Carbon footprints in black and white

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Labeling products with carbon footprint information could help both consumers and manufacturers make more environmentally healthy choices.

A paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change says following the example of food product nutritional labels could offer at least a short-term solution.

“Even modest changes in the household sector could significantly reduce emissions,” says Thomas Dietz, professor of sociology at Michigan State University. “A carbon-labeling program could reduce carbon emissions in two ways: By influencing consumer choices and by encouraging firms to identify efficiencies throughout the supply chain.”

Nearly one-third of all consumers are willing to purchase “green” products, but lack enough information to do so, Dietz says.

“A major barrier to improved energy efficiency in households seems to be a lack of understanding of the impacts of various actions and products. Providing information would lower this barrier, allowing consumers to make more informed choices without substantial effort.

“The value of the label comes not from providing perfect information, but better information than the consumer has at present.”

Labeling could also induce firms to reduce emissions in ways that lower their costs, enhance their reputations, and make them more supportive of governmental policy measures that re-enforce their emissions-reducing actions.

There are often opportunities for cost savings by reducing fossil fuel use in manufacturing and distributing products. The analyses needed for carbon labeling can identify those potential savings.

While labeling alone won’t solve the problem, a “private carbon-labeling program for consumer products could help fill the policy gap by influencing both corporate supply chains and consumer behavior.”

Researchers from Vanderbilt University and the National Research Council contributed to the study.

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