From 1 July 2011, a national experiment will be carried out in France for at least one year, to inform consumers on product carbon footprint through environmental labelling. There are 168 global companies taking part in the pilot, which runs for 12 months. It will then be reviewed by the French Government and, if successful, all products could bear the carbon footprint as a compulsory measure from as early as 2012.
It will involve displaying the carbon footprint of products on sale across all sectors, such as cosmetics, clothes, food, electronic equipment, furniture and finance services. The scheme will incorporate both products that are manufactured and consumed in France and products that are imported into the country for consumption. The voluntary scheme is part of a wider programme to:
Include an environmental component in consumer purchasing choices to support behavioural change.
Provide the entire production and distribution chain with new indicators to encourage better eco-designed products.
In the long term, there will be a requirement to consider not only the equivalent impact in terms of CO2 throughout the lifecycle of a product, but also the most significant specific impacts of each type of product too. For example, a washing powder will be required to display its biodegradability capacity.
Unlike existing labels, this display is not intended to be selective: all products will eventually be required to display the requisite environmental information but the commercialization of products will not be conditional on the value of these indicators. On this particular point, this new labelling is comparable to the existing system used for the nutritional characteristics of food (calories, protein, carbohydrates, etc.).
The smallest footprint wins
In addition to the direct issue of consumer information and support for behavioural change, this environmental display also represents a competitive element for businesses. It will encourage them to reduce the environmental footprint of their products and their organisations. Consequently, it will also enable them to increase their resilience against variations and increases in energy costs and growing pressures regarding raw materials.
This comes only a few weeks after Coca Cola Enterprises challenged its suppliers to measure their carbon footprints and develop carbon reduction plans at the company's second annual “Supplier Sustainability Summit”. In addition, last month, PUMA published an economic valuation of the environmental impacts caused by greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption along its supply chain.
It is hoped that the French carbon footprint will help inform consumers and inspire behaviour change as well as provide the production and distribution chain with new indicators to encourage better eco-designed products.