AgBioResearch scientist calls for carbon labeling of consumer goods
Labeling products with information on the size of the carbon footprint they leave behind could help both consumers and manufacturers make better, environmentally friendly choices.
A Michigan State University (MSU) professor and colleagues, writing in the April issue of the journal Nature Climate Change said that like nutritional information on food labels, carbon footprint labeling on products could offer a near-term strategy to help increase consumer awareness and build support for more economically efficient approaches.
“Even modest changes in the household sector could significantly reduce emissions,” wrote Tom Dietz, an MSU professor of sociology and MSU AgBioResearch scientist, who also is with the MSU Environmental Science and Policy Program. “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.”
Recent surveys, Dietz said, have found that nearly one-third of all consumers are willing to purchase “green” products or have already done so. The problem, he explained, is a lack of information.
“A major barrier to improved energy efficiency in households seems to be a lack of understanding about the impacts of various actions and products,” Dietz explained. “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.”
The authors of the piece said that labeling also may motivate firms to reduce their emissions in ways that lower their costs, enhance their reputations and make them more supportive of governmental policy measures that reinforce their emissions-reducing actions.
Opportunities for cost savings by reducing fossil fuel use often occur in manufacturing and distributing products. The analyses needed for carbon labeling can identify those potential savings.
The authors write that labeling alone will not solve the problem of carbon emissions, but argue that a “private carbon-labeling program for consumer products could help fill the policy gap by influencing both corporate supply chains and consumer behavior.”
Other authors of the article are Michael Vandenbergh of Vanderbilt University and Paul Stern of the National Research Council.
Photo: MSU AgBioResearch, Tom Dietz
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