Last updated: Aug 2022
Similar to a nutritional label, a carbon label helps consumers understand the impact of the item they are purchasing or consuming. In the case of a carbon label, the label contains the carbon footprint of the product (a number, ex. 1.18 kg CO2) and helps consumers understand the impact of the product on the environment. The carbon footprint of the item is calculated by a consultant that is familiar with product carbon footprint quantification standards.
New to carbon labels? Learn more in our carbon labels overview!
Example of a carbon label: carbon footprint of a roll of toilet paper by Acme. Note that carbon labels can apply across any product or service!
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is emitted when we burn fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. Carbon dioxide traps heat on our planet, much like how a greenhouse traps heat, thereby causing global temperatures to rise (among other side effects). Carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned, and has long been used as a measure of environmental impact. The lower the carbon footprint, the better.
What most people don’t realize is that everyone has a carbon footprint, not just governments and manufacturers. The banana you had for breakfast, the time you spent on the treadmill, or the hot shower you took after your workout, everything you do has a carbon footprint. It’s neither good nor bad, just a fact. If you don’t know your carbon footprint, try our 2 min quiz!
Let’s walk through a sample carbon footprint label for a t-shirt!
Thanks to Foodsteps for sharing this data with us!
When consumers make purchasing decisions, they use many inputs from quality, price, style, and taste and nutritional information when it comes to food. As consumers increasingly understand the impacts of consumption on our planet, the trend is for consumers to find ways to better understand and ultimately lower their impact.
Carbon footprint labels help consumers quantify the environmental impact of their purchase decisions. Companies like Oatly, Allbirds, Pantys, and TENZING are great examples of hip brands that have started carbon labelling. Large organizations like Unilever have also pledged to carbon label all products.
We’ve highlighted brands that already carbon label today! Note that we have identified 3 major types of labels:
We’re glad you asked and we have a few good reasons!
There are companies and independent consultants that provide these services. When the assessment is complete, you’ll have the carbon footprint per product and the breakdown (ex. Materials, transportation, etc) that you can add to the label. Your consultant should be familiar with internationally recognized standards: GHG Protocol Product Standard, PAS2050, and ISO14067. Be sure to ask.
See here for a list of consultants we know of.
If you know of a company that isn’t on our list, please reach out: email@example.com
To quantify the product carbon footprint, companies will typically need to reach out to suppliers to gather data, especially if they don’t own most aspects of their supply chain and manufacturing.
For a t-shirt, examples of the data that would be needed:
After the data and label are complete, the downstream activities begin.
If your company manufactures goods, the label should be included on the packaging. As with all things packaging, you’ll likely need to run a few samples and tests to ensure that the label is visible.
This stage also includes any updates you may want to make to your website or other external facing assets.
At the moment, regulation mainly exists in the form of product carbon footprint quantification standards: GHG Protocol, PAS2050, Product Standard or ISO14067
This depends on your industry, but sometimes it’s hard to get the exact
manufacturing emissions because oftentimes a warehouse is manufacturing
products for other companies as well. It can also be challenging to trace
agriculture items down to the farmer to collect the necessary data
Usually companies review the data annually and update the labels and
packaging accordingly. If something significant has changed in less than a years time, having a QR
code on the label and packaging can be helpful in helping customers have
the most up to date information.
It’s not uncommon for companies to perform analysis annually, but it’s up to
your company. If any major changes are made to your supply chain or
manufacturing process, an update would be recommended.
No, but a lot of companies choose to do this because one of the goals is to
be transparent. For most companies, the life cycle assessment is
accompanied with a report. Some companies choose to share this publicly.
See this list here!
This depends if you manufacture the same product and ship it to different
countries, or if you manufacture in multiple locations. Your consultant will
advise you on the best path forward.
At the moment, none yet, but that will change soon!
Special thanks to the following people for volunteering their time and knowledge to help us with this guide: Emily Gander | TENZING, Eddie Fitzgerald-Barron | C-Free, Jonathan Gilmour | Carbon Choice and Lila Mehta | Foodsteps for their assistance in creating this guide.
Disclosure and disclaimer: clever carbon does not have any financial incentives associated with this guide. We are purely creating the guide to accelerate the carbon labelling movement! A sustainable and transparent society with accountable goods and services is our ultimate goal! The content in this guide was created through research and interviews. If you have feedback or suggestions, feel free to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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