Carbon footprint labels to steer climate-friendly buying

“Nutritional breakdowns, ethical trade branding, recycling information – and now estimates of a product’s climate impact. Consumers across the globe are starting to see a new kind of information on goods packaging, indicating the level of planet-heating gases [greenhouse gases] emitted by making the items they are buying.

This fresh wave of efforts at “carbon footprint” labeling is being praised by some as empowering consumers to help tackle climate change – but criticized by others as confusing at best, and greenwashing at worst.

Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank, a U.S.-based think-tank, said a carbon-labeling system has “been in the works for a while” but companies needed time to research it properly, “so we’re just seeing it now”.

Numi Organic Tea, a California-based company that sources 130 ingredients from 26 countries, will start putting carbon labels on its teas this summer, after tracking their emissions since 2015. [See below graphic]

Figuring out the teas’ carbon footprint required studying farm management practices, processing equipment, energy use along the supply chain and more, said Jane Franch, company vice president for strategic sourcing and sustainability.

“That was the first step in our journey – wrapping our minds around what is the impact, and looking for places where we can reduce (it),” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The effort has included pushing tea factories to start using cleaner energy and more energy-efficient equipment, she explained.

Numi packaging will carry a label that includes a single, product-specific number: a kilogram of carbon-dioxide equivalent, broken down by ingredients, transport, packaging and even the energy required to boil water at a tea-drinker’s home…

“Publishing the climate impact of food products should be mandatory and standardized, just as with nutrition labels,” said a spokesperson for Swedish oat milks producer Oatly, which is leading a petition to the German government on the issue.

Denmark and France are already looking at creating their own consumer carbon labels, while the European Union is aiming to come up with a draft for a broader eco-label by 2024.

In related news, see: Denmark to Become First Country to Develop Climate Label for Food

Denmark to Become First Country to Develop Climate Label for Food Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series. Policy name: Denmark climate labels Overview: The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries has announced that it will create a state-controlled climate label for food that promotes climate-friendly food production. Location: Denmark Population: 5.8 million. Food policy category: Sustainability, climate change. Source:

The new official Danish dietary guidelines take climate into account


The food and beverage industry is at the center of the push for carbon labeling, given its outsize climate impact.

The global food system accounts for about a third of carbon emissions, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

But until recently, most efforts to reduce food-related emissions focused on production, said Edwina Hughes, head of the Cool Food Pledge at the World Resources Institute (WRI).  

“We’ve made loads of progress in the last 50 years, but we haven’t looked at consumption as much. That’s pretty significant – if you don’t look at shifting diets, you won’t get where you need to” in terms of curbing climate change, she said.

Some simple interventions appear to offer great potential.

For instance, adding messages at the top of menus nearly doubled the proportion of diners choosing plant-based dishes, according to WRI research published in February. 

The Cool Food program runs a carbon labeling initiative that includes a “badge” on menu items, indicating that they meet nutritional standards and have a smaller carbon footprint than researchers say is needed to achieve key climate goals.”

To learn more about the Cool Food program, go to:

Sources: Biron CL. Climate-friendly cuppa? Carbon footprint labels aim to steer green buying. Thomson Reuters Foundation News, May 16, 2022. Available at:

WTN Editor. Numi joins first mover brands like Oatly, Allbirds, Unilever in carbon labeling its products. World Tea News, March 9, 2022. Available at:

Published by greengrass50

My name is Christine McCullum-Gomez, PhD, RDN. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist with expertise in environmental nutrition, food and nutrition policy, food and nutrition security, food justice, chronic disease prevention, regenerative & organic agriculture, and sustainable healthy dietary patterns. Currently, I serve on the Editorial Review Board and as a Column Editor for the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. I live in Bogota, Colombia with my husband, two teenagers (boy-girl twins), and our dog Honey. My website is: You can follow me on Instagram at:

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