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Trading Carbon : November 2011
2007 established the Carbon Reduction Label's life-cycle assessment methodology -- PAS 2050 -- as the de facto international standard for carbon footprinting a product. However, the recently revised PAS 2050 now faces competition in the field of international carbon footprinting standards. In October, the GHG Protocol launched a Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard. And the International Organisation for Standardization is currently developing a standard on carbon footprinting of products (ISO 14067). Both these new standards will assist companies to understand the climate impact of their products and seek certification through a labelling scheme. But, perhaps the most significant development in carbon labelling, is the first tentative movement by some governments towards making carbon labels mandatory. While voluntary carbon labelling schemes have long been supported by governments in a number of countries, France is the first country to seriously contemplate a mandatory carbon labelling scheme for all consumer goods. Not only will the French mandatory scheme cover the carbon footprint of consumer goods, but it will also inform French consumers of other relevant environmental impacts specific to the consumer product type. Information could be given on water consumption, use of natural resources, impact on biodiversity, etc. While no date has yet been set for mandatory environmental labelling, the French government is currently piloting a labelling scheme. Mandatory environmental labelling has been under discussion for several years in the country, and last year its parliament agreed on a possible mandatory scheme after a trial phase of one year starting in July 2011. Over 160 companies are currently providing French consumers with environmental information on the goods they purchase. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go before a mandatory scheme can actually be enforced. While carbon footprinting will be the base environmental characteristic to be displayed for each consumer product type, what other relevant environmental impacts should be communicated to consumers for each product type? Will it be an actual environmental label or will it be only a matter of communicating the environmental footprint of products through websites? With many other questions to be answered, the pilot scheme should provide the foundation for a mandatory scheme acceptable to consumers and producers. There is unarguably merit in providing consumers with more information about the climate impacts of the products they purchase. Not only can it help consumers find low- emissions products, but it can also build awareness of the role that individuals play in GHG emissions. Carbon footprints include an estimation of the emissions associated with a product after its purchase. If this information is communicated to consumers, they can see that their decision to, for example, tumble dry a t-shirt significantly increases the climate impact of that product. This understanding of the factors that influence a product's carbon footprint can lead to a greater appreciation of the shared responsibility of consumers and industry to reduce emissions. However, carbon labelling is not without risks. The cost impact on businesses can be significant. Carbon footprinting is an expensive and complex exercise. The proliferation of multiple carbon footprinting methodologies adds to the complexity for businesses seeking certification in more than one market. While mandatory labelling of all products can assist consumers in comparing products within the same category, any government policy that requires the labelling of all consumer products would be ambitious. Reports in The Guardian newspaper in October last year estimated that it would take one UK supermarket chain centuries to label all its products based on its current rate of labelling. Developing countries may also be disadvantaged by a rapid shift towards carbon labelling. Developing economies are often located far from target markets. They tend to rely heavily on the export of unprocessed goods and commodities, which can be costly to transport. Furthermore, the inclusion of land-use change as a criterion in carbon footprinting methodologies favours developed countries where land clearing occurred centuries ago. So while there is good reason for governments to actively encourage companies to measure their carbon footprint and arm consumers with the knowledge they need to inform their purchasing decisions, there is a need for caution. Nonetheless, this is not likely to stop governments that are keen to take the lead on climate change. We are likely to continue to see growing government action on carbon labelling in the years to come. l Sarah O'Brien is an environmental, health and safety (EHS) consultant and Flore Cognat is an EHS junior consultant with Enhesa, a global EHS regulatory consultancy firm headquartered in Br ussels and Washington, DC www.enhesa.com 41 CARBON LABELLING France is the first country to consider a mandatory labelling scheme for all consumer goods November 2011 Sarah O'Brien
December - January 2011