Unilever, the industrial giant behind the Seventh Generation, Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton, and dozens of other familiar brands, will add carbon footprint labels to its packaging. It’s an important change that will let you track the company’s progress toward its goal of achieving carbon neutrality for all its products by 2039.
We pay attention to what we can measure, and carbon emissions have long been ignored by companies and shoppers. The consequences of 150 years of ignoring CO2 created when products are manufactured and shipped has landed humanity in the warming pot of climate change. With this acknowledgment of previously hidden environmental costs, Unilever gives consumers an important tool to start acting on their desire to decrease emissions and cool the planet.
“While the world is dealing with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and grappling with serious issues of inequality, we can’t let ourselves forget that the climate crisis is still a threat to all of us,” Unilever CEO Alan Jope said in a statement. The company added: “[I]t is our ambition to communicate the carbon footprint of every product we sell. To do this, we will set up a system for our suppliers to declare, on each invoice, the carbon footprint of the goods and services provided; and we will create partnerships with other businesses and organisations to standardise data collection, sharing and communication.”
Thinking Carbon When You Buy
Are you ready to shop for sustainability? With carbon emissions information on packaging, shoppers can actually select products that do not contribute to global warming. If it costs more, you’ll be able to see whether there are real carbon benefits, but Unilever’s goal is to build in a comprehensive accounting of its environmental footprint as a model for a new economy. However, the company did not provide details about what its carbon footprint labeling will include.
Unilever’s bet is a bold one, that it can deliver its products without adding to the atmospheric carbon load. Unilever brands will also ensure that its paper products and packaging will not contribute to deforestation by 2023, and that it will reduce its CO2 emissions by 50% before 2030. The company also committed to purchase carbon offsets to balance the carbon footprint of its remaining CO2-emitting products in 2039, as well as introduced new farming and supply chain reporting tools to help capture emissions data. These are more aggressive timelines than other major consumer packaged goods companies.
The challenge is how to communicate so much complex information that is frankly unfamiliar to most people. Past experiments with carbon labeling have struggled because both businesses and consumers were not familiar with the concepts involved.
Today, everyone is painfully aware of the consequences of carbon emissions and many think every day about how to cut their carbon footprint. Unilever’s labeling, which has not been disclosed, will need to be well designed but this is a company with deep experience in making information simple and pleasing to use.
For now, you can take a moment to learn about the food, products, and services you use to understand how much CO2 they generate. When Unilever introduces its carbon footprint labels, you’ll hear it here.