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Carbon Footprint Labeling is Coming

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Carbon Footprint Labeling is Coming

Large_tesco_orange_juice The large UK retailer Tesco has become the world's first supermarket chain to launch a major trial of carbon footprint labeling on some of its private label brands. But first a definition - what exactly is carbon footprint labeling? It is an attempt to measure the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during the life of a product including production, use and disposal. Right now there are no regulations anywhere in the world demanding companies include this information with their product labels. But many companies aren't waiting.Tesco, in partnership with the Carbon Trust (a UK government funded organization dedicated to reducing carbon emissions), developed this pilot carbon footprint labeling system. The GHG emissions are given as carbon dioxide equivalents in order to provide a comparison of the total environmental impact of a product. Tesco included their store brand orange juice, light bulbs, potatoes, and laundry detergent in this initial trial. They have recently announced plans to label all products on their shelves with these carbon footprint labels, although no timetable has been set. If Tesco really follows through with this it will be huge. It means that every company supplying products to Tesco will have to measure the carbon footprint of its products. I can't even begin to imagine the complications and expense this will cause many companies. It reminds me of Wal-Mart's Sustainable Packaging Scorecard which began earlier this year and is really driving sustainable packaging forward. There will be challenges along the way but companies like Wal-Mart and Tesco are so big they can dictate rules in this area that can really create permanent change. I expect that some form of carbon footprint labeling will become standard fare on product labels within a decade and probably sooner. Once a formula is agreed upon all companies will just measure their carbon footprint in a similar way to how they measure profits today, and it will become second nature. Then consumers will be able to make truly informed choices. Do I want this expensive laundry detergent with a low carbon footprint or the cheap one that has a high carbon footprint? Of course, this will mean valuable product label real estate will need to be devoted to this carbon footprint information. But we will all adapt. Food manufacturers adapted to the mandatory nutritional information on food products and consumers now find this information invaluable. With carbon footprint labeling we will not only be able to make choices for the benefit of our own health, but for the health of the entire planet.