Their logos and packaging are near clones - Lay's potato chips in the United
States and Walkers crisps in the United Kingdom. The story behind the
similarity is that both brands are owned by PepsiCo. A subtle difference sets
them apart. Each bag of Walkers crisps carries a label stating that 75.0 grams
of carbon were emitted to produce a 34.5 gram bag of crisps.
In 2007, Walkers became the first major food brand to display a carbon label on
its packaging. The label was the result of collaboration between PepsiCo and
Carbon Trust, a British government-funded nonprofit that works with businesses
and the public to help the transition to a low-carbon economy. Founded in 2001,
Carbon Trust's mission is to help businesses worldwide become accountable for
the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions
of their products and services - an idea that has only begun to penetrate
The assessment of total lifecycle emissions, known as "carbon footprinting",
includes production, transportation, use and disposal. Carbon Trust created the
subsidiary Carbon Label Company in 2007 to help businesses communicate their
carbon reductions through labels that state product lifecycle emissions in
terms of an equivalent gram value of CO2.
By developing this "carbon reduction label", Carbon Trust has shaped the future
marketing war over the environmental sustainability of consumer goods and
services. We're entering an age when consumers at the grocery store will count
carbon as well as calories.
Carbon Trust has also elevated the importance of certification standards for
corporations that are trying to be sustainable. In order to retain the right to
use the Carbon Trust label, businesses that partner with Carbon Trust must
commit to its measurement standards and to a two-year program of carbon
reduction. Since 2000, Walkers has reduced its energy use per pack of chips by
33%, and its water use by 45%. They have also pledged to continue annual
reductions of 3% and 5% respectively for energy and water.
Where Carbon Trust faces an uphill battle is the public perception that
corporate sustainability initiatives are heavy on marketing and light on
remediation. Corporations know that climate change is now part of consumer
consciousness. If they refuse to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they face a
public relations liability. As a result, companies are moving to embrace the
mantra of the "triple bottom line", where organizational success means
balancing people, planet and profit.
Shareholders rarely praise corporate social responsibility unless it's paired
with strong profits and growth. Corporations and their boardrooms are still
beholden to the golden rule of any public company: Increase shareholder equity.
If a company's primary focus is profit, the temptation exists to distort claims
of sustainability, resulting in a media landscape rife with "greenwashing"
where advertisers sell the sustainability ethic without adequate scientific
assessment or documentation. Many consumers may take claims of corporate
environmental sustainability at face value, but there is also a growing
movement to start crunching the numbers.
The challenge for Carbon Trust - the one inherent in its name - is gaining the
public's trust as an authority on reliable monitoring and certification of
corporate sustainability claims. To accomplish this, Carbon Trust needs a high
level of institutional transparency for its standards and practices.
On October 23, 2008, Carbon Trust released its official standards for
evaluating carbon sustainability. Known as the "Publicly Available
Specification 2050", or PAS 2050, this online resource provides access to the
carbon footprint reduction criteria and emissions standards that must be met by
companies that receive Carbon Trust certification and labeling rights.
A joint project with the British Standards Institution (BSI) and the UK's
Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the PAS 2050
standard is based on a 100-year lifecycle assessment of greenhouse gas
emissions for products. Extensive research was conducted on 75 product
categories from more than 20 British companies such as hypermarket operator
Tesco and pharmacists and healthcare-products retailer Boots. DEFRA also tested
the PAS 2050 on up to 100 food products to assess their impact, from production
To support PAS 2050, Carbon Trust has developed a "Code of Good Practices on
GHG Emissions and Reductions Claims." The code helps businesses to clearly
communicate their lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions with certified data. This
paired with the Carbon Trust's position as an independent nonprofit entity
provides some of the credibility needed to gain public confidence, and with it
the confidence of the business community.
Carbon Trust has defined with PAS 2050 what may become a benchmark in carbon
lifecycle reduction assessment for business. But when will it cross the pond to
become a part of life in the world's biggest economy, the US? Given that
standards gain power as they proliferate through international networks, many
are eagerly awaiting an answer from PepsiCo.
Based on a Carbon Trust assessment, PepsiCo plans to post the carbon footprint
of its Tropicana brand orange juice on Tropicana's website. An equivalent of
3.75 pounds of CO2 are emitted for each half-gallon carton of orange juice,
according to Carbon Trust, a 20% increase over previous internal PepsiCo carbon
footprint assessments. In terms of carbon labeling, PepsiCo has yet to decide
whether it will include Tropicana's carbon footprint on its packaging.
James Marshall is a MPA candidate at Columbia University's School of
International and Public Affairs, concentrating on environmental policy. He has
created the Green Film Forum, a website that encourages the public to document
environmental issues facing their communities.