Carbon Footprint: Communicating with Consumers

Dimitris Sotiropoulos

General Manager at DS Consulting


The care of the environment and all related services are today a part of a new Global trend, which concerns the relation between producers and consumers. The use of environmental claims, in terms of corporate social responsibility and green marketing, has created a new sector where innovative service models continually arise. A relatively new term that has made its appearance is “Carbon Footprint” which is a term used to engage consumers. However Carbon Footprinting is limited to goods and services and does not refer to the producers and institutions as such.

What is the Carbon Footprint?

Carbon Footprint refers to the total of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that are emitted directly or indirectly throughout various stages of the whole lifecycle of a product, including production, processing, transportation, purchase, consumer use and disposal. To make things simple the measurement of all related emissions is expressed in a single metric unit called carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). All 6 Kyoto Protocol gases are taken into account during the calculation: Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrogen oxide (N2O), Hydrophthorocarbons (HFCs), Hyperfthorocarbons (PFCs) Sulfur hexafthorate (SF6).

Is it only marketing?

The Carbon Footprint is generally displayed on the products labeling as an absolute number expressed in grams or kilograms of the calculated CO2 that is emitted per product unit during its whole lifecycle, from the production of raw materials to its final disposal or recycling.

In any case, the Carbon Footprint constitutes an environmental claim via which the producers communicate mainly their environmental protection awareness, but not limited only to that. Many companies use the various Carbon Footprint Measurement Standards in order to achieve a reduction of their footprint in the long term and demonstrate an efficiency improvement. Also a lot of organizations formulate a carbon management strategy and establish a set of actions in order to meet this goal. Such actions usually involve effective use of energy sources, application of environmental friendly technologies, product packaging changes, use of locally produced raw materials etc. The Carbon Footprint is not only marketing, but also a valuable tool that provides society with environmental benefits with organizations increasingly realizing the value of communicating this with the consumers.

What does the Carbon Footprint have to offer?

In the UK some big companies have already embarked on projects for calculating the carbon footprint of their products, having variable motives and showing diverse results. Walkers, a sister company of PEPSICO, having gone thought the process of calculating the footprint of their products, came across a very surprising and unexpected opportunity for energy saving. They realized that by reducing the frying time of the crisps they could reduce the footprint and at the same time save more than 1million pounds annually.

TESCO, a leading retailer worldwide, has so far calculated the carbon footprint of more than 500 private label products and aims to do so for the remaining 70000! TESCO is one of the international companies that have associated its corporate social responsibility with the values of environmental protection and intents to bring its consumers on board too.

Another interesting example is the American casual clothing maker Levi Strauss. Having calculated the carbon footprint of the LEVI’S 501 jeans, the company realized that 57% of the eCO2 emissions result from the after sale use of the products and more specifically the repeated washing of the clothes. It was calculated that by replacing the warm washing of the products with cold washing, the emissions during product’s use phase can be reduced by 90%.

Finally, the Coca-Cola Company in the UK reached a similar conclusion regarding the use of the after sale phase of the product. More specifically, the study showed that the percentage of tin recycling by the end consumers was very low, therefore the company initiated a 2year campaign to raise consumers’ awareness and emphasize the importance of recycling for the environment.

Where is the Carbon Footprint claim on the packaging leading us?

Nowadays, the consumers’ understanding and awareness regarding the environmental protection issues is constantly increasing and the carbon footprint calculation offers the companies a valuable procedure through which they can achieve cost reductions, effective environmental management and strengthening of the company’s reputation. In every business sector, from food production to bank services, consumers wish to make choices among products and services that are committed to reduce the impact to the environment.

Recent studies coming to light in a number of countries already conclude that consumers now are even more interested in the products’ environmental impact in such a way that products with low carbon footprint will be those ending up in the shopping basket. The Carbon Footprint is considered as a very powerful tool on consumers’ hands that enables them to put pressure on companies and expect an improvement on their environmental performance. As a trend, it gains increasingly grounds in most of the developed countries, given the fact that it allows a direct communication channel between the consumers and the companies. People nowadays are increasingly concerned and react about the climate change and the Carbon Footprint translates that involvement and concern into pressure towards those more responsible.

DS Consulting is a registered partner of Carbon Trust for developing Carbon Footprinting projects for Goods and Services, against the PAS 2050:2011.

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