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Episode 158: Chasing Transparency — Carbon Labeling, A Sustainability Talks Session from WasteExpo 2022

In this week’s NothingWasted! episode, we bring you a thought-provoking Sustainability Talks session: Chasing Transparency — Carbon Labeling. Listen as they dig into why carbon labels matter, their importance in guiding buying decisions and the science and data behind them.

Liz Bothwell

July 18, 2022

In this week’s NothingWasted! episode, we bring you a thought-provoking Sustainability Talks session: Chasing Transparency — Carbon Labeling. Listen as they dig into why carbon labels matter, their importance in guiding buying decisions and the science and data behind them.

Hear from Kristin Kinder, VP of research and waste stream sustainability, at Wastequip, in conversation with Sandra Noonan, chief sustainability officer of Just Salad and Mike Rosen, managing principal (Retired) of PRR.

Here’s a sneak peek into the presentation:

Kinder started out by noting that, “Everything we do has a carbon footprint—everything from shoes, to bath and beauty products, to ice cream; even sending an email.” And, in spite of being one of “the main reasons life exists on Earth,” carbon—when there is too much of it—is causing our planet to warm, and altering the natural world we depend on.” She asserted that it is “one of the most important things we can be measuring.”

Kinder explained that a carbon label lists the amount of carbon emitted in the raw materials, manufacturing, use, and end life of a product—on the product itself, so the buyer can see it easily. She noted that, “We’re used to seeing labels to help guide our buying decisions,” so the concept of carbon labeling makes sense, in large part because “every year, transparency becomes more imbedded in business.” This also filters down to the supply chain, where carbon footprints will become increasingly important. And, “consumers today have an unprecedented ability to be educated on the products and brands they buy from, so if a manufacturer doesn’t provide this information for them, somebody else probably will.”

We always tell consumers to “buy with their dollars,” noted Kinder, but “buying products with incomplete or inconsistent information is like voting for politicians when you don’t actually know what they believe in.” Kinder said that, “Carbon labeling is probably one of the most powerful ways to bring consumers and industry together.” She showed a slide of influential brands that are currently labeling carbon—and it included newer, sustainability-focused organizations as well as major corporations with 100-year histories. And, “Many of them are even coming together to create industry standards,” she noted. The important ingredients in a carbon label, she noted, are “scientific data and clear communication.”

Kinder asked the panelists to weigh in on why carbon labels matter. Noonan spoke about the carbon label launched by Just Salad in 2020, as well as its reusable bowl program that keeps about three tons of carbon out of landfills annually. The company wants to help customers lower their carbon and waste footprint, which is the mission that drives its carbon-reduction initiatives. “We need to get much more literate as a culture, on the carbon footprint of what we eat,” she noted. And, “If there’s a nutrition label, there should be a carbon label.”  

Kinder asked, “What do consumers really need to increase their trust in a product or industry?” Rosen noted that trust is, in fact, key—and that there are three “simple little steps where companies or industries tend to mess up: make sure your promise isn’t something you can’t uphold; be consistent; and don’t lie.” Also, “If you screw up, own it; fix it; and prevent it from happening again.”

So, “How do we guide customers to make the right choices?” asked Kinder. Rosen spoke about the fuel economy label and his work on revising it. He observed that a good label should be reliable, easy to understand, and helpful in making comparisons and good decisions. Noonan added that, “You need to contextualize the information. Displaying the data in units our society just doesn’t talk about yet isn’t going to do much.” The number “must be curated” in a way people understand.

Listen to the full episode above.

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About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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