Japan to launch carbon footprint labeling scheme

Thanks to Vinney for passing on this story. Apparently Japan is starting a program to label certain types of consumer goods with their carbon footprint, that is, with the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted over the life cycle of the product, from extracting raw material to disposal or recycling. The UK has a similar system in the works, and there have been some voluntary programs in Europe, but, as far as I know, this will be the first mandatory carbon labeling program. It’s easy to argue with the details of such a scheme — measuring carbon footprints is a highly uncertain venture, but personally I welcome the attempt. I have been pushing for the development of life cycle emissions reporting from my small corner of the EPA and to my friends on the Hill for about a year now, and I’ve had little to point to by way of precedent.

On the one hand I find it a little disingenuous that the Japanese plan focuses on food product labeling when the climate impact of individual food items are pretty small for consumers to be constantly worried about, and the differences between comparable food items (say, one brand of soda versus another) are likely to be within the margin of error of the footprint values. It might make more sense to start with the big-ticket items, like consumer electronics or furniture, and not overwhelm already-complicated food purchasing decisions with more cryptic labeling. On the other hand, it might be good to get carbon labeling on to something that people see and worry about every day. Maybe the impact of people shifting their food purchases won’t be that big, but there could be a spillover effect from the raised awareness of carbon footprints. It could be one of those things where you add up carbon labels, recycling, reusable bags, and suddenly you get a conservation society — the much-sought-after cultural shift where people start to think about their impact on resources and not just the cost of things. After a while, it becomes natural, like wearing a seatbelt. Of course you choose the house with the lower carbon footprint. You wouldn’t throw a can in the trash, would you?!

Well, a fellow can dream.

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