March 13, 2008 —
One of the most sensible proposals for neutralizing the confusion that greenwashing has brought to green shopping, is a labeling system that would allow consumers to actually compare products in the same way that dieters might compare fat and calorie contents. It's highly unlikely that such a system will be implemented at the federal level in the United States, but some businesses have been experimenting with voluntary carbon labeling systems that could one day become the standard by which we measure the footprints of the products we buy.
To truly quantify the carbon impact of a product requires tracing it at every step of its production, down the supply chain to the raw materials it's made from — and the fertilizers used to grow those raw materials. The British government is currently collaborating with Carbon Trust in an effort to create a national standard for measuring emissions, but many businesses say that with the tangled web of contractors and subcontractors that comprise most modern manufacturing chains, providing an accurate tally is nearly impossible.
In the meantime, there are companies like Timberland, which instituted a grading system for its products last year that tells consumers how carbon greedy each product is on a scale of 0-to-10. It may be a long time before we can expect to see environmental information displayed on the side of each box, but when a company like Timberland offers it voluntary, it gets us that much closer.