Nutrition Labels for Low Carbon Dieters
I've always been a proponent of ensuring that nutritional information is available for all food products. But nutritional labels on light bulbs and laundry detergent? That's right, says Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer. They've recently begun placing "carbon footprint" labels on twenty of their products. Modeled visually after nutritional labels, these stickers detail the carbon emissions generated in the production of each item.
While emissions information on household items isn't yet available in the U.S., shoe manufacturer Timberland places carbon labels on each of its products, ranking each product on a climate-impact scale. Something to keep in mind if you're interested in reducing your carbon footprint-- no pun intended.
By Jeffrey Stinson
LONDON — Labels on some British products now list not only their fat and salt content, but their "carbon footprint" as well in an attempt to appeal to environmentally conscious shoppers. The initiative could spread to the USA.
Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer, is providing the information on 20 items. The labels list how much carbon dioxide was emitted from the burning of oil or other fossil fuels — known as the carbon footprint — to get laundry detergent or low-energy light bulbs onto store shelves.
The experiment in about 1,800 Tesco grocery and department stores is designed to help consumers who are increasingly concerned about climate change know which companies are working to reduce carbon emissions — and reward them by buying their products.
"Companies get credit for doing the right thing, and consumers can make informed decisions," said Euan Murray, who heads the labeling program for Carbon Trust, an independent environmental company set up by Britain's government in 2001.
Tesco's program is the largest yet with Carbon Trust, which was established to promote a low-carbon economy. Some labels are starting to appear on shelves now; the rest are coming in the next few months, Tesco says.
Only 20 companies are involved so far in developing labeling in Britain, although 200 have applied, according to Carbon Trust.
"We've created momentum, and we think we are going to be able to build more," Murray says. "A number of American companies have approached us on pilot projects. I think it can work there. The U.S. consumer is just as receptive to this sort of thing."
To participate in the program, firms have to reduce emissions in making their products over two years or remove the label. Carbon Trust, in turn, provides a standard measurement of emissions from farm to factory to store shelves. "We give credibility to the labels," Murray says.
Murray won't say yet which U.S. companies have expressed interest. But Carbon Trust is working with Coca-Cola in the United Kingdom. Tesco, which opened Fresh & Easy grocery stores in California in November, says it has no plans to expand the labeling in the USA yet.
PepsiCo International already is involved. Its Walkers potato chips — what the Brits call "crisps" — is the biggest user of the labels here. Every bag of Walkers crisps has had the label for the past year, stating each bag used 75 grams of carbon dioxide in production.
Nicki Lyons, spokeswoman for PepsiCo UK, says the labeling program has been "incredibly successful." She says Walkers already has found ways to reduce carbon emissions by cutting transportation costs and by recycling water.