Carbon Labeling Part 3 - The Picks & Shovels
The Third & Final Carbon Labeling (15th) Edition of the Negative Foods Newsletter
In the first carbon labelling edition, we explored why consumers need carbon footprint labels, why carbon labeling failed in the past, and why carbon labeling will succeed going forward. The second carbon labelling edition shone the spotlight on carbon labeling early adopters, as we explored the carbon labelling activities of several food brands, such as Oatly, Quorn and Unilever, and some national restaurant chains, such as Chipotle and Panera.
This week, in the third (and final) carbon labelling edition, we’ll discuss the picks and shovels of the carbon labeling gold rush. If brands are going to declare their carbon footprints on their packages to their consumers, they’re going to need tools, and we will need standards and certifications.
I had hoped this three-part series would end with clear and simple predictions and recommendations. Alas, it’s too early. For now, there is an overwhelming list of carbon ecolabels. Carbon labelling in 2021 is a dog’s breakfast, and I don’t mean the good stuff from Petaluma that Carli & Sadie enjoy.
What do we want on labels? To be effective, we’ll need carbon labels that are easy to understand, standardized and that consumers will trust. This won’t be easy, as many items on food labels already confuse consumers. But the “price per ounce” unit price found on labels in the United States is effective and IMO provides a reasonable template for carbon labels.
Perhaps there are better ways to do it, but for now I don’t see a better template than “kilograms of carbon equivalents* per product.” Oatly expresses each product’s carbon footprint in that manner. Similarly, the label on a 300-gram package of frozen Quorn mince shows 1.3 kg carbon equivalents per kilogram of mince.
If food at retail displays carbon equivalents per kilogram of product, then consumers could compare the climate footprints of their food purchases, which would give rise to Negative Foods helping to reverse climate change.
How do we get from here to there?
CarbonCloud. See the brief video below to understand how CarbonCloud helps brands like Oatly label their carbon footprints on packages.
Of course, to label products with carbon footprints, you need to know how much carbon each product emits.
Quantis. Last week we mentioned the Dutch company Upfield, which works with the international sustainability consultancy Quantis, which specializes in LCAs. They have conducted a range of LCAs for Upfield’s products, including Flora, Country Crock, Rama, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
Planet FWD. Planet FWD is the parent company of Moonshot Snacks, which appeared in the second edition of this newsletter. Planet FWD calculates the carbon footprint of products in “quick, simple steps.” Planet FWD uses product data to generate carbon labels and qualify sustainability claims.
HowGood. HowGood is an independent research company with “the world's largest database on product sustainability”. HowGood states that “being intentional about our ingredient choices is the first step toward a more sustainable and resilient food system.” HowGood’s impact modeling methodology helps Chipotle conduct a sustainability assessment of all of their ingredients. Ethan Soloviev, HowGood’s Chief Innovation Officer, recently told me that demand for HowGood is skyrocketing, which I’m happy to hear.
The Carbon Trust. The Carbon Trust is the OG for helping large brands (and governments) with their sustainability strategies. They were involved with Tesco’s early (and doomed) foray into carbon footprint labels, and they are still at it, with an array of certifications and labels, such as ‘CO2 Measured’, ‘Reducing CO2’, ‘Carbon Neutral’, and others. The variety of labels might IMO be confusing for consumers. The Carbon Trust has published a white paper for brands and other organizations to understand the benefits of carbon labeling, which can be downloaded here.
Climate Neutral Certified. Remember Bread Alone from the bread edition of this newsletter? Bread Alone gets carbon neutral certified from the non-profit Climate Neutral, which helps companies measure their carbon footprints with less cost and effort (like a simple LCA). Once a company has calculated its emissions, Climate Neutral help them purchase carbon credits to remove their emissions equivalents from the atmosphere. Then Climate Neutral helps companies develop and implement a reduction action plan to reduce future emissions.
Carbon Neutral Certified. Remember Fat Tire from the beer edition of this newsletter? Fat Tire gets carbon neutral certification from SCS Global. which, like Climate Neutral, helps companies achieve carbon neutrality by establishing product carbon footprints and then purchasing verified carbon offsets from credible sources.
Regenerative Organic Certification (“ROC”). Rodale pioneered the organic certification movement, and now they’ve set up the nonprofit Regenerative Organic Alliance to oversee the ROC. ROC is a certification for foods farmed and made in ways that meet standards for soil health, animal welfare, and farmworker fairness. One reason ROC might succeed is because of the excellent brands already involved, such a Patagonia, Nature’s Path (which I had for breakfast yesterday) and Dr. Bronner’s.
Rodale’s Executive Director Jeff Moyer recently described to me the three legs of the ROC stool as: (1) the government, because ROC requires USDA organic certification; (2) the non-profit ROA, to maintain standards and manage the certification process; and (3) businesses, to adhere to standards and bring to market ROC-certified brands. Note that ROC is a certification based on a set of practices, not about measuring and disclosing emissions. This brings up a broader debate about whether society should reward producers for practices (no till, cover crops, etc.) or outcomes (such how much soil is measured in your carbon). We won’t try to answer that question today.
Comparing Carbon Label Methods. Except for ROC, which (a) certifies practices, the tools in this edition help brands measure and disclose their carbon footprints, either (b) with a metric, such as carbon equivalents per KG, or (c) with designations such as “neutral” or “reduced”, etc.
Each of those three paths - certified practices, metrics & designations - could help consumers compare the carbon footprint of products. But the lack of standardization will hurt the cause. I hope a clear standard emerges, so that consumers can compare products based on a labels that are easy to understand, standardized and that consumers will trust.
What Negative Foods Should we Eat? I will be soon publishing a list of Negative Foods as a reference to help readers choose which foods to buy and eat. Of course I’ll be including the brands that appeared in earlier editions of this newsletter. But I need you to send me more ideas! What Negative Foods are you enjoying?
For Your Further Consideration:
* Carbon equivalents are a useful metric for comparing the emissions of various greenhouse gasses on the basis of how much they warm the planet. Click here to learn more about each of the various gasses.