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Sarah Peyok headshot

3p Weekend: What’s the Carbon Footprint of Your Veggie Burger?

Carbon Footprint

Quorn, a United Kingdom-based meat alternative company that dates back to 1985, will launch a carbon labeling system to help consumers understand the full lifecycle of every product. The new labels featuring carbon footprint data will start appearing on some packaging in June and on all of the company’s products by next year, news outlets including the Guardian report.

Quorn describes itself as the first food company to have its farm-to-shop carbon “foodprint” data independently certified by the Carbon Trust.

An industry first? The roller-coaster ride for adding carbon footprint information to food labels

But Quorn is not the first company to work with the Carbon Trust to establish such metrics.

Tesco, a British multinational supermarket chain, as well as the Coca-Cola Co., both began working with the Carbon Trust over a decade ago. Tesco first put carbon labels on products such as milk and orange juice in 2007. But five years later, the company dropped its pledge, claiming the amount of work involved was too much and that other supermarkets declined to do the same.

In 2007, Coca-Cola’s U.K. division was among a group of nine companies to pilot the Carbon Trust’s draft product carbon footprint disclosure standard. For now, the beverage giant discloses carbon footprint data on its website but not on cans, as they are “already crammed with information,” the company told the U.K. news daily Telegraph.

Now, there is a resurgence in appetite for this type of data and transparency. As pressures mount for the food and beverage industry to tackle climate change and cut greenhouse gas emissions, steps like carbon labeling can help to educate consumers about the resources, including fuel and water, needed to produce food products.

As a purveyor of meat alternatives, Quorn has a unique foothold within the food industry. And unlike concerns over other plant-based protein products, which contain ingredients eyebrow-raising to some like soy and coconut oil, all Quorn products are based in mycoprotein, which is derived from a fungus and grown by fermentation.

The carbon footprint from animal products is staggering

According to data compiled by Quorn:

  • Raising livestock generates 14.5 percent of global emissions, the second highest source after energy production.

  • More than half of all food-related emissions come directly from animal products.

  • Livestock farming uses a staggering 70 percent of agricultural land. It’s one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution.

Additional data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that global meat consumption continues to rise. And, compared to other commodities, meat has much higher production costs as well as significant environmental and health consequences.

Even while the plant-based food sector reached an estimated market value of more than $4.5 billion in 2019 and continues to disrupt the industry, the global meat sector is expected to climb to over $1 trillion within the next few years.

The long, winding road to carbon labeling for consumers

To help consumers make more informed decisions and create a competitive advantage, more food and beverage companies are pursuing ways to incorporate carbon footprint data. Companies like Nestlé and Premier Foods have begun exploring carbon labeling as a way to inform consumers about the environmental impacts their products have.

Carbon emissions data is a challenge many companies are starting to examine in order to increase efficiency and quench new consumers’ demand for transparency and accountability. This vote-with-your-dollars attitude from consumers has only just begun.

What Quorn has announced is monumental. Hopefully this time around it won’t take another decade for a greater number of food and beverage companies to launch carbon labeling. Going further, perhaps the broader consumer goods industry will shift to make carbon emissions data more relevant, transparent and prevalent.

Information is key to inspiring healthier choices—for both producers and consumers. Innovative, informative labeling just might help us find a more suitable diet for a warming planet that is getting hotter by the day.

Image credit: Quorn/Facebook

Sarah Peyok headshotSarah Peyok

Based in the Midwest just north of Detroit, Sarah is passionate about sustainability, storytelling and bringing to light sustainability principles that can be threaded into business strategies and communications. Formerly an editor for CSRwire and freelance writer for many organizations forwarding the principles of corporate social responsibility and circularity, she is excited to be a contributor to TriplePundit. Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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