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June 14, 2021

Retailers move to put carbon footprint labels on products

There are plenty of so-called green products on the market, from natural phosphate-free dish soaps to bleach-free coffee filters, but promoting the low-carbon nature of retail products in Canada has yet to take hold.

Bull Has the time finally arrived?

“It’s a really interesting question,” Andrew Pelletier, vice-president of sustainability at Walmart Canada, told Corporate Knights. “So far, we’re not really seeing a big movement from people going out and spending more on products that are sustainable.”

But, around the world, consumers have more information to work with. U.K. grocery giant Tesco already puts carbon labels on more than 500 products — from milk to toilet paper.

Tesco found that 60 per cent of its customers would actively seek out a product with a low-carbon footprint, providing it was convenient and didn’t cost more.

The most popular label so far in Europe comes through a non-profit outfit called Carbon Trust. So far, the U.K.-based organization has signed up 90 brands covering 5,000 different products.

The carbon footprinting approach has its doubters, however: “Carbon numbers on food labels really don’t work,” says Mike Berners-Lee, a U.K.-based expert on and author of the new book How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything.

“Over 95 per cent of consumers have no idea whatever as to what an 800-gram footprint means — they have no sense of scale.”

A basic system of a few labels that can be slapped on products and describe in simple terms the climate-friendly characteristics of the supply chain behind it makes more sense, he says.

In Canada, some companies are flirting with this simpler approach. This summer, Kraft Canada will begin printing the logo of green energy Bullfrog Power on packages of Dad’s oatmeal cookies, which will be made using renewable electricity and green natural gas services purchased from Bullfrog.

But should individual companies, let alone individual countries, be marketing their own low-carbon labels — especially, as in the case with Bullfrog, when they double as a corporate brand?

Would low-carbon labelling influence you? Is there a risk that too many labels will enter the market and consumers will become confused or disinterested?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money

* Follow Gordon on Twitter here.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...