Carbon Trust to Begin Labeling Products Down Under

Carbon Trust to Begin Labeling Products Down Under

Consumer products with labels displaying the amount of carbon dioxide emissions generated from production through disposal will hit store shelves in Australia next year.

The country will use the Carbon Reduction Label program developed by the Carbon Trust, a U.K. government-funded company that launched the labeling system in 2007 after testing it with multiple big-name companies, such as PepsiCo, Tesco and Cadbury Schweppes.

More than 60 product manufacturers now use the carbon labels on more than 2,500 different products in the U.K., ranging from toilet paper to potato chips. Last week, Tate & Lyle, the U.K.-based manufacturer of Splenda, said its cane sugar has a carbon footprint of 380 grams of CO2 per bag. The company spent a year analyzing the lifecycle emissions of its sugar refining business and has committed to cutting the carbon footprint of its cane sugar in order to retain the right to use the label.

Australian environmental group Planet Ark will partner with the Carbon Trust to establish the program in the country using the official labeling methodology, PAS 2050. The international standard published in late 2008 helps companies measure the emissions associated with their products during its entire lifecycle, from manufacture to disposal. The Carbon Trust worked with BSI British Standards and the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to develop PAS 2050.

The Carbon Trust also has a presence in China and the U.S., where it is working with companies such as Coca Cola and PepsiCo, according to Sujeesh Krishnan, the Carbon Trust's U.S. Business Development Manager.

The Carbon Reduction Label program includes a reduce-or-lose-it clause requiring participating companies to lower the labeled item’s carbon footprint every year. Companies market the label in several ways, such as on the physical product, online, within corporate social responsibility reports or with point-of-sale materials, such as in-store marketing campaigns.

Companies have used the process and resulting information to identify opportunities to reduce emissions. For example, smoothie maker Innocent helped one of its suppliers launch a recycling initiative that cut the amount of waste it sent to landfills by more than half.

The labels also help concerned consumers choose the item with the smallest carbon footprint. For example, Canned Diet Coke of Coke Zero carries the smallest carbon footprint compared to the rest of the company’s U.K. product line, especially when the can is recycled. Meanwhile, recycled toilet paper and paper towels from retailer Tesco produces fewer emissions than similar products made with conventional materials, according to a comparison of the carbon labels.

Nearly two-thirds of those in a recent Carbon Trust survey in the U.K. said they'd be more likely to buy products from a company that is actively trying to reduce the items' carbon footprint. Twelve percent believe companies are doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon Trust's U.S. research produced similar findings: Only 15 percent believe companies are doing enough to address climate change, Krishnan told Tuesday.

In the U.S., the beverage and outdoor industries are working together to create sector guidance on product carbon footprint methodologies using PAS 2050 as a basis, he said.  

"We feel it's a really good way to get an entire industry to move forward versus just one or two companies," Krishnan said.

Product footprint labeling is also taking on a regulatory element in the U.S. In California, AB19 would enact the Carbon Labeling Act of 2009, which would create a voluntary consumer product carbon footprint program that would be managed by the state's Air Resources Board, the agency charged with implementing the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The state already requires all 2009 model year vehicles sold in California to display a "global warming score" rating based on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the vehicle per mile.

At the federal level, Krishnan said, an amendment in the Waxman-Markey climate change bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week also provides for a voluntary product carbon disclosure program that would be managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Carbon Trust also offers consulting services to U.K. businesses interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The company said Monday it would dole out £100m (US$165.6 million) in zero-interest loans over the next two years to small- and medium-sized businesses that invest in energy efficient equipment.