How Green is Your Orange … and Do You Care?

This week’s New York Times article highlighting Tropicana’s efforts to better understand their carbon footprint has sparked an interesting online discussion — questions about the true value of this kind of undertaking, what’s really in it for the company, whether consumers really care.

In my opinion, consumers today don’t care very much about carbon footprints — because we, the companies that make the goods they’re buying, don’t make it easy for them to care.  As Tropicana’s Brian Lembke stated in the New York Times article, without a meaningful point of reference that consumers can easily understand and use to inform their purchasing decisions, carbon data remains a big “so what?”

It falls on the shoulders of responsible brands to explain the so what – exactly what companies like Tropicana are trying to do in analyzing their carbon footprints and figuring out how best to communicate that information to consumers who a) are most often influenced by price in making their purchase decisions and b) hold a healthy skepticism of corporate America’s “true intentions” – understandable considering what we’re seeing in the news these days.  What we desperately need are more companies willing to take that first step to better understand their carbon footprint, and better collaboration within and across industries to create some level of standardization for how to present this information to consumers.  I know of one such collaborative working group within the Outdoor Industry Association, and imagine there are more.

While it’s true that there are countless variables in determining a carbon footprint, I disagree with the premise that a carbon number is meaningless.  Even in imperfect form, such data can be extremely valuable to organizations trying to understand their own carbon footprint and pinpointing areas of their business that are ripe for environmental improvements (such as packaging, transportation … in Tropicana’s case, growing oranges). 

Clearly we’ve got a lot of work to do to get to the point where consumers can compare carbon labels as proficiently as they currently compare retail prices or nutritional information before making a purchase.  But I fail to see the downside in putting forth the effort: if we have access to information that will better inform consumers about how the decisions they make impact the environment, we should make that information available.  If that same information can help companies better design their products, packaging and processes to reduce their environmental impact as well, all the better.  I applaud Tropicana, their parent company PepsiCo and other like-minded companies for leading the way on what I believe will prove to be a revolutionary movement.

Betsy Blaisdell
Manager of Environmental Stewardship, Timberland

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