Saturday, June 30, 2007

UK Carbon Labelling

The UK is moving forward fast on understanding the amount of energy and carbon in their national food system. The main organizations moving forward on this are the Carbon Trust, The UK Energy Research Center (UKERC), and the Environmental Change Insitute at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment (ECI).

On May 18, 2007, various government, NGO, and private sector organizations met in London to discuss how carbon labelling of products should occur. The ECI weblink contains various documents pertaining to this symposium. This idea, one I have been discussing ever since first seeing the Carbon Trust label work, is gathering energy (pun intended) especially with the announcement by UK supermarket giant Tesco "to develop a carbon footprint labelling measure for all products sold in store, and cut the cost of many energy-efficient goods." Orion magazine reported that Tesco will spend £5 million to research methods for calculating the carbon content of retail goods.

on May 3, 2007, was an earlier Carbon Labelling Roundtable that began the discussions around what a carbon label would actually entail. A lot of work needs to be done to fully understand what is to be measured, the relationships between various segments and sectors of the food industry, and what incentives are needed to encourage low carbon foods.

One thing I want to highlight deals with this basic question: where do we start?

Various report comments touch on the idea of "Just do it" and to start moving on what we do know as we develop what we don't know. Considerations were also made as to "Which products first?". From the May 3rd Rountable report (1) :

" The participants put forward various possible criteria which would help determine which products to begin carbon profiling. The participants identified their priorities and the results are ranked below - those in bold were most strongly supported:
  • components of a standard shopping basket (as for the retail price index) (this implies that a standard shopping basket of particular goods could be introduced as a way of comparing the carbon footprint of retailers)
  • products where data available
  • biggest potential for carbon saving
  • where there is supply chain interest / enthusiasm
  • simplest to measure
  • where greatest GHG variation within category
  • organic products
  • entire categories rather than products
  • highest sales volume
  • where consumers most likely to switch
  • low food mile products
  • non-food vs food
  • non-contentious
  • most carbon intensive
The report of this meeting to the May 18 roundtable added "Driven by procurement" as another priority area.

Source: (1) Brenda Boardman, "Carbon Labelling: report on roundtable 3rd-4th May 2007, St Anne’s College, University of Oxford", UKERC/ECI

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