Building Carbon Footprint Awareness with Carbon Labeling
Today many consumers are willing to do their part in fighting climate crisis by choosing the right product. However, consumers often have a hard time determining the environmental impact of products. One increasingly popular way of being transparent is through carbon footprint labelling.
A carbon footprint (or greenhouse gas footprint) is the “amount of gaseous emissions that are relevant to climate change and associated with human production or consumption activities". 1 Many companies including Allbirds, Just Salad and Numi Tea have introduced carbon footprint labels on their products.
Numi Tea Vice President, Strategic Sourcing & Sustainability, Jane Franch, told me about how and why carbon labeling is a valuable opportunity to develop a carbon literacy in the consumer population. Below are some key points from my recent articles on Numi Tea:
With regard to the motivation behind the decision, Franch says, “We do that through mindful decisions about the way we source the products we bring to market and how we package them. That’s really been a part of our company’s DNA since the very beginning, and we have incrementally pushed ourselves further and further.”
When asked about how carbon labeling can help consumers make decisions, Franch explains “If you think about when nutritional information was first required on packaging, no one could tell you what a calorie was. So it’s not about whether everybody knows what a gram of carbon is; it’s about developing that cultural competency and literacy around carbon in a similar way to how we developed it around calories.”
Carbon labeling can be a challenging task for some businesses. But Franch told me n the case of Numi Tea, the process is made easier by the fact that they have built a direct and long-term relationship with farmers.
To create a carbon label, the first step is to acquire data of carbon emission. “Our objective was to get high quality data by enlisting primary sources in the collection.”, Franch says. She further explains, “We didn't feel like we were going to get the right information if we just used proxy data that's publicly available because organic farming is quite different than conventional farming. So we did that original data capture.” To achieve that, Numi Tea has partnered with Soil & More Impacts, a European company that specializes in soil data measuring, to capture data on farming methods and the soil.
The data proves to be of great value. “When we're talking about agriculture and food products, most of the conversation rightly is around farm-level, field-level emissions’ Franch says. “What it also highlighted was that the emissions were really coming from the processing equipment in the countries of origin… From there, we analyzed the transportation and packaging.”
One obstacle that came up is how much carbon is released when consumers boil their water. Franch describes how they tackled the problem through collaboration. “First, we have approximate distribution centers that we send our teas to…then PLANET FWD took the distribution of all our tea across the United States and looked at the typical grid mix in each of those places as well as whether it is more common to have household gas appliances or electric in particular locations.”
The effort to provide a comprehensive estimate produces surprising results. "We put a lot of tea in our tea bags, but 46% of our carbon footprint is from heating up the water...we ultimately decided that it’s all important because it’s a part of this carbon literacy that I’ve been talking about.", Franch says.
Franch provides two suggestions for companies that wish to practice carbon labeling: 1) to work out a good estimate of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and 2) to understand how carbon labeling relates to the purpose of the organization. The implication for adopting these practices can vary depending on the situation. “The information you get from there (Scope 1, 2 and 3 measurement) will dictate where you go next”. Franch says.
Carbon labeling can be an effective way to develop carbon literacy in consumers. As Franch pointed out, adopting carbon labeling is more than a good business decision. It can have a positive influence on the broader society, which will get us one step closer to solving the climate crisis.
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