Tesco Measures Its Carbon Footprint

Discussion
Apr 30, 2008

By George Anderson

If the carbon footprint fits…

Tesco has announced that it is finally getting underway, in a small way, on its pledge to provide item labels that quantify the impact of products on the environment from the point of manufacture to the point they eventually move on to a landfill or recycling center.

The British-based retailer has said that it is beginning a two-year trial of its carbon footprint program by labeling 20 store branded items from four categories including detergents, orange juice, potatoes and light bulbs. Each of the items will include labels that display the carbon emissions associated with each product.

Tesco has said that it has taken the carbon footprint step in response to requests from its shoppers. “Customers tell us that it is very important to them,” David North, the company’s community and government director, told BBC News. “What they have said is that they want us to help them tackle climate change.”

The Tesco program is being run by the Carbon Trust, a government-funded independent company, in partnership with England’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the British Standards Institute.

Euan Murray, general manager for the Carbon Trust, told the BBC that the goal of the program is to tackle climate change by providing companies and consumers with information that can be about changes in behavior.

“More than half of the carbon footprint of the average consumer is made up by the emissions to make, use and dispose of all the different things that we buy,” he said.

As an example, he said, “Baking a potato in an oven generates far more emissions than if you boil it in a pan with a lid on, which in turn generates more emissions than cooking it in a microwave.”

“Tesco can work with their suppliers to reduce the footprint of potato production over time; but Tesco can also communicate to consumers, through the label and supporting information, how they can use the product in a less carbon intensive way,” Mr. Murray added.

Discussion Questions: What will Tesco’s carbon labeling program mean for its reputation and business results? Will this program help bring about changes, small or more significant, in the way people behave?

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6 Comments on "Tesco Measures Its Carbon Footprint"


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Bill Bittner
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Bill Bittner
14 years 29 days ago
The more interesting aspect of the Tesco effort is the British Government sponsored Carbon Trust that actually does the calculations of carbon footprints. By creating an independent agency that determines the intangible factors associated with a product, the government has made this whole concept possible. But maybe a better way of using this information would be to put an “environmental tax” on products. Free market advocates would say that we should let the marketplace resolve this, but I really believe there are times when the market cannot properly resolve disassociated costs. Just look at what happened when the designers of complex financial instruments separated mortgage brokers from the costs of defaults. By allowing manufacturers to sell products requiring post production processing we just transfer the funding to society. When disposal or the environment were not such an issue, post production costs were not as significant. Now we must figure out a way to capture the revenue needed to properly dispose of products from the businesses that profited from their production and sale. I think an… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
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Odonna Mathews
14 years 29 days ago

Consistent standards are essential so labeling programs can be meaningful and easily understood by consumers. This effort will also take constant monitoring to be accurate as the carbon footprints could change with different suppliers or different circumstances. If there is not consistency among manufactures in using the same standards, we could end up with the variety of health labeling schemes we now find with U.S manufacturers and private label products. These health labeling claims vary from company to company and are not consistent for consumer understanding, although there are efforts underway to standardize these labels and icons.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 29 days ago

Tesco is a retailing leader in getting great positive publicity. Unfortunately, there’s not much competition. Most retailers spend exactly no time trying to get positive publicity. And the few that actually try generally assign the task to folks with no vision or creativity whatsoever. The real competition: (1) Retailers with the most negative publicity and (2) Retailers whose publicity inspires no one.

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 29 days ago

Max is correct. At the moment there’s more PR here than genuine substance. But I also think Tesco deserves some credit for being directionally right. Consumer awareness must begin somewhere.

The locavore movement has a glimmer of an idea–foods that travel shorter distances burn less fuel. Manufactured goods have varying impacts on our environment after they are used. Ditto for the packages that contain our packaged products.

If there were a reliable, simple way to understand that all else being equal, product X is more planet-friendly than product Y, I believe many shoppers would choose with their consciences. Tesco’s little feet aren’t even close to the whole answer, but when it comes to leaving nothing but carbon footprints, somebody needs to take the first steps.

Ed Dennis
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Ed Dennis
14 years 29 days ago

Unfortunately, Tesco’s reaction to the carbon footprint scheme will probably result in others adopting a similar meaningless program. This effort will undoubtedly result in an increase in operating costs for suppliers and Tesco, which will be passed on to Tesco’s consumers in one manner or another.

If Tesco wants to make a mark on “green” then let them manage their locations and structures in a manner that conserves. Switch to solar power, reduce their hours of operation to conserve energy, etc. As it stands now, they are involved in a labeling effort which places the effort and cost on the vendors. Tesco would seem to want to skate by with some publicity without actually doing anything but “requiring” vendors to label product. Who is going to verify these labels? I bet Al Gore is setting up a company to do just that (for a small fee).

This is a tempest in a teacup.

Max Goldberg
Guest
14 years 29 days ago

I salute Tesco for taking this step, but believe that their carbon labeling program will only provide a PR boost to the company. It will not cause consumers to switch retailers, as there are numerous consumer priorities that trump carbon footprint labeling when deciding where to shop.

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