Posts Tagged ‘carbon footprinting’

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

Counting Carbs

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article by Jeffrey Ball about carbon footprinting … an increasingly popular topic in the Earthkeeping space.  The logic is simple enough – if you can calculate the amount of carbon emissions it takes to produce and / or use something – be it a pair of shoes, a new car or a carton of milk – you then have a means of assessing its environmental impact, which can help you decide how badly you want it and whether there’s a less impactful alternative.

Pretty useful information, in some cases.  When you consider that 86% of the carbon emissions from the average car over its lifetime comes from the car’s fuel use, then fuel efficiency is worth examining closely when you buy your next vehicle.  And when you know that the per-family carbon footprint from doing laundry is 10 pounds per week — and that line drying instead of using your clothes dryer can cut that footprint almost in half —  you might just go string up a clothesline.

Where carbon footprinting falls short in today’s marketplace is in providing a meaningful comparison between similar products – because there’s currently no standard for calculating the data (preventing an easy apples-to-apples comparison) and although the market is growing, there are still relatively few products bearing carbon data (tough to compare two products if one has a carbon “score” and the other does not). 

Like so many issues related to climate change and environmental impact, the good news here is that the conversation is starting and interest is building.  And, there are cross-brand initiatives underway to develop standard means of assessing environmental impact – so that one day, the carbon footprint data you find in stores and on shelves will be as universal and comparable as the nutrition labels you see on your groceries.

What if cutting carbon became as popular as cutting carbohydrates has been in recent years?  That’s one diet trend we’d like to see.