Carbon footprint labelling might not have achieved the same visibility on Britain's supermarket shelves as Fairtrade products which give a higher price to small producers in developing countries. The newer eco-labelling scheme does not have so wide a range of products. But the new Carbon Reduction Label, with its distinctive black footprint logo, will be attached to £2bn worth of products by the end of this year because of the volume of goods being turned over by giant brands like Walkers crisps, Kingsmill bread and Tate & Lyle sugar. And now Tesco has announced that it will be adding the label to its own-brand pasta and 100 other products.
The footprint logo is a small but important step. It shows that a manufacturer has worked with the Carbon Trust to measure the footprint of a product and is committed to further reductions over a two year period. Some 90 brands and 5,000 individual products are now in the scheme which aims to reduce carbon used in everyday household items. The idea is in its early stages. A few products actually give a figure for the amount of carbon used in the manufacture and packaging of a product. So it is possible to compare, for example, Tesco's freshly-squeezed orange juice, at 360 grams per serving, against its concentrated equivalent, which uses just 260 grams because more energy is required to chill and transport squeezed juice. But with many other products it is impossible to tell whether a product's commitment is cosmetic or significant.
So far only Walkers crisps have carried the logo long enough to show that it has reduced the footprint of its crisps by 7 per cent since 2007 – by running its delivery trucks on biodiesel containing 5 per cent used cooking oil, training its staff to drive in a more fuel efficient way and reducing the weight of its packaging. The firm is now investigating whether potato peelings can be used to make crisp packets.
The attractions to manufacturers are threefold. Using less energy saves them money. It also places them ahead of the game should government in future introduce energy-saving requirements on the business sector. And those firms which deal direct with the public perceive that they will attract the custom of activist consumers who see every pound they spend as a kind of economic vote. Consumer pressure has scored victories on worker exploitation in developing countries and on animal testing. It might make a difference on climate change too. It will never be a substitute for proper carbon-taxing, but eco-labelling is a development to be welcomed.