The topic of climate change is slowly achieving the necessary presence in the media and in companies. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that we are still a long way from truly enlightened society. This is a reason why effective measures from the business and political sector remain rare. This makes it all the more important to make CO₂ emissions visible on products: It offers consumers and companies an opportunity for change and opens up unused potential in the area of marketing for those companies that act effectively towards a climate-friendly future.
The food industry and our diet have a very special role to play in connection with climate change. Because changes here can be implemented very quickly and potentially have an impact in the short term, climate-friendly nutrition can buy us exactly the time needed until new technologies and more long-term measures take effect.
The role of time
Most people understand that climate change has a negative impact on the quality of life. Global warming is leading to ever-increasing environmental disasters and irreversible, self-reinforcing processes that are making parts of the earth uninhabitable. What many don’t know is that we only have a CO₂ budget of less than seven years to keep the risk of uncontrollable environmental effects low. Renewable energy, planting trees, and sucking CO₂ out of the air are the most common solutions in the public discourse. In view of our limited time window, these solutions take effect too late. The switch to renewable energies is necessary, but will take at least until 2050. Similarly, planting trees will take decades to take effect. Similarly, sucking CO₂ out of the air is still extremely expensive, implementation is slow, and there is no guarantee that CO₂ will not ultimately escape.
The role of nutrition
This is where our diet comes into play: the food sector accounts for 30 percent of all greenhouse gases worldwide, 70 percent of which are caused by the production of animal products. And while over 80 percent of the world’s arable land is used to produce animal products, this land produces only 18 percent of the world’s calories. If the world were to eat a climate-friendly diet, we could reduce CO₂-eq levels in the air by nearly 20 percent, extending the time we have to develop solutions.(1)
The power of information
When shopping for fruits and vegetables, those who want to purchase a product that is not sprayed and supports the preservation of ecological diversity can look to organic labels for guidance. Simple labeling makes it possible to make an ecological decision in a fraction of a second. For supply and demand to have a real impact on the climate, it is necessary for consumers to understand, without effort on the product, whether they are about to choose the climate-friendly option or not. The CO₂-eq impact of a product should therefore be visible on all packaging. This need does not only apply to food products, but it is precisely here that rapid implementation is important, as purchase decisions in the food sector are of an everyday nature. A comprehensible, clearly visible CO₂-eq label helps consumers to make conscious purchases. Of course, even with a climate label, people will continue to buy products that are bad for the climate. Information alone does not necessarily lead to a change in behavior, but it does encourage it. By constantly being confronted with the effects of their own consumption, consumers are likely to increasingly give preference to more climate-friendly foods.
All you can eat for climate
We can judge how big a wave is when a person is in the picture. The size of the surfer helps us define the size of the wave: We can immediately see if someone is splashing near the beach or riding a 15-meter wave. The relationship between the person and the wave makes the image comprehensible.
It is similar with CO₂ eq values on products. Most people don’t know whether 100 g CO₂-eq is a lot or a little, good or bad for the climate. But they understand the relation to other products, the relation to the average. The information “better than average / worse than average” helps with a first classification. Therefore, it could become a feature of CO₂-eq labels.
When we developed the “All You Can Eat for climate” labels together with Eaternity, the focus was on intuitive comprehensibility: we learned to stop at red and go at green. We learned that more stars are good and fewer stars are bad. And we learned that fire burns your fingers. The simple statements “good for the climate / bad for the climate” allow products to be cognitively classified and relate to the average. The further differentiation into “very good for the climate / very bad for the climate” provides a clarifying differentiation for consumers and manufacturers. To ensure that the labels on colored packaging stand out well against the background, they have a white border.
Is climate-friendly tasty?
In the area of nutrition, CO₂ reduction does not have to mean doing without. Rather, the colorful (Instagrammable), rich, nutrient-dense variety of a plant-based or plant-emphasized diet can reveal itself. In any case, the growth figures from this sector of the economy speak volumes in terms of changing, more ecological consumer behavior. In this way, the food industry can make the issue of climate change easier for everyone. With attractive offers and a clear orientation in terms of climate friendliness directly on the product. The food industry can now seize its historic opportunity to become a key player in the ecological turnaround. That tastes like a good future!
Balázs Tarsoly studied communication design in Wiesbaden and Los Angeles and worked as a designer in London. In addition to his enthusiasm for nutrition, storytelling and design, he brings 15 years of experience in brand development in the food sector. He is the founder and managing director of Branding Cuisine, a creative agency specializing in food and sustainability. With them, he is the organizer of the World VerbEsserer competition for sustainable food and gastro concepts. Balázs is the author of the book “CO₂lution - Together. Transforming Climate. Now.”
(1) Explanations with sources in Müller-Amenitsch, Ralf und Tarsoly, Balázs, CO₂lution – Gemeinsam. Klima wandeln. Jetzt. Berlin, 2021