By Lorne Milne
The problem is that kitemarks do not serve a genuine purpose in the fight against climate change; they are merely a stamp of approval. While the stamp informs us of which products adhere to a low-carbon standard, what standard is this? Looked at another way, how harmful are products that don’t carry the kitemark?
It seems counterproductive that the kitemark is intended to guide consumers on carbon intensity when other potentially more harmful greenhouse gases exist like nitrous oxide and methane. To think that methane intense products like a pint of milk or rump steak could not carry the stamp is madness and underpins the necessity for alternative solutions.
Look no further than the government's campaign to crack down on smoking. It was not until the government introduced mandatory health warnings on cigarette packaging that cigarette consumption began to decline. In particular, the 2008 introduction of graphic imagery saw attempts to quit increase even further when compared to packets carrying text-only warnings. In attempting to implement consumer behavioural change, the government should use this strategy as a blueprint. Similar warnings should be introduced to high-carbon products from petrol pumps and airline tickets to energy bills so as to educate consumers on the climate change implications of their purchase.
During the Blue Planet II and Our Planet series, graphic images of deforestation, forest fires and helpless animals were broadcast worldwide universally triggering feelings of anger and sympathy. So much so that 88% of viewers subsequently admitted to implementing changes to their own lives from eating less meat to consuming less plastic. Surely placing graphic imagery of extreme weather devastation or habitat loss on carbon-intensive products would evoke similar feelings of guilt and encourage genuine behavioural changes?
Having recently moved out of home, I have become responsible for buying my own household products. While buying local, seasonal produce is clearly far more sustainable than, say, imported beef, like much of my generation I want to understand the full impact of my decisions. We need to eat less meat and burn less fossil fuels but there is currently no system in place to educate consumers on their decisions. Warning labels akin to cigarette packets are cheap and have the potential to harness guilt in the right fashion and make us, as a society, more conscious in our consumption.
Tracking a product's carbon footprint is a challenge, even for the savviest digital company. From the heavy equipment that extracts raw material, the factories that produce subassemblies and final products, emissions are produced at each stage of the supply chain. Largely, the corporate approach to carbon monitoring has been characterised as opaque, not transparent, so it is vital the government puts in place the necessary funding and procedures for unilateral transparency. It seems that only after unilateral transparency and suitable warnings are introduced that consumer behaviour is likely to change.
Kitemarks simply do not go far enough.