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Guide: Sustainability Communication of Food – it starts with data

Food’s climate responsibility is a significant and pressing topic, considering that global food chains contribute to approximately one-third of all emissions. Effective climate actions heavily rely on addressing food production’s substantial role.

To differentiate yourself from competitors and exert influence over consumers’ purchasing decisions and corporate activities, responsible communication is key. Therefore, it’s crucial to possess a comprehensive understanding of your own climate impact and your product’s life cycle. This knowledge forms the basis for solid, knowledge-based communication and marketing strategies.

To effectively mitigate your company’s and products’ carbon footprint, you must have a clear understanding of the underlying figures governing your operations. How substantial are the carbon emissions associated with your products, and what factors contribute to them?

Life cycle calculations and reporting form the foundation for impactful climate actions. While these calculations can be voluntary, companies are increasingly subject to reporting obligations as well.

Using the insights garnered through calculations, it becomes possible to make climate-friendly changes to your company’s operations. Moreover, reports can generate additional value through effective communication.

Once you’ve calculated the carbon footprint of your food product, it’s time to communicate the results. This article explores the essential considerations when communicating the climate responsibility of food. The article delves into the following communication forms:

  1. External communication and marketing
  2. Packaging labels
  3. Internal communications

By paying attention to these aspects, you can effectively convey your commitment to climate responsibility and contribute to positive change in the food industry.

1. External communication and marketing

Consumers play a vital role in the success of products displayed on store shelves. When it comes to food products, taste often takes precedence in purchase decisions, but product responsibility can significantly influence buying motivation.

The number of “LOHAS” (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) consumers is on the rise. These consumers prioritize health, well-being, and sustainable development in their choices.

There is a growing consumer interest in environmental issues, with a desire for companies to communicate more about their responsible actions. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to external communication. Product packaging, social media, websites, and traditional media advertising are all effective channels to choose from, depending on the suitability for your specific product.

However, it’s important to note that a FIBS consumer survey reveals that nearly one-fifth of consumers (17%) have doubts about the credibility of product responsibility claims. Weak justifications in responsibility communication can be perceived as greenwashing.

According to a survey conducted by MarkkinointiUutinen and IROResearch, many Finns want to make sustainable purchase decisions, but they also find responsibility communication annoying.

Hence, in external communication, it is crucial to have credible research and data to support responsibility claims. Each claim should be backed by supporting arguments to enhance credibility.

Mistakes can even have financial consequences

Advertising is subject to regulations outlined in various laws and acts, such as the Consumer Protection Act, international advertising standards, competition legislation, and the Act on Unfair Conduct in Business Activities.

According to the Consumer Protection Act, marketing targeted at consumers must not:

  • Contradict good manners
  • Be unrecognizable as marketing
  • Cause confusion
  • Be false or misleading
  • Lack essential information

Environmental responsibility and climate claims are complex and require precise communication. Generalizations can easily lead to misunderstandings, and careless false statements can result in fines.

Having comprehensive research information about your product’s entire production chain is helpful for external communication. Additionally, environmental claims condensed into advertising slogans should always be reviewed by a life cycle assessment (LCA) expert to ensure accuracy.

Environmental claims are receiving increasing scrutiny from authorities. For instance, the EU Commission has proposed a Green Claims directive to prevent greenwashing and false environmental claims. This makes it crucial to start building sustainable environmental responsibility communication now to avoid having to rectify incorrect practices later.

By diligently conducting the necessary groundwork, basing claims on research, and making operational changes based on the information, you possess the essential components for effective external marketing.

Communication supporting export

In addition to consumers, it is crucial to effectively communicate your responsibility actions to external stakeholders such as authorities, logistics industry operators, wholesalers, and retailers. This requires providing supporting data and figures for such communication.

Retailers, including wholesalers and shops, are a significant target for external communication efforts. Like elsewhere, retailers face increasing pressure to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable choices. Food producers can assist retailers by offering well-researched information regarding the carbon footprint of their production chain.

Accurate data is equally important for export purposes. Foreign wholesalers show a growing interest in environmental responsibility and expect credible communication in this regard.

👉 Read how Jalofoods, eniferBio and Kinnusen mylly utilize carbon footprint calculations in their international business.

2. Climate responsibility in food packaging labels

Packaging labels help the consumer make choices in the store. The packages have both mandatory labels and optional packaging labels that provide additional information about the product.

Mandatory markings on product packaging are regulated at the EU level and by national regulations. The packaging labeling requirements for different types of products differ a lot.

General mandatory packaging labels for foodproducts are

  • the name of the food
  • ingredient list
  • minimum shelf life (best before label) or last date of use
  • storage instructions
  • amount of content
  • the operator’s name and address
  • nutrition label
  • food batch identifier.

Product packaging is an important communication channel

For example, labeling of nutritional values on packages is really regulated. Environmental labels, on the other hand, belong to voluntary labels, at least for the time being, for which there is no regulation yet.

However, it does not matter what kind of voluntary markings are made on the packaging. According to the FIBS consumer survey, consumers pay the most attention to the responsibility of food (52%), and environmental friendliness is the most important responsibility criterion for almost a third of consumers (31%).

Finnish consumers are therefore interested in responsibility issues, and they have an impact on purchasing decisions. According to FIBS’s research, however, consumers think that companies still have issues with how responsibility is communicated in product labels.

More than half of the respondents said that they recognized a more responsible alternative based on the packaging label. Product packaging is indeed an important communication channel, and for many consumers even the primary place to get information about the product’s environmental friendliness.

👉 Find out more about FIBS’s consumer research (in Finnish).

Regulation of environmental labels

Effective responsibility communication must always prioritize accuracy and avoid misleading information, as consumers are increasingly aware and attentive to incorrect claims. Credible responsibility communication relies on well-researched information supported by relevant data, and the veracity of claims should be easily verifiable, such as through the company’s website.

When communicating responsible claims, it is essential to consider the overall picture. For instance, if the packaging material of a product is environmentally friendly, but the food itself is non-organic and produced using fossil fuels, emphasizing the packaging’s climate-friendliness may be questionable.

Currently, environmental labeling on packages is not as precisely regulated as nutritional information labeling, but there are plans to regulate voluntary labeling. In Finland, the Market Court has issued a decision (2001:009) prohibiting entrepreneurs from using their own brand developed by the company itself.

At the EU level, various initiatives are underway. These include a proposal for a regulation on the certification of carbon removals, the Commission’s initiative to amend the directive on unfair commercial practices, and an EU project focused on justifying environmental claims.

The latest proposal for the Green Claims Directive aims to ensure clear presentation of environmental claims. When comparing products, for instance, comparable and measured data should be used. The proposal would require companies to comply with defined minimum requirements when communicating the environmental impact of products and services.

Furthermore, consumer representative guidelines emphasise the importance of providing truthful evaluations of the overall environmental marketing. Generalised environmental claims (e.g., “green” or “environmentally friendly”) can only be used when the product’s entire life cycle has been thoroughly examined and its environmental effects are significantly lower than other products in the same category.

💡 Read also: 6 tips for complying with the Green Claims directive for food companies

Woman in store

3. Internal responsibility communication

Effective responsibility communication must always be supported by tangible actions that align with the company’s values. Merely discussing climate responsibility without investing in concrete actions can undermine the credibility of such communication.

Therefore, it is crucial to actively communicate the results of life cycle calculations within the company. Internal communication, reinforced with well-researched information, helps foster a deeper understanding of the importance of climate action. Carbon footprint calculations, for instance, can provide reassurance and even drive changes in the company’s operations towards more environmentally friendly practices.

Internal communication enables the establishment of a shared understanding of the factors influencing the company’s climate impacts. It is essential for all areas of the company, from marketing to product development and logistics, to be aware of the carbon footprint of products. This ensures that measures taken to reduce emissions are effective.

In the food industry, internal communication extends to suppliers, including contract farmers and producers. They play a vital role in translating responsibility actions into practice. It is crucial for suppliers to be informed about the results of carbon footprint calculations, enabling impressive environmental actions. With data-driven insights, it becomes easier to propose changes to operating methods, such as those employed by farmers, with well-justified information.

🍓 At Pakkasmarja, the carbon footprint was calculated in collaboration with farmers to target climate measures effectively. Discover the valuable insights gained from the calculation!

Communicating about environmental responsibility and the results of carbon footprint calculations within the company is essential because internal communication ensures a consistent message. When everyone has access to the necessary data and understanding, the entire company can communicate environmental responsibility in a unified manner, both internally and externally.

Read also: Verified climate actions require a transparent, open and comparable description of one’s own activities.

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