Monday, 24 January, 2022

After the Nutri-Score, soon a CO2 score on consumer products?


It is one of the 149 proposals of the citizens’ convention for the climate. A CO2-Score could well appear on consumer product packaging in the coming years. The stated objective is clear: to make the carbon impact of products and services transparent and to bring it to the attention of consumers. “In principle, it’s something ultra-positive. It responds to a real thirst for transparency on the side of consumers,” comments Olivier Andrault, food and agriculture officer at UFC-Que Choisir.

It remains – and this is the challenge – to define the method of calculation. “The question is:” what are the parameters that we will take into account? Is the carbon footprint the right criterion and is it a sufficient criterion? “Asks Olivier Andrault, advancing a paradoxical example: cattle raised intensively and using growth hormones in the United States. In the end, the United States could end up with a more favorable carbon footprint than those raised in the open air in Cantal because the former are shot very young, hence the importance of the calculation method used.

Initiative and limits

A carbon score, the online organic store La Fourche offers on all the products it sells since September 2019. “It took us a little over a year of work because the calculation is simple, which is complicated, it is to have the necessary information on the product “, explains Lucas Lefebvre, co-founder of La Fourche. Their indicator designed with the collaborative sustainable kitchen application Etiquettable takes production, processing, storage, transport and packaging into account and is based on figures from Ademe. Result: a carbon footprint expressed in grams of CO2 emitted per 100 grams of product. But knowing that green lentils have a footprint of 60 g CO2 / 100 g remains very abstract. So The Forks adds a grade from E red to A + green to have a reference scale.

“This shows that in terms of carbon footprint, a kilo of beef is equivalent to 100 kg of fruit and vegetables”, illustrates Lucas Lefebvre, noting in passing an increase on The Forks in sales of a chili con seitan ( an alternative to meat) compared to the chili con carne of the same brand. For processed products in the same category, the recipe (cookies with or without butter, for example) can therefore play on the carbon note. But “a French steak and an Argentinian steak will have

almost the same carbon footprint “, admits Lucas Lefebvre. The Ademe data used to measure the impact of production are also averages, erasing the differences that may exist from one farm to another. initiative which has the merit of opening the debate despite apparent limits.

The UFC-Que Choisir, which launched a consultation on responsible consumption for the post-crisis period, is proposing the establishment of a “green price” which would reflect the environmental cost of a product. The Ministry of the Environment has launched a working group to try to calculate the environmental impact (including the carbon footprint but not only) of food products. The citizens’ convention for the climate thus evokes a “display based on a carbon index and an overall environmental rating”.

The Nutri-Score known to 41% of French people

In practice, this could result in a display with a color code (red for products whose manufacture emits a lot of greenhouse gases). A little air of deja vu? The Nutri-Score, which has made its way onto store shelves since 2016, is precisely based on a rating system (from E to A) visually reinforced by colors (from red to green). “A simple notation with colors is an easy system to remember and people naturally tend to want to go green”, confirms Pascale Hébel, director of the Consumption division of Crédoc. “A study shows that for a good understanding of consumers, synthetic labeling is needed, in the form of a color code and which must appear on all the products of a range”, adds Olivier Andrault of UFC-Que Choisir . Full box for the Nutri-Score. But with what success?

If the energy label found on household appliances is “widely known and used” – 88% of people consult it when shopping and on this segment of the population, 72% use it systematically according to Crédoc -, Nutri-Score, however, still suffers from a lack of notoriety. Only 41% of French people are aware of it. And for good reason, the affixing of this indicator on labels remains a voluntary step on the part of manufacturers. A non-obligation which is “a downside”, judge Olivier Andrault, regretting the decision of the authorities. “The 200 or so companies that have undertaken to provide their products with this logo represent only around 30% of the market,” points out Crédoc in a note published in May. The Nutri-Score is also better known among “the most educated categories and the highest social classes”.

Overabundance of labels

But when the Nutri-Score is known, it is rather used: 63% of two who know the logo say they are “completely or rather influenced” by it. But the Nutri-Score has also helped accelerate the transformation of companies. “This balances the balance of power between consumers and manufacturers”, notes Pascale Hébel who adds that “it forces them to move faster than they could have done”. A Nielsen study from October 2019 also showed that 14% of French people say they pay attention to Nutri-Score but that a movement towards healthier products is being felt more broadly. Thus the equivalent A or B products (which would be classified in these categories even if they do not display the Nutri-Score) represented at the time 31% of food sales in supermarkets. But above all, they were on the increase, while the equivalent products C, D or E, were in decline. Will a carbon or environmental score have the same virtues? “We need official recognition,” warns Olivier Andrault, above all to prevent each actor from developing their own indicator on their own. It is true that when the Nutri-Score was set up, manufacturers tried to launch their own label before retreating. And thus avoid a proliferation of logos which would risk losing a consumer already confronted with an overabundance of labels (Label rouge, bio, Bleu-Blanc-Cœur, AOC, etc.).

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