Climate labels for climate protection: CarbonTag uses precise data to motivate consumers to consume sustainably
Interview with Marcia Holst, co-founder of CarbonTag
Source and Copyright by CarbonTag
Author: House of Eden
More and more people are increasing their awareness of climate protection and developing sustainable views. However, many still find it difficult to put this into practice. To close this gap between pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors, Marcia Holst, Jasper Döninghaus and Leonardo Vizioli founded CarbonTag. A tool based on precise data analysis to enable companies to calculate and visualize their product emissions. In this way, they can not only see weak points and sustainably optimize their supply chain, but also enable consumers to consume consciously.
In an interview, Marcia Holst talks about CarbonTag and its mission, carbon accounting in the food industry and sustainable consumption.
Marcia Holst, co-founder of CarbonTag
You have started a study on the behavioral economics impact of carbon labels at King's College London. What inspired you - was there a turning point?
CarbonTag was originally founded as a research initiative when we co-founders - Jasper, Leo and I - were studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics together at King's College London. We won a policy pitch competition at our university with the idea of a climate label.
During our research, we became aware of how poor the data on product-specific emissions is. And how much there is a lack of transparency and precision. In cooperation with Alnatura, we conducted an academic study to determine the effect of climate labels on consumer behavior. In the course of this, we built up an extensive database that forms the basis of our calculations. The results of the study show how effective climate labels are for emission reduction can contribute and how attractive they can be for both retailers and manufacturers. Specifically, our study found an average emissions reduction of 9.5% and a 20.1% increase in sales for labeled products.
These numbers motivated us not only to pursue CarbonTag as a research initiative, but to develop a tangible product. One that helps companies and organizations calculate and visualize their product emissions. With our dashboard, companies can also view a benchmarking of their products, identify emission hotspots and try out the extent to which certain ingredients or means of transport could be replaced along the supply chain.
What is the biggest challenge for the food industry in terms of measuring and communicating carbon emissions?
The biggest challenge is the insufficient data. If data is available, the data quality is often unsatisfactory: the data sources are not transparent and not detailed enough. Conventional databases often give CO2eq values (= CO₂ equivalents as a unit of measure to standardize the climate impact of different greenhouse gases) at the product level, but do not provide any information about the details of the underlying methodology or data at the parameter level (e.g. feed emissions, fertilizer emissions, etc.). It is also very time-consuming and expensive for companies to determine this data and request it from the producers.
Carbon accounting is now more important than ever - how does CarbonTag implement greenhouse gas accounting in the food industry?
To address the challenges mentioned, CarbonTag has set itself the task of building a bottom-up database that effectively addresses these problems. Each data point is backed by academic sources and is available in as much detail as possible - in total there are several dozen parameters per product. In this way, we can precisely and transparently calculate CO2eq values for products and at the same time gain insight into emission hotspots at ingredient level. Either along the entire supply chains, or related to specific parameters such as transport.
In this way, the calculation can be flexibly adapted to the data situation, while comparability across products is consistently guaranteed. Producers can also transmit their data directly to us, if they are available - with minimal effort. This saves time and costs. Appealing visual processing then makes the data accessible not only for sustainability experts. After all, product developers and people from corporate communications also want to use and understand this data.
You point out that many consumers have a sustainable attitude, but do not act accordingly. How do you support them with your labels to align attitude and behavior?
Fortunately, consumers, investors, and voters are increasingly demanding transparency. However, if information on CO2eq values is not easily available or unreliable, it is very difficult to shop climate-consciously. For example, many people underestimate the climate damage of beef or vanilla, but overestimate the role of transport. However, nobody can be blamed for this if the relevant information is not communicated.
This disparity between the desire or need to shop climate-consciously and the actual buying behavior, is called the attitude-behaviour gap. Our study has shown that climate labels can make a significant contribution to reducing this gap.
Products that are more environmentally friendly are known to be more expensive. How does CarbonTag help to convince the mass market?
Animal products, i.e. meat and dairy products. In terms of emissions, this is much more important than factors such as transport. Often, a diet that is high in animal products is more expensive than a diet that is low in animal products or even vegetarian. Of course, that's not always the case, such as with cow's milk and oat milk. The dairy industry receives extensive subsidies. Overall, however, climate labels can help consumers to make conscious purchasing decisions of their own free will.
What is the role of policy makers in CarbonTag’s mission?
We are in contact with the BMEL, the initiative network FarmFoodClimate from ProjectTogether, and leading scientists from the life cycle assessment area. Here we work out the extent to which one cooperation network can set up, which makes the implementation of a uniform emissions data infrastructure possible.
We also welcome new legislative initiatives that combat greenwashing. The European Commission has proposed a new directive on consumer empowerment to set requirements for the justification, communication and verification of explicit environmental claims. This means that generic environmental claims such as "climate neutral" and "green" can no longer be accepted without being documented in detail.
CarbonTag's product helps to put this into practice: our methodology is based on internationally recognized scientific standards. And we provide companies and consumers with reliable, transparent, comparable and verifiable information. We believe the proposed directive will help reduce greenwashing and provide consumers with reliable information so they can make more environmentally responsible choices.
Thank you for the interview, dear Marcia!