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Does Carbon Labeling Overwhelm Grocery Shoppers? Tesco Says No

Tesco, a popular British supermarket chain, earlier this month started printing milk pint labels with information about the product’s carbon footprint.

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Tesco, a popular British supermarket chain, earlier this month started printing milk pint labels with information about the product’s carbon footprint. It seems uncontroversial enough–Tesco already puts carbon labels on orange juice, detergent, and other items–but Green Inc. points out that some people are concerned that new labels could somehow “confuse and worry” consumers, mostly because carbon labeling distills a complex carbon calculation process into a single number. It’s a concern that prompted Tesco to send out a press release defending its decision to label milk.

In a survey conducted among 2,024 respondents earlier this month, Tesco found that 50% of consumers understand the concept of a carbon footprint, compared to 35% last year. And over half of those surveyed said they would actively seek out foods with lower carbon footprints if information becomes available. It’s true that carbon footprint calculations are not perfect, but they at least provide rough estimates. As one PepsiCo spokesman commented, “Perfect should not be the enemy of good” in this case.

The more consumers see carbon footprint labels, the more they will be inclined to do research and find out what a carbon footprint is. Few people are likely to become confused or scared by a label picturing of a footprint emblazoned with the product’s carbon footprint. And hey, some people might even be interested to know that a pint of skim milk has a carbon footprint of 716 grams of CO2, while a pint of whole milk has a footprint of 916 grams. Not everyone may know the methodology behind the calculations, but most consumers know that a lower carbon footprint is best, especially since Tesco explains on the label that it is committed to reducing it. Instead of quibbling over the intelligence of grocery shoppers, the carbon footprint labeling scheme should be expanded so that even more consumers can learn about the importance of CO2 emissions.

[Via Green Inc.]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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