Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Carbon Labeling

According to this EPA Report, in 2005 the US emitted 7,260 Tg of CO2 equivalent gases of which 1,248 Tg came from residential use and another 1,208 Tg came from personal transportation (personal transportation accounts for 60% of total transportation). Therefore the carbon emissions that come from our direct purchase of fossil fuels and electricity only account for 34% of total emissions. The other 66% comes from the "embedded carbon" in the goods and services that we purchase.

If you are trying to minimize your carbon footprint, 2/3 of your total impact is hidden from your view (and from most carbon calculators). Fortunately, Carbon Trust has created a new carbon label which determines the amount of embedded carbon emissions in various consumer products.

This paper by the Carbon Trust takes a look at two pilot projects they have done for carbon labeling: newspapers and potato chips. Turns out a bag of potato chips has a carbon footprint of 75g, while a newspaper comes in at 174g.

They determine this value by using doing a lifecycle analysis on the product "from source to store". Beyond helping customers to know what the footprint is, this analysis helps companies see what part of the process leads to the most emissions. For example with paper, "80% of the carbon footprint is added by processes and raw materials used by other companies in the supply chain." The best way for the newspaper company to improve their carbon footprint is to put pressure on their supply chain rather than making an improvement in their internal processes like printing or delivering the papers.

The value that appears on the label does not take carbon offsetting into account. While I think this is good as it lets you know how much fossil fuel energy was used to make the product, I wonder if they couldn't find some way to represent offsetting in the label as well. Maybe they could have a little thermometer like icon to the right of the label that shows what % of the value was offset. Or maybe they could just build it right into the current label, where the lower X% of the label would be green to represent that X% of the CO2 had been offset.

Overall, I think this type of analysis and labeling is very helpful and hope that the Carbon Trust is able to label up a bunch of products very soon.

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