Why just measuring the carbon impact isn’t enough…and what we are doing about it.

30.8.2022
Why just measuring the carbon impact isn’t enough…and what we are doing about it.

At the moment, the carbon footprint is a commonly used metric of climate change impacts and environmental sustainability. When applied to products, it adds up emissions of materials, energy consumption and transportation. Interest in carbon labelling has drastically increased, as companies are rushing to appease increasingly environmentally conscious consumers, who demand transparency regarding their purchases.

Why just measuring the carbon impact isn’t enough…and what we are doing about it.

But is focusing on the carbon footprint truly enough? Our answer is no. Here’s why:

  1. The Carbon Footprint does not give you the full picture
  2. Measuring additional dimensions could even bring climate sceptics into the fold

1. The Carbon Footprint - Not the Full Picture

Carbon emissions are not the only concern when looking at the environmental sustainability of a product. Other factors such as depletion of natural resources or pollution also play a role in how much a product and its production processes harm the environment and the communities. Furthermore, many production processes result in loss of biodiversity, which endangers our food and fresh water supplies. This is a major issue that the carbon footprint fails to account for. Let us give you two examples that illustrate the complexity of the issue: palm oil and bananas.

Environmental Impact of Palm Oil

Palm oil is present in many products we consume today. When it comes to food, it can be found in pizza, doughnuts and chocolate. Add hygiene products and it is an ingredient in almost half the products found in your supermarket.

To get an idea of how much harm palm oil production is doing to the environment, just calculating its carbon footprint is simply not enough. Focusing merely on carbon emissions does not take into consideration the impact palm oil production has on other areas such as land use and pollution. Around 90% of global palm oil trees are grown on islands in Malaysia and Indonesia. These islands are home to incredibly biodiverse tropical forests. Yet, as palm oil estates grow, the natural forest has to make way and so deforestation in these areas is increasing. This results in animals losing their natural habitat.

Moreover, palm oil production can cause serious air, soil and water pollution. Burning is commonly used in order to clear vegetation in natural forests and within palm oil plantations. This releases smoke and carbon dioxide into the air. Aside from this, palm oil production results in considerable amounts of effluent, which causes freshwater pollution if released directly into the water. None of these impacts are taken into account when doing a carbon footprint calculation.

Another factor not covered by the carbon footprint is social fairness. One problem, for example, is that child labour is a concern on these plantations. What is more, palm oil production leads to land being converted into plantations. As a result, many local communities lose their livelihood, since they cannot cultivate crops on the land or collect wild foods anymore.

A comprehensive product impact assessment could warn consumers about the biodiversity impact and social unfairness factor that comes with purchasing palm oil products.

Environmental Impact of Bananas

On the surface, it looks like bananas are an environmentally sustainable option. After all, they are transported in freighters from South America and India to countries all around the world. Freighters are certainly a more environmentally friendly option than air freight.

That being said, one issue is that the carbon footprint fails to consider the impact of non-organic banana plantations on the soil. Conventionally, bananas are grown in monocultures, which involves high pesticide use. This damages the soil and harms coral reefs and marine life in coastal plantations.

Also, just like palm oil, banana plantations can be a hotbed of social injustice. Workers may not be provided with the appropriate protective gear and many plantations make use of child labour. What’s more, workers’ salaries are often unacceptably low.

So, as you can see, the carbon footprint leaves much to desire when it comes to measuring the total impact of a product.

2. Expanded Methods of Measurement - Appealing to Climate Sceptics

Another, probably less talked about dimension is the positive effect an expanded labelling system could have on influencing climate change deniers. Instead of wasting resources on the futile attempt at convincing them that human-made climate change is real, there is another way to entice them to act more environmentally friendly. By identifying topics that are important to this segment of the population, such as welfare in their society, extended impact labels could nudge them in a more eco-friendly direction.

In conclusion, the carbon footprint on its own clearly falls short of its goal of promoting more environmentally sustainable products. Another option is therefore needed. Here’s what we at inoqo are doing about that:

Eight Dimensions to Measure the Environmental Impact of Food Products

Our food label does not only address the carbon footprint. In fact, we provide a multidimensional Product Impact Label. It covers eight different dimensions to measure food products’ impact all in one label. Thereby, customers get a quick and clear overview. If they are interested in more detail, customers can scan the label, which will lead to a detailed product page providing deeper insights into the impact of the product.

We provide insights into the following eight dimensions:

  1. Climate
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Biodiversity
  4. Nutrition
  5. Social
  6. Packaging
  7. Regionality
  8. Seasonality

If you are a retailer, a grocery store manager, a supplier or a F&B brand and want to understand more about the impact of your products on the world and how exactly we calculate this, reach out to us at hello@inoqo.com.

Why just measuring the carbon impact isn’t enough…and what we are doing about it.

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es204163f https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate1532 https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/palm-oil https://www.fibl.org/fileadmin/documents/de/news/2019/studie_palmoel_soja_1907.pdf https://www.wwf.de/themen-projekte/landwirtschaft/produkte-aus-der-landwirtschaft/runde-tische/runder-tisch-palmoel https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/8-things-know-about-palm-oil https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11356-016-8248-y.pdf https://blog.wwf.de/edeka-bananen/
https://foodispower.org/our-food-choices/bananas/ https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2021/06/17/carbon-footprint-emissions-label/ https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/biodiversity/biodiversity_and_you/ https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652620339597 https://www.thebalancesmb.com/carbon-footprint-vs-life-cycle-2878059

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