In 2008 The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee published a report on environmental labelling. Since then, little has been done.
While food labelling for nutrition has made great progress in the UK, environmental labelling has fallen by the wayside. If consumers are to make informed choices, they need information.
Producers already provide nutritional information, to print one more label should be no problem. Arguments about space and information overload are covered in the 2008 report.
One important decision would be which environmental impacts should be highlighted. The mockup above shows a variety of measures that could be included. Here are some ideas of impact measures that could be used;
Carbon Dioxide – Use the Carbon Trust method to include; Ingredients, manufacturing, distribution, storage, consumer use, disposal.
Water – If not covered by the carbon figure. The carbon figure may include the energy embodied in the water by treatment and transport. However water use is also important where water is not plentiful and is diverted away from natural watercourses causing ecosystem damage.
Land – This covers efficiency of land use, potential loss of biodiversity and pesticide use.
Packaging – Could be a simple packing weight, or a weighted score including weight vs weight of product, energy, material use, re-use/recycling potential.
Number of Earths (Sustainability) – Given rate we consume this product, how many Earths are required for such use to be sustainable.
Producers would need to be provided with simple tools and guidelines to help calculate the impacts of their product.
Smaller, local producers may find favour in this system. Due to reduced food miles, their Carbon measure should be comparatively lower than international producers.
Lots of research exists on this topic. It needs a brave decision from policy makes to implement the research. Is this something we in Wales can lead the way on?