All About Green

How much carbon does a bag of potato chips cost? - Carbon labelling on merchandise

Author: Green Power
A packet of potato chips
Photo from Pixabay

Consumers today are smarter than before – they are no longer attracted solely by the design of product packaging, but will look more closely at the labels on the package. There are various types of labels: nutritional information of food, ingredient lists of daily products, washing tags on clothing, etc. These are all important information that help consumers select products that fit their needs. If we are to choose products more friendly to the Earth, is there any label that we can refer to?

Carbon Footprint Label is becoming popular in European and American countries. Companies take into account the life cycle carbon emission of their products - throughout the process of manufacturing, packaging, logistic, selling and disposing, and by using a simple figure, allow consumers to understand the environmental cost of the products. Take a bag of potato chips weighed 34.5 grams as an example: from planting the potatoes, to dehydration, frying, packaging, and transporting to supermarkets for sale, the total carbon emissions are 75 grammes, which is double the weight of the potato chips produced.

At present, the Carbon Footprint Label is already used in a range of products, from snacks, skin care products and sports shoes to computer mice. Consumers can check out the label when shopping. More products with lower carbon footprints are being developed for the market of environmentally conscious consumers. For example, a sports company announced that it will launch a brand of low carbon footprint sport shoes this year - from the materials, packaging to transport, the total life cycle carbon emissions are only 3 kilogrammes.

Lack of consistency in labels makes comparisons difficult

While carbon footprint labelling seems to be helping consumers to make more environmentally friendly choices, there are issues to be tackled. Firstly, there is so far no standard for the labelling scheme. Calculating carbon emissions is very complicated. Adopting different reference figures in calculation, variations in results can be large even for the same product. The Carbon Footprint Label may become a “greenwash” tool, without the public knowing whether the calculation methodology is objective and reliable. In addition, different methodologies in calculation make it hard for consumers to compare products from different companies. The lack of consistency also means that the public may have difficulty in judging whether the figure on the Carbon Footprint Label indicates high, low or normal levels of carbon emissions.

In view of this, Panera Bread, a catering company, has partnered with the World Resources Institute to design a carbon label that is more user friendly. A green smiling emoji by their menu entree means that creating the item emits less than 5.38 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide - equivalent to 25% less carbon emissions; for food, this fulfils the objective set in the Paris Agreement. With a standardized and simple icon, consumers can lower their carbon impact conveniently.

Every choice by us consumers impacts the Earth’s future. Accurate information contributes to better choices. When the carbon footprint label becomes more standardized and widely recognised, it can empower consumers to make better informed choices for the Earth.