Eco Labelling: a Greenwashed Marketing Ploy or Setting a Standard in Sustainability?

Eco Labelling: a new Standard in Sustainability

As the dust settles on the COP26 climate talks, a quiet anticipation in the food and beverage sector awaits to see what changes will occur as a result?

Eco Labelling can be dated back to the late nineteenth century. Following decades of exploitation in the colonies, Europeans (particularly the Dutch) felt the demand to provide proof of ethical production on their Indonesian coffee plantations. Debates around sustainability rose to the surface during the 1980s as the world opened up to free trade and with this came the advent of cheaply produced goods overseas. A solution to manage this could naturally be found in the form of sustainability standards and ecolabels.

In its recent publication, WRAP revealed that the food and drink industry were responsible for some 35% of the total carbon emissions released into the atmosphere each year. Therefore the spotlight can only serve to intensify on companies operating in this industry.

Popular beer brand Budweiser had been somewhat ahead of the curve it would seem. In 2018 the brand stamped its product: “Made with 100% Renewable Energy” as a move towards setting the standard for the alcoholic beverage industry. This would mean a reduction of around 40,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The statement released at the time by their Global VP Brian Perkins was telling however: “We know that climate change is an important issue for consumers…” 

Eco Labelling Food Drink

Can consumers turn away from their favourites?

Polls like the one carried out by Vypr, have even proved that consumers could be swayed away from their favourite brands to more sustainable options. In addition to this, around two thirds of consumers in the same poll said that carbon information on labels would influence their buying habits.

In fact during 2017, Budweiser saw itself losing a considerable share of its largest market to smaller craft beers. Based on this, it could be argued this was a way to sway dollars back to their brand.

The truth is, every company competing in such a competitive market should be expected to spin the marketing on their labels towards profit. The real question is: are they genuinely serious about leading the way in sustainability? And if so, what other areas of their operation are they working on?

While the distillery’s energy may be coming from a 100% renewable source, how do global drink brands fare across its Scope 1,2 and 3 emissions? The bigger picture now includes areas like packaging and distribution. Packaging brings: plastics, glass and paper stock into the equation. Distribution relies heavily on fossil fuels, specifically diesel and petrol for transporting the product globally to the consumer.

Fortunately, Budweiser has released a footprint report that dives deeper into all three of its Scope emissions. Furthermore it clearly acknowledges that Scope 3 is the area where they can make the biggest strides towards improvement.

The work towards improvement no longer concentrates solely on one part of their operation like the power used at its distillery, but rather on reusing bottles and removing tertiary packaging from their supply chain. 

Still, global alcohol brands that need to stretch across the planet to maintain their supremacy in the market may in time fall to an inevitable defeat. If those smaller craft beers (that have already begun stealing the market share from larger global brands) grow in power within their local territories, perhaps they’ll ultimately win the battle by having the edge of being sourced locally? 

Only time and taste will tell!

If you think you’d benefit from a partner and a platform to assist your business with gaining visibility on your ESG risks such as Scope 1,2 and 3 emissions, get in touch.

STAR Specialists

Rick Sanderson

Head of Partnerships

Rick Sanderson

Jamie Jarczewski

Senior ESG Lead

Jamie Jarczewski

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