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Carbon Labels
Report of Seminar Birdcage Walk London18 May 2007, Sponsored by TESCO in conjunction with UKERC.

The long term aim is to introduce a "carbon label" for consumers to be able to make informed choices. This is intended to drive retailers and producers to a less carbon intensive way of production. It is recognised this is not possible right now, but is quite a journey.

While Tesco are sponsoring the initiative, there is general agreement among everybody participating - which includes just about all shades of opinion, that the aim is to produce a methodology that should be relatively robust and recognisable for all. While a UK initiative, our eyes are on informing Europe and further afield, much like the BSI did for ISO standards previously. More explanation about UK leading on carbon labels from EE&SD

This Seminar followed a two day Workshop in Oxford (Full Workshop Report and latest developments from UKERC) which raised these issues for discussion.

Full Seminar Report

1. What is Carbon labelling?

It is one system consisting of two activities:

Carbon Analysis: This is the measurement of what is going on, including accreditation , that needs to be comprehensive and cosnistent. This is hidden to consumer so is sometimes referred to as the "backside".

Places where there may already be useful figures: Many organisations are part of Climate Change Agreements, and some may have data in Sedex, an Online Ethical database. You can use our online databases.

Carbon Display: This is what to inform user - whether customer or government. Label is only 1 possibity - see later.

2. Benefits of Label:

* Inform & Influence all of the (food) chain. It is curious that "food" was virtually ignored on companies environmental agenda until realtively recently. Now it is being realised that food may be able to contribute most to carbon dioxide reduction. (see our Sustainable Food site more) .

* Part of a Target of 10% of UK emissions (ie reducing 10% of UK total via the food chain). Will look first at Carbon the food chain, then may add other GHGs, then may add other than food.

* Fits Climate Change Bill, and its requirements. (Presumably part of this is that retailers are going to be part of Emissions Trading Scheme) .

* Empowers all in supply chain:
Producers Reformulate - Retailers choice\edit - Consumers switch - All more efficient. What about the workers?

* While benefits of EU A-G scheme for white goods has already driven manufacturers to A/B only, others bear the scars of the failure of EUs Eco-Label scheme.

* Do not want to repeat the mess in food nutrition labelling - with the traffic light scheme and GDA labels.

3 Which gases?

CO2 OK, what about other GHGs - methane, NOx, refrigerants.

What about other impacts, eg water? (and water vapour is of course a major GHG - much greater contriubutor to global warming, but not one considered in climate change calculations)

General feeling was that all gases should be covered even if difficult at first. Aim to have comprehensive C inventory of all products.

4.Which stages?

Do we include not only the production and sales stages, but also the "household" stages, over which it is difficult to see how retailers could influence behaviour. Do we include producers, supplers, retailers - household, disposal.?

Consensus appeared to be for all stages to be counted,.

5. How robust?

Here are three main levels that could be developed:

Higher - Data used in label with specific C value

Medium - Data used in label without C value

Low - Data for internal use only

We need to develop a Reference Data Set - this where standard figures are used based on average calculations - say CO2 contribution per passenger air mile. This allows companies to improve on the defaults-

Carbon Intensity of electricity (KgCO2/kwh)
= 0.5

Amount of electricity used (kwh)
= 100 (for you to reduce)

Result (kgCO2)
= 50

6. Which Institutions?

Only one Instituion named and felt agreed is Carbon Trust to develop methodology keeping sight of EDGs - European Environmental Standards (check/link)

Other comments

There are many complicated and contradictory Calculations. eg Tomato example - UK may use more energy thanSpain, but what if that energy is CHP rather than oil?

As it is unclear what consumers may want, and it is unlikely they will all want the same, may be worth going and asking them

Our Comments

Let's stop thinking about a very limited "hard copy" label ("Not on the Label" showed its limitations). Start considering an electronic label, which could be much like present bar code, only pointing other way - not back to the store but to you, the customer. Interested customers (relatively limited but important) could put "Carbon Code" number into computer (their own or one in store@Checkout?) to find out a range of values about carbon.

With this technology linked to online databases of inputted data, there are 10 fields with numbers 1-9 to determine a range of carbon properties. Imagine 3 fields for product properties ('pre-shelf'), 3 for household and 3-4 for others like nitrogen and water.
(There are much more powerful technologies like QR Code to convey more to customers, depending on what they are interested in)

As one of the speakers said: "Whichever way we go with Methodology, we can make a start now by Measuring........which is exactly where our Carbon Counting Toolkit starts..

Produced by Environmental Practice at Work Publishing Company Ltd. Copyright 2007