Carbon Footprint Labeling – Pilot Program Launches in Japan

carbon-coal.jpgJapan will soon pilot a national carbon footprint labeling system. While the carbon footprint calculation system is still in the development phase, corporations are voluntarily committing their participation. Emphasizing the importance of implementing a uniform method of calculation, the trade ministry is working in collaboration with the participating corporations. According to the Guardian, some of the big name corporations involved include Sapporo, Lawson and Seven-Eleven.
The labeling system will track carbon emission from a product’s manufacture, through distribution, to disposal. As 3P reported earlier this summer, the European Parliament has approved carbon footprint labeling as part of the Climate Change Interim Report. Takuma Inamura, speaking for the Japanese trade ministry, told the Guardian: “We believe our labeling will be even more detailed, to allow consumers to make the best possible choice.”
But when it comes to carbon labeling standards, skeptics abound. A recent article from BusinessGreen, asserts that, “supply chain analysis is the toughest challenge for would-be carbon labelers.” With numerous inputs in the manufacturing process, tracking carbon emissions demands inter-vendor collaboration.

Tesco, the British supermarket chain, has implemented a trial carbon footprint labeling scheme that is being closely watched. Attracting praise and criticism, Tesco’s initiative exemplifies the difficulties of supply chain analysis. Our friends at Environmental Leader report that, “Unilever, a top supplier of household products to Tesco, operates 260 factories in 70 countries and works with more than 10,000 subcontractors.”
Take it from there, and then try to account for the frequent changes in the production chain. Calculations can get pretty convoluted. On the upside, programmers are continually improving carbon tracking software. At the same time, the Supply Chain Leadership Coalition, founded by multinational corporations, has a year under its belt in working to encourage suppliers to release carbon emission data.
While corporate efforts advance, some argue their efforts at labeling are too obscure to impact consumer behavior. Although there is demonstrated public interest in a product’s carbon footprint, early forays in labeling by corporations have led the press to coin the phrase, carbon confusion. For example, Timberland uses fact sheets and Boots, a British pharmaceutical chain, posted signs in stores to explain the carbon data.
Some critics see carbon footprint labeling as a diversion from carbon reduction. Supporters of labeling, like the folks at TerraPass respond by arguing that, “the carbon footprint of the supply chain is vastly larger than the footprint of any individual retailer.” Is it too much hope for, that the two might be pursued in tandem? Tesco’s director of government affairs and corporate responsibility, David North, explains that, “Every capital expenditure and business decision is now looked at through the lens of the push to reduce CO2 over the next two years,” North claims that Tesco’s carbon footprint analysis has augmented the carbon efficiency in their supply chain.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is hopeful that carbon footprint labeling will impact both corporate social responsibility and consumer behavior. The Japanese labeling scheme will begin in the next fiscal year, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP) and proponents and detractors will be evaluating the outcomes.

Will the introduction of national and regional initiatives pave the way for an accepted carbon footprint labeling standard? Are you optimistic about the impact of Japan’s initiative?

If you’re interested in learning more about the science of carbon and climate change, check out the NPR series by Robert Kulrich.

Tori conducts research and writes on environmental issues, with a special focus on food justice. Her professional experience in the civic sector and academic background in social and economic development ground her work and belief in a sustainable food system as an achievable human right. Tori is based in Bogota, Colombia where she is pursuing a bilingual, international career in environmental policy.

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