Coca-Cola, Carbon Trust Investigate Personal Carbon Allowances

by | Apr 23, 2012

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A study by Coca-Cola Co. and The Carbon Trust that investigated how people might respond to personal carbon allowances found while easy-to-understand environmental information changed behavior, consumers were still reluctant to give up certain high-carbon choices in their lifestyles. The group this month published a white paper outlining the study and conclusions.

Carbon Trust and Coca-Cola, with support from environmental consultants SKM Enviros and market research agency RDSI, conducted a four-week consumer trial in Great Britain to study the feasibility of introducing personal carbon allowances — which limits how much carbon a person can emit every day. The study looked at how personal carbon allowances would work in practice, how consumers might respond, and if providing the carbon footprint of products like food and drink through labeling would be valuable.

The study also sought to provide some guidance on the consumer trial’s recommended personal daily carbon allowance known as Carbon GDA or Guideline Daily Amount, which was set at 20 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per person per day.  The guideline was based on emissions that consumers could control, including food and drinks they purchased and consumed, commuting, gas and personal daily travel.

The consumer trial, which involved 24 consumers, found:

  • Participants were enthusiastic about the personal carbon allowance and, on average, reduced their carbon emissions over the four-week period;
  • Reductions were mainly observed in weeks two and three;
  • Emissions increased slightly in week four, which the white paper authors say indicates some participants were finding it hard to sustain long-term behavior change;
  • The greatest emissions reduction was within food, which includes food waste as well as drink, gas and electricity segments;
  • Consumers did reduce their consumption of beer, a drink that has the highest emissions intensity, in the first three weeks. But as the weather warmed in week four, more spirits were consumed, a development that suggests consumer choices are emotionally driven.
  • Consumers were surprised at carbon emissions associated with red meat and cheese;
  • Participants were frustrated at the lack of carbon footprint labeling among retailers and larger brands.

As a result of the consumer trial, the white paper concluded people showed a strong desire to choose a low carbon lifestyle, but many lack sufficient knowledge and understanding to inform their choices. The white paper also concluded that cost savings and health — considered secondary benefits — encouraged those reluctant to compromise purely in terms of carbon.

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