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How to use carbon footprint labels?

Saara Airaksinen

Saara Airaksinen


Biocode benchmark label

The climate impacts of food products can be communicated with a variety of carbon footprint labels. However, marketing claims must always be based on researched and correctly calculated information.

Once a food company has calculated its carbon footprint and possibly used that information to improve its operations, it is time to communicate these efforts. One possible way to communicate climate actions to consumers is by using carbon footprint labels on products.

However, carbon footprint labels are not entirely straightforward. Environmental labels are currently voluntary, and there are no common rules governing them. There are several different types of labels, and their meanings can be confusing to consumers.

Nevertheless, a carbon footprint label can be a useful tool for marketing communication if the message it conveys is justified and based on well-researched information.

A carbon footprint label should not be greenwashing

Product carbon footprint labels are environmental claims that must adhere to certain conditions. At the European Union level, efforts are being made to reduce greenwashing through the proposed Green Claims Directive, which aims to require companies to provide comparable and measured data that is not misleading.

In addition to EU regulations, it is important to be aware of the laws and regulations in one’s own country. For example, in Finland, according to the Consumer Ombudsman’s guidelines, environmental marketing must provide an accurate overall picture. If a product is claimed to be carbon-neutral or environmentally friendly, the claim must be true for the entire supply chain.

When communicating environmental claims, the impact and overall significance should also be considered. The communicated environmental impacts should be significant enough in scale.

Responsibility must be verifiable so that consumers can trust the claims made. The information behind the carbon footprint label can, for example, direct consumers to check the company’s own website for transparency. Additionally, third-party verification of calculation results is important for credibility.

Variety of environmental labels

The regulation currently is not as strict for sustainability labels on product packaging as it is, for example, for nutritional information. Companies communicate their climate actions on their products using different carbon footprint labels. Some examples include:

Carbon footprint calculated label. This label indicates that the company has started climate work and has calculated its (scope 1 and 2) carbon dioxide emissions according to the international GHG protocol or has done the life cycle assessment for the product.

Carbon footprint label with emission classification. This label illustrates the product’s climate impact, for example, on a scale from A to E or with different color codes. In this label, all product categories are grouped together, and a product’s emissions are compared to this whole. For example, the carbon footprint of a plant-based product is always lower than that of a meat-containing product.

Carbon footprint label by product category with emission classification. In this label, products are divided into different categories. For example, the carbon footprint of plant-based products compares within their own categories, and meat products within theirs. This allows for a comparison of which products in a specific category are the best in terms of carbon footprint.

Numerical carbon footprint label. This label provides the calculated carbon footprint of the product. Typically, it is expressed as kg CO2e / kg, which represents the carbon footprint per kilogram of product. Another common format is to display the number as kg CO2e / 100 g. The challenge with this label is that it doesn’t clearly indicate what is a good level, which might be confusing to consumers.

Ambiguous labels. Some product labels may advertise the product as “green,” “carbon-neutral,” or “environmentally friendly.” These terms are open to interpretation, and consumers may find it difficult to understand what these terms mean in practice.

Comprehensible product comparison

Making carbon footprint comparisons within the same product category makes it easier for consumers to understand the environmental friendliness of products. Biocode’s carbon footprint label provides a simple way for food companies to demonstrate that they are monitoring the climate impact of their products and reducing their emissions. The label assigns a carbon footprint rating from A to E based on a table, and there are a total of 26 different product categories.

To obtain the label, a company must:

  1. Start calculating the product’s carbon footprint with Biocode.
  2. Obtain a rating for the product’s carbon footprint.
  3. Compare it within the appropriate product category.

Biocode awards the label to verified calculation results. The label can be used on product packaging, for communication purposes, and in sustainability reporting.

If you need well-researched and up-to-date information to support your environmental communication efforts for your products, you can try Biocode’s easy-to-use carbon footprint calculator.

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