New UK pilot scheme for food and beverage environmental impact labelling
19 July 2021
A new ‘eco impact’ food labelling programme is to be piloted in the UK this Autumn giving products an overall score based on their impact on the environment.
The organisation running the initiative is Foundation Earth; a not-for-profit organisation funded by a membership model and from product assessments and certifications. Although the initial pilot is fairly small (100 SKU labels) the names attached to the project suggest they are in this for the long term. ‘Friends and Partners’ of Foundation Earth include Nestlé, Co-op Food, Sainsbury’s, Tyson Foods and Costa Coffee, as well as emerging companies in the plant-based space such as the Meatless Farm and the Mighty Pea. The pilot will allow Foundation Earth to assess how consumers respond to the labels as it targets a more extensive rollout in 2022.
How is it scored?
Products will be assessed and given a weighted score based on their environmental impact, specifically related to their carbon footprint (49%), water usage (17%), water pollution (17%) and biodiversity loss (17%). Agricultural, processing, packaging and transport impacts will also be considered, however, some aspects such as the impact of packaging recycling at end of life is not included. The scoring appears to be across eight different grades – from A+ (best) to G (worst) with associated colour coding from green to red. The actual criteria for the eco impact scoring system are not yet public but are apparently based on a method developed with Oxford University and environmental data insight specialists Mondra.
What other eco-labelling schemes are being used?
The eco impact scheme is one of several environmental labelling schemes competing for space. Notably, another national pilot was launched in France earlier this year, the ‘Eco-Score’ system which is based on five categories, rather than eight. Eco-Score is already fairly well established – with 750,000 products in France are already available to compare and contrast, although this seems to be online rather than actually through physical labelling in most cases. More recently, Carrefour has also got on board, stating they will be displaying Eco-Scores for all their products online; if anything will get traction for these schemes it will be the seal of approval (and associated pressure) from the big retailers.
The EU green deal
There are a few years until the EU plans to roll out a “sustainable labelling framework that covers the nutritional, climate, environmental and social aspects of food products” as part of the green deal. So, until then we can expect competing schemes to be in place in different markets and products e.g. Nutri-Score and traffic light labelling.
There is an obvious need for consumers to be provided with objective information on a product’s environmental footprint. However, until we have a harmonised cross-EU scheme we can expect different schemes to pop up, with scores generated from different data. This is of course is better than no environmental labelling at all (as is the case for most European countries) but could be confusing if competing schemes become established in the same market.
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