Tesco Labels Itself Part of the Green Solution

Discussion
Jan 26, 2007

By George Anderson

Label Tesco green, literally.

The British grocery market leader has pledged to take concrete steps to bring about a low-carbon economy. In the past, it has initiated a number of programs to reduce its carbon footprint (a measure in units of carbon of how the company’s activities produce greenhouse gases), including the increased use of biofuels, rail transport, etc.

The company’s latest step may be its most unusual yet. Tesco has announced that it will label the 70,000 products it sells to quantify carbon costs along with nutritional information.

Peter Madden, chief executive of the green thinktank Forum for the Future, told The Guardian, “This is big stuff. When you have a company as powerful as Tesco and a boss as influential as (Sir) Terry Leahy giving serious attention to climate change, the rest of business has to listen.”

Sir Terry, said that the company has ambitious goals to reduce its impact on the environment and that its critics often fail to see the obvious. “Tesco has come to be portrayed as part of the problem. This could not be more wrong. When you want to reach and empower the many, Tesco is a big part of the solution,” he said.

The new labeling program will not go into effect immediately. Tesco has said it is working on a “universally accepted and commonly understood” measuring system.

“I am not a scientist,” said Sir Terry. “But I listen when the scientists say that if we fail to mitigate climate change, the environmental, social and economic consequences will be stark and severe.”

Discussion Question: What is your reaction to Tesco’s proposed carbon labeling program? Do you see an opportunity for something similar being implemented in the U.S. or elsewhere?

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4 Comments on "Tesco Labels Itself Part of the Green Solution"


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Toni Rahlf
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Toni Rahlf
15 years 3 months ago

I fully agree with Mr. Tenser. Clearly the “big idea” behind this was that, if we can get people to think about their carbon footprint in the same way they think about their diet (e.g., changes in consumption starts with knowing what you’re consuming), we might actually make progress toward stabilizing the environment. I don’t know about the UK, but in the U.S., all the label reading we have done has not diminished our collective waistline, but our diet consciousness did help drive sales of diet-related products.

If it’s going to work, my guess is that it will be driven primarily by conscious corporations like Tesco. Kudos to them for making the effort. Who knows, it might even sell product or strengthen loyalty.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Timberland is getting great pr from its Nutrition Label. See http://www.timberland.com/shop/ad4.jsp There’s no doubt: this is the kind of pr every brand craves. No downside.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Obviously sceptical is my word of the day. This time I’m applying it to myself. Tesco may well implement the plans it has announced at some time in the future but it will be interesting to see when and to what extent. Meanwhile, as Mark says, it’s great PR.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
Practical challenges aside (and there will be many) this is an initiative on the right track. The largest retailers (not just Tesco) collectively share a massive opportunity to do well by doing good in the area of energy consumption, waste and emissions. This is the obligation of massification: When you accumulate a million acres of rooftops, you inherit an obligation to cover them with solar-electric materials, because collectively, their contribution to the energy grid will save tankers full of crude. When you throw away corrugated that represents a billion board-feet of pulpwood, a percentage point of waste reduction saves an entire forest–and an entire landfill. Each of these initiatives creates a beneficial secondary impact by changing the economics of the suppliers and setting standards for corporate citizenship. So when Tesco decides its packaging should incorporate carbon emissions data, it doesn’t just generate PR. It also mobilizes an industry to develop and follow new practices. It raises debate and consciousness among its shoppers. And perhaps most importantly, it stands for something besides low prices carved out… Read more »
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