Increasingly, we're seeing brands tell us what their carbon footprint is. Great, every time I see a brand publish its impact, I think kudos! We stan a transparent business model. Although to be frank, the number doesn’t indicate much more to me than an openness towards taking accountability for your environmental impact. Their footprint could be the most astronomically, unnecessarily high number in the world and I’d be pretty clueless. So join me in my journey to try and understand what the frig these numbers actually mean. :)
Firstly, what exactly is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emitted throughout the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It comprises carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming (boo!).
Things to keep in mind:
A carbon footprint is not exclusively made up of carbon dioxide, which is why CarbonCloud uses the term Climate Footprint instead, although they measure the same thing. CarbonCloud prefers the term Climate Footprint as the majority of emissions from the food industry are nitrous oxide and methane. This is why they use CO₂e as the ‘e’ stands for equivalent. It signifies the number of greenhouse gases that would have the equivalent global warming impact of CO₂.
Another variable to keep in mind when looking at a product's carbon footprint is that some calculations may take into account different scopes of the product's life cycle.
For example, CarbonCloud & Climate Partner take into account farm to shelf or ‘cradle to shelf’. Meaning from the production of agricultural inputs, agriculture, transport, processing, and distribution up until the product reaches the shelf. It does not measure storage, usage and disposal.
Now the wordy bits are out the way, let’s talk numbers.
One kick-arse brand that has paired up with CarbonCloud to measure its climate footprint is Tenzing. Their Original Recipe has a climate footprint of 0.32 kg CO₂e/kg. BUT WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!
The figure is expressed per kilogram (kg) of the product (even though the package size is smaller than one kg). Much like calories on the back of products are quantified per 100g. This allows us to directly compare footprints.
So for every 1kg of Tenzing Original (4 x 250ml cans) made and put on the shelf, 0.32kg of CO₂e is produced. It would take 12.5 cans of Tenzing to produce 1kg of CO₂e.
From the brands I have seen publish their climate footprint, Tenzing’s appears to be on the lower end of the spectrum. Let’s look at something higher.
When In Rome’s Canned merlot climate footprint is 1.1 kg CO₂e/kg. So for every 1kg (4 x 250ml cans) of merlot produced and put on the shelf, 1.1 kg of CO₂e is produced.
And if you fancy a visual, here is what 1kg of CO₂ looks like...
1kg of CO2 is about as much as one person breathes out in a day.
How low can we go?
Looking at these products' climate footprint, it is obvious which one carries more of an impact. However, unless brands choose to do this on every product it is hard to get an idea of what is a truly high or low number. 0.32 kg CO₂e/kg for an energy drink seems low and 12.5 cans seem like plenty to produce 1kg of CO₂e. We won’t know how low brands climate footprint can get until other brands decide to show us theirs. Then it becomes a matter of relativity.
Once more brands become more transparent it will become easier for consumers to drive change and be easier for shoppers to make more planet-friendly purchases. Encouraging brands to not only be competitive about their price and quality but also their footprints by benchmarking themselves within the category. Brands will also be able to learn from one another, analysing which methods of production and transport work the best.
The power is in all of our hands.
So, how can we encourage brands to show us their footprint? Pressure. As consumers, we hold so much power. Support and buy from brands who acknowledge, share and actively strive to improve their impact. Shoutout to Tenzing, Jude’s, Little Freddie, Ombar, DAME, Rubies In The Rubble & When In Rome for their recent participation in The Knowvemeber Summit. A movement for climate transparency. You can read more about it here - https://know-vember.com/.
You can even go one step further and apply pressure directly to the brands and leave reviews on wherefrom.org. Tell their CEO’s what you really think.