An outlook on mandatory carbon labeling

Carbon food labels are being actively demanded by many customers, but there’s more to consider before making them mandatory for all companies. This blog looks at both the good and the bad involved with implementing carbon labels.

An outlook on mandatory carbon labeling

The invention of carbon labels 

You might still remember Oatly’s petition to make carbon food labels mandatory. Ever since the debate on climate-friendly food habits began, more and more brands have raised awareness on outdated regulations and the responsibility of governments to inform their citizens on what impact their consumption has on health, the climate, and animals. When companies fail to act voluntarily on matters that should be self-explanatory, it is the government’s job to either set incentives or implement regulations, so Oatly argues. But before we just nod and say “Amen!”, let’s first explore carbon labels a bit more. 

What are carbon labels and why are they useful? 

Oatly started the talk on carbon food labels, but really, you could apply a label to any kind of product. You want to buy this sweater? How high are the emissions compared to another brand? You want to book this workshop? How high are the emissions for it to take place and for you to attend? You’re unsure whether to go by train or book a flight? Let’s check how high the difference in emissions is. We’ve all been learning about online carbon footprint calculators in school that estimated your overall footprint based on your behavior. Did any of you change your behavior after, knowing that certain actions cause high emissions? I presume no. So why should carbon labels be useful then? 

There is a very simple principle behind this. While you do know that flying emissions are a lot higher than those of a train ride for the same distance, you might anyway choose the flight for different reasons. But do you know the difference in emissions between apple A and B? Are you aware that cucumbers have a higher carbon footprint than avocados? 

Carbon labels soon to be everywhere? 

After Oatly, also Unilever and Nestlé made promises to print the carbon label on all their products soon. But herein lies the problem: If we want carbon labels to give us meaningful insights, we need to make sure the data is comparable. That means Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions should be measured as accurately as possible. And here’s the problem. While most companies already measure some amount of their emissions accurately, we’re by far not on a common level. And when you want to measure the emissions of a single product, you need even more detailed data. So, making labels mandatory does not change the situation. Before we consider such measures, regulations should support companies in measuring emissions, also along their value chain.  

So, no carbon labels after all? 

We believe that customers deserve getting climate-related information on products they purchase. And not only that: Customers actively demand them. Carbon labels are not only about enabling a low-carbon life but rather about making informed decisions. As we at Tracks would say: You cannot manage what you don’t measure. We talk about it in the business context normally, but you can apply this to your personal life too. Having all the information you need, can only improve the decisions you make. You choose to ignore the knowledge you just gained? Well, that’s absolutely fine. But at least you had a choice after all. And many might take the time to shortly compare cheese A and B and the apple from Germany with the one from New Zealand and in the end go for the low carbon product. 

You want to find out more about emissions management? Check out our LinkedIn here. We share the latest news on carbon visibility, the transportation sector and many product infos over there. 

 Photo by Thomas Le from Unsplash