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Shopping trolley - carbon labelling

Is it time for a reinvigoration of product carbon footprint labelling in Europe?

20 November 2016

Companies that clearly demonstrate the climate change credentials of their products could secure a competitive and commercial advantage, with two thirds of consumers across the UK, France and Germany saying they would like to see a recognisable carbon footprint label on products.

This was a key finding from a study of over 5,000 consumers across Europe’s three largest economies, which was conducted by YouGov for the Carbon Trust in the run up to this year’s international climate change negotiations in Marrakech.

This could create growth opportunities for greener products, services and brands, especially in France where three-quarters of the shoppers say they would feel more positive about a company that has reduced the carbon footprint of their products, of which 30 percent would feel much more positive. A majority of consumers in the UK and Germany felt the same, with 56 percent and 50 percent respectively saying they would also feel more positive.

“It is possible that we are seeing a ‘Paris Effect’ after the success of securing a global agreement on climate change last year,” said Darran Messem, Managing Director of Certification at the Carbon Trust. “Businesses that communicate their achievements in reducing emissions can secure a reputational advantage over competitors.”

Product carbon footprint labelling was originally introduced into Europe by the Carbon Trust in 2007, with major commitments from retailers and consumer goods companies. However, although carbon footprint labels are still found on supermarket shelves today, there has been an overall reduction in the use of labels as levels of consumer concern appeared to wane in the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

However, the survey did highlight an apparent value-action gap. Although a majority of consumers express that it is a good idea to use a carbon footprint label, just over half admit that they do not generally think about a product’s carbon footprint when making purchasing decisions.

But this is counterbalanced by a significant group of actively green consumers – approximately one in five shoppers in the UK, France and Germany that do consider climate change impact when making purchasing decisions. And 37 percent say that it is important for them to know that businesses they buy from are taking action to reduce the carbon footprint of their products.

“It seems we are reaching a tipping point,” Messem explained. “The demand for sustainable products is there in principle and actively green consumer behaviour is following in its wake. And this is not just happening in Europe. For example at the Carbon Trust we are actively working with the Chinese government on a major new scheme to enable greener purchasing behaviour, with a pilot taking place in Guangdong, which is an economic powerhouse of a province with a population of over 100 million.”

“We now have a binding global deal on climate change and consumer attitudes are shifting, which will create opportunities for companies with more sustainable products,” Messem added. “Businesses need to be aware of the risks and opportunities that this will create. Environmental impact is increasingly a criteria for competition, alongside price and quality. Stronger regulation and changing consumer demand is a powerful combination, businesses that take early action and build sustainability into their brand will reap the rewards.”

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