'Frustrated' Tesco ditches eco-labels

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Tesco will no longer feature the Carbon Trust’s carbon reduction label on its products, claiming it is too time-consuming and expensive to justify.

The supermarket giant has also told of its frustration that other leading retailers failed to follow its lead, which meant the label was unable to gain sufficient critical mass.

When it launched four years ago, in conjunction with the Carbon Trust, Tesco’s Carbon Reduction Labelling plan was hailed by then CEO Sir Terry Leahy as the start of a “revolution in green consumption”.

However, Tesco told The Grocer it had decided to wind down the project after finding research for each product involved “a minimum of several months’ work”.

“We expected that other retailers would move quickly to do it as well, giving it critical mass, but that hasn’t happened,” said Tesco’s climate change director, Helen Fleming.

About 1,100 products have been researched by the retailer with 500 products having labels in Tesco stores.

But Fleming said the lack of uptake by other retailers had failed to make the scheme viable.

“There are an enormous amount of companies that research the carbon footprints of their products,” she said. “But how do you ramp that up to the top level? We now need to make the right long-term decision and we’re talking about what we do next.”

Meanwhile PepsiCo, whose Walkers brand also pioneered the use of carbon footprint labelling, said it too had been disappointed at the uptake of the scheme, but pledged to continue.

“Although we’ve not seen the take-up we’d like, we still support carbon labelling as a way of helping consumers and businesses understand and reduce emissions,” said Martyn Seal, European director for sustainability at PepsiCo.

Other retailers defended their decisions to discard footprint labelling. The Co-operative Group said it had completed research on 15 products after developing a tool with Manchester University two years ago but had decided it was impractical for mass use.

Tracing the steps of carbon footprint labelling

Walkers Cheese & Onion crisps became the first product to introduce the Carbon Trust label in 2007, with the entire journey of the product scrutinised.

Finding that just 30% of the carbon emissions were produced while under the direct control of PepsiCo UK & Ireland, it sparked a programme of supplier education by the parent company.

Other suppliers to have adapted the scheme include Kingsmill, which credits it for helping to slice emissions by 20%, while smoothie and juice maker Innocent has worked closely with the Trust to work out the ‘carbon footprint’ for its entire business system.

However, it was Tesco’s decision to work with the Carbon Trust that perhaps attracted the most publicity, with potatoes, light bulbs, orange juice and laundry detergent among the first to get labels in store.

Readers' comments (8)

  • I don't think anyone should be surprised that Tesco has dropped it's association with the carbon reduction label. The early reported costs of achieving the label beggared belief - and even with economies of scale, the approach was never going to grow legs. The whole scheme seemed like a pipe dream when it was announced, given the number of products on the average supermarket shelf.

    And the problem was not only the reported costs of assessment, but also getting consumers to understand the results. Did we really think that consumers would understand or engage with the idea that 80g of CO2 for a bag of crisps was good or bad?

    Let's also be clear that Tesco has only 'ditched' a carbon label, not a true 'eco-label' - i.e. one that seeks to take into account all manner of environmental impacts in a product's life cycle. A single issue label was always going to be controversial, particularly being promoted by only one of the big supermarkets looking for green hero status.

    What's the alternative? Well, it is nearly 20 years since the EU Ecolabel scheme was adopted, yet few consumers recognise the flower logo which signifies lower overall environmental impact across a large range of product types. The hard work has already been done to agree criteria for categories as diverse as shampoos and lightbulbs - and the criteria are accepted and consistent across the EU. The benefit is that consumers don't have to understand grams of CO2, to work out the benefit, they just have to look for whether the flower logo is there or not. So why did we need a new scheme anyway?

    If the supermarkets are really serious about informing their customers on lower impact products, perhaps it is time to dust off the Ecolabel Regulation and give it a fresh look? Of course, it would help if the member state governments took a similar view and helped.

    On a related note my company, Two Tomorrows, has been working with Chevrolet on it's new approach to environmental labelling in the auto industry. See www.twotomorrows.com to find out more and read my blog on ecolabelling which looks at the Ecolabel scheme and provides relevant links.

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  • This carbon initiative is just another way for government to gain more control over our lives by increasing regulations and then taxing our income in another inventive way. When we see that 'Carbon Footprint' on packaging, we should also see big government's foot on our throats trying to choke us into submission. As soon as we let government have total control, we will no longer be the America or the United States that many of us have served to protect and we will no longer be free. Thank you.

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  • 'Tesco’s climate change director, Helen Fleming' might find that tangible 'end-benefit' changes that resonate with the consumer (whilst still delivering valuable triple bottom line results to company and planet) may be more productive areas of attention than box-ticking political, quango and NGO pleasers and job creation schemes.

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  • This is mixed news and has probably been on the horizon for some time. There is a debate to be had around whether decarbonising products should be consumer or industry led. Clearly neither Tesco’s competitors responded to the challenge laid down by them, nor the consumer found talk of carbon compelling – it did not reach tipping point on either fronts. And it’s unsurprising, really, as it was a technocrat’s communication. People struggle to connect to lumps of carbon (OK so it’s gas, which is even less tangible). It needs humanising. Research and, even more concretely, sales show that consumers do chose ethical options when they connect to it – think Fair Trade, which is still growing and has a more human face than organic. Of the large retailers Co-op pioneered it and they were genuine and it connected to their brand. The real concern is that the Tesco supply chain may not continue to be nudged towards reducing their energy consumption and GHG emissions, but there’s plenty of companies talking about how much economic and environmental savings are to be had from a little focus on efficiency. For consumers, we need a human face to the issue and a social movement which isn’t going to be controlled by a quango.

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  • Climate scare propaganda finally dumped in the recycle bin where it belongs.

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  • This is not a surprise to me. Carbon is not a consumer issue, it is too complex and difficult to understand in the few seconds when a shopper is making a choice at the shelf - the first moment of truth. The onus must be on the brand owners and retailers to deliver real benefits through simple propositions, not expecting shoppers to understand such difficult ideas as Carbon Footprint. We have called this approach Everyday Value Green (EDVG)

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  • Good for Tesco. Our lives have become polluted by gren hogwash. Environmentalism is plainly a mental illness, and the less we are exposed to it the healthier we will all be.

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  • Part of improving the environment? Biozone.

    Worth looking at for a Green Solution aware from Chemicals. Would appreciate feed back and and applications which are looking at or have?
    Ray Baird Please e-mail raymond.baird1@gmail.com

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