Climate: Are consumers ready for carbon footprint labels?

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What’s your carbon footprint?

Study suggests good labeling could help shape consumer decisions

Staff Report

The grand international climate deal reached in Paris late last year was an encouraging step toward curbing global greenhouse gas emissions, but the agreement will ultimately work only if individuals are prepared to do their part. And according to a new set of studies by a trio of university researchers, consumers may be ready to step up.

In the first group of studies, the research team found that a label with information about a product’s carbon emissions could shape purchasing decisions — although price is still a bigger factor.

Emissions associated with use of a given product were the most important factor, followed by the transportation and disposal stages, according to the findings, published in the International Journal of Environmental Policy and Decision Making.

The carbon footprint of the manufacturing process was considered less important to consumers than the other stages in the product’s lifecycle because it is more distal from the consumer’s control. In other words, participants in the study felt they were less accountable for carbon emitted during manufacture as opposed to the usage stage. Consumers value recycling a product, but, overall, consumers would prefer manufacturers to offset carbon emissions rather than having to address the problem directly themselves.

“We find that participants not only take the carbon label into account when making product decisions, but they want detailed information on the label,” the researchers explained in their findings. They suggested that companies should prepare for how carbon emissions labels might affect future consumer choice.

The study was conducted by Christopher Groening of the College of Business Administration, at Kent State University, in Ohio and colleagues Jeffrey Inman of the University of Pittsburgh and William Ross of the University of Connecticut.

Specifically, they studied the effects of a label that displays the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production, transportation, usage and disposal of products that would give consumers information on the likely climate change impact of buying a particular product.

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