Tesco Quits Carbon Labeling

by | Jan 30, 2012

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Tesco, the U.K.’s biggest retailer, has decided to stop using a carbon labeling program a few years after promising to label all 70,000 of its products.

Tesco will no longer use the Carbon Trust labels on its products, saying that the program is too expensive and time-consuming, The Grocer reports. The supermarket chain said the required research for each product took several months, at least.

The company, which accounts for £1 of every £7 spent in U.K. retail, also said it was frustrated that few retailers joined the initiative. Climate change director Helen Fleming said Tesco had expected other retailers to move quickly to adopt carbon labels, giving the program critical mass. But she said that failed to happen, affecting the viability of the scheme.

The labels are designed to show how many grams of carbon or GHG equivalent are emitted from growing, manufacturing, transporting, using and disposing of a product, and some labels also compare the product’s footprint to that of similar items. In some cases the labels also give customers tips on how to reduce the environmental impacts associated with cooking, using and disposing of products.

Tesco first proposed carbon labeling in 2007, saying it planned to slap labels on tens of thousands of its own-brand food and clothing products. The company began testing carbon labels in 2008. At the time of launch, CEO Sir Terry Leahy lauded the company’s Carbon Reduction Labelling plan as the first stage in a “revolution in green consumption,” The Grocer says.

Since then, the company has researched the carbon impacts of about 1,100 products and labeled about 500. These include orange juice, milk, potatoes, light bulbs, laundry detergent, paper towels and toilet paper.

But in October 2010 the Guardian reported that at Tesco’s then-current rate, it would take centuries to meet its pledge of labeling all 70,000 products. At that point the company was labeling 125 products per year.

Companies still using carbon labeling include PepsiCo, for its Walkers brand potato chips, bread company Kingsmill, and appliance makers Dyson and Morphy Richards. But U.K. supermarket operator the Co-operative Group said that after researching 15 products, it decided that labeling was impractical for wider use.

Earlier this month SGS Consumer Testing Services announced what it called the first international carbon labeling program for individual products.

Environmental Leader columnist Matt Courtland, senior consultant at The Natural Strategy, has described carbon labeling for consumer goods as “a concept full of promise and complexity.” He says the most obvious hurdle to its implementation is defining who will be responsible for measuring carbon emissions, and what standards they will follow.

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