Editorial Feature

How Could Carbon Labeling Benefit Society?

As the public is starting to become much more conscious of where its products come from, and the associated impact on the planet in their production, carbon labeling offers a transparent way of finding out what levels of CO2 emissions are associated with what we buy. This not only raises awareness as a society but also allows companies to become more sustainable and gain consumer trust. There are some challenges to overcome, however, as carbon labeling is not yet implemented everywhere.

carbon labeling

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A carbon label states the CO2 emissions produced in relation to a product, whether through its manufacturing, transportation, or disposal. This informs consumers who wish to reduce their carbon footprint on the planet during global warming.

The very first carbon label in the world called the Carbon Reduction Label was first introduced by the Carbon Trust in 2006 in the UK. The implementation of low-carbon product certification was pioneered to reduce the impact of carbon emissions on the production and service sectors.

Products that have since taken on carbon labels include Walkers crisps, Kingsmill bread, British Sugar, Cemex cement, Marshalls paving, and Quaker Oats. Tesco was a leading company taking this system on since 2007, labeling their washing detergent, light bulbs, fruit, milk, and toilet paper. The scheme increased in popularity beyond the UK, in countries such as the United States, Canada, Switzerland, France, and Japan. Now, 43 countries use the carbon labeling scheme.

It has even extended to Asia, with Japan having begun a carbon footprint labeling scheme where the labels appeared on food and drink items from 2009, detailing each product's carbon footprint under a government-approved calculation and labeling system.

Carbon Labeling Challenges

Carbon Labeling is yet to be widely adopted in some countries such as China, in part due to challenges faced in the system. According to a 2021 study published by Frontiers, there are some improvements needed in the scheme, and questionable consumer interest. The co-authors wrote that:

Consumers have a lower perception towards carbon labelling. On the one hand, there is no direct relationship between carbon labelling and consumers’ perceived benefit. On the other hand, it is difficult for consumers to assess their direct and indirect carbon footprints, which greatly reduces their enthusiasm to participate in carbon labelling practices.

Another key point raised is that there are numerous other labels presented on the packaging of products such as whether it is organic, fair trade etc. Having different labels creates complexity in the design of the packaging, and potentially information overload, causing confusion for customers buying the products.

There are also great challenges that come before the product hits the supermarket shelves. Determining the carbon footprint for a specific item can be very difficult to do, as there are many complicated factors to consider. The co-authors say in their publication that “the methodology of carbon labelling certification is different in dimension and boundary, which needs to be optimized.”

For example, the carbon footprints of crops vary according to where they are produced. The co-authors also explain that “the carbon footprint of the same products consumed in different channels can be deemed as different due to consumers’ preferences for retail channels and modes of transportation, which may decrease credibility of carbon labelling scheme.”

Is Carbon Labeling the Future?

The study published in Frontiers outlines some areas of improvement which can help inform the future of carbon labeling so that details can be refined, made more accurate, and reduce confusion while gaining consumer interest and trust. Future carbon labels on products should be more transparent, clear, and digestible for the public.

Despite some drawbacks, the benefits of carbon labeling are clear for consumers and companies wishing to be more sustainable. Consumers can be more aware of their impact, as knowledge is the basis required to fight the climate crisis. According to Clever Carbon, consumers currently care more about sustainable impact. Importantly, brands that are not afraid to be accountable and who are clearly eco-minded can stand out.

Carbon labeling may become the future of travel, as carbon labels are even being introduced for travelers to help customers choose greener holidays, according to Which.co.uk. The calculation would show up on travel sites, showing the CO2 emissions that would be given off by the trip. This includes not only the flight but the food and accommodation involved.

According to Which’s survey, more than 60% told them they thought carbon labeling was a good idea, and around half said they would choose a greener chip with the option given to them. Currently, only a few companies are carbon labeling, including Much Better Adventures and Pura Aventura.

References and Further Reading

Product carbon footprinting: the new business opportunity [Online]. Carbon Trust. Available at: http://www.carbontrust.com/resources/reports/footprinting/product-carbon-footprinting-the-new-business-opportunity

Japan to launch carbon footprint labelling scheme [Online]. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/aug/20/carbonfootprints.carbonemissions

Carbon Trust – website [Online]. Available at: https://www.carbontrust.com

Policy Implications on Carbon Labeling Scheme Toward Carbon Neutrality in China. Front. Environ. Sci., 12 November 2021. https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2021.739943

Clever Carbon – website [Online]. Available at: https://clevercarbon.io/carbon-labelling-guide/

Rhodes, J. (2021) Is carbon labelling the future of travel? [Online] Which? Available at: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/10/is-carbon-labelling-the-future-of-travel/

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Clarissa Wright

Written by

Clarissa Wright

Clarissa is a freelance writer specializing in science communication, contributing to a range of online media. Due to her lifelong interest in the natural world, she studied a BSc in Geology & Petroleum Geology at the University of Aberdeen, and a Master’s degree in Applied & Petroleum Micropalaeontology at the University of Birmingham.

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