Carbon labels

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Carbon labeling schemes have been developed in order to show how much carbon dioxide has been emitted during the production, processing and transport of a product. Carbon labeling was first started as an experiment in the UK and the concept is now spreading the world over. Over the year, carbon labeling schemes are due to be launched throughout Europe, Asia and North America.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Carbon labelling schemes have been designed to help shoppers identify firms committed to environmentally-friendly policies. The aim of these carbon labels is to empower consumers to make informed choices and in turn drive a market for low carbon products.
  • A standardized approach to carbon labeling would help tackle greenwash and make it easier for consumers to select sustainable products.

All about carbon labels

Several carbon labelling schemes, displaying product carbon footprint (PCFs) on product packaging, are already up and running in UK, France, Switzerland, US and Canada, and pilot schemes are underway in Germany, Sweden, Japan, Korea and China.

Once carbon labels are adopted universally they would not only serve as a signal to firms to cut the carbon intensity of their products but would also trigger a transformation in business activities, all the way down the supply chain of a particular product.

Everything we buy, produce and use has a carbon footprint which is the total carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted during its life, from its production to its final disposal. By adopting carbon labeling, companies and services are committed to reducing their carbon footprints from the figure shown within two years. As more companies adopt this practice, the consumers will be in a better position to make a more informed choice.

Reading the label

The Label is designed to help the consumer see at a glance:

  • The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the manufacture, distribution, use and disposal of a particular product.
  • That the producer is committed to reduce their product's carbon footprint.

When space allows, the Label may also show:

  • An explanation, such as whether the carbon footprint is measured per serving or per wash.
  • Compare the product's carbon footprint with similar products.
  • Show how the consumer can reduce their carbon footprint by preparing, using, washing or disposing of the product in the most efficient way.

These additional elements may be shown either on the pack or on supporting sales material.

Benefits to business

Advantages of displaying the Carbon Reduction Label include:

  • By displaying carbon labels companies can differentiate their products or services to consumers and/or business customers.
  • Preempt growing consumer interest in understanding the carbon footprints of the things they buy.
  • Present comparisons of different products to consumers and show them the most effective ways of usage and disposal.
  • Increase the brand and corporate reputation.
  • Opportunity to engage with employees to drive carbon reductions and increase staff loyalty.
  • Help to create a critical mass of companies and consumers to drive significant carbon reductions nationally and worldwide.

If on-pack labelling is not sufficient to meet business needs, the value of the label for both products and services can be maximised by displaying it in a wide variety of other media, including:

  • Point-of-sale material
  • The company's websites
  • Online product catalogues and directories
  • Advertising, mailpacks, product brochures, catalogues, business cards, local directories and other sales materials
  • Product manuals – where carbon-reducing usage advice can be explained.

International standards

Multinational corporations are calling for an international standard for carbon labeling. Currently, the most commonly used standards include the UK Carbon Trust’s Publicly Available Specification 2050 draft standard, the International Standards Organization’s (ISO) life cycle analysis (LCA) series of standards and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol developed by the World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

But it may be some time before a single standard emerges given that even more standards are in the pipeline.

90 degrees

The main concerns with carbon labels come down to their effectiveness in reducing our carbon footprint and their fairness towards suppliers, particularly in developing countries.

Carbon labels look ineffective because the consumer can choose to ignore the information about the product's level of "embedded" carbon - just as we frequently ignore nutritional information, despite knowing that ice cream and oven chips might be bad for us. [1]


  • Carbon labelling scheme launched
  • Carbon labels present taxing problem
  • MPs call for every product to carry carbon labels
  • Special report: Carbon labelling goes global


  1. BBC News