How do you know that concern about climate change has reached the mainstream? When a product's carbon footprint is a factor in every buying decision.
And how do you know the carbon footprint of a product? Through eco-labeling – a label disclosing the amount of energy used to produce the product, or the amount of CO2 that producing the product released into the atmosphere. The idea is similar to nutrition labeling – give consumers the knowledge they need to make informed choices.
Eco-labeling is springing up all over the place:
- In January, the British supermarket chain Tesco announced it will label its 50,000 Tesco-branded food and clothing products with a carbon footprint measure. Impressive – especially since it will cost the company almost $1 billion.
- Timberland labels its shoes with "Our Footprint", which includes the amount of energy, in kilowatt hours, used to produce the pair of shoes.
- Last week Wal-Mart announced that it will score its electronic products on environmental sustainability.
- Also last week, the U.K. company Carbon Trust announced the launch of a Carbon Reduction Label. The label will show the greenhouse gases released in the manufacture, transportation, and disposal of consumer goods.
- Yahoo's Green Car Center provides a "Green Rating" for new automobiles.
You can find more examples at Eco-Labels, the Consumers Union Guide to Environmental Labels.
While eco-labels are a great idea, there are two problems. Carbon footprints are complicated to assess, and without standardization and evaluation by a third party there's no way to know their accuracy. Also, without an industry-wide standard measure, you don't know whether a particular carbon footprint is good or bad – how it compares to other products in the same category. Still, you have to start somewhere and this is a good start!