I don’t think anyone should be surprised that Tesco has dropped its association with the carbon reduction label. The early reported costs of achieving the label beggared belief – and even with economies of scale, the approach was never going to grow legs. The whole scheme seemed like a pipe dream when it was announced, given the number of products on the average supermarket shelf.
And the problem was not only the reported costs of assessment, but also getting consumers to understand the results. Did we really think that consumers would understand or engage with the idea that 80g of CO2 for a bag of crisps was good or bad?
Let’s also be clear that Tesco has only ditched a carbon label, not a true ‘eco-label’ – i.e. one that seeks to take into account all manner of environmental impacts in a product’s lifecycle. A single issue label was always going to be controversial, particularly being promoted by only one of the big supermarkets looking for green hero status.
What’s the alternative?
Well, it is nearly 20 years since the EU Ecolabel scheme was adopted yet few consumers recognise the flower logo which signifies lower overall environmental impact across a large range of product types. The hard work has already been done to agree criteria for categories as diverse as shampoos and lightbulbs – and the criteria are accepted and consistent across the EU. The benefit is that consumers don’t have to understand grams of CO2 to work out the benefit, they just have to look for whether the flower logo is there or not. So why did we need a new scheme anyway?
If the supermarkets are really serious about informing their customers on lower impact products, perhaps it’s time to dust off the Ecolabel Regulation and give it a fresh look? Of course, it would help if the member state governments took a similar view and helped.
On a related note my company, Two Tomorrows, has been working with Chevrolet on its new approach to environmental labelling in the auto industry.