friendly food.
Oatly partner with data provider CarbonCloud to calculate the greenhouse gasses that the manufacturing of the product produces. The company says the footprint labelling increases customer loyalty and gives brands a competitive advantage. It also gives brands insight into what parts of their production chain can be addressed and improved to reduce their climate footprint.
For Oatly, it is most important that they are showing that their intentions are true.
We may still be a while away from seeing carbon labelling in Australia, but growing support and increased uptake and accountability for CO2 emissions produced by all business could be part of the missing puzzle for understanding what individual impact our purchases have.