Japan Introducing Carbon Labelling

Can Canada be far behind?

Back in May, when the Harper government announced its new Canadian Food Labelling Initiative to clarify the definition of the expressions “Product of Canada” and “Made in Canada” on food labels and advertising in order to, as it claimed, “help Canadians make better purchasing decisions,” it may have missed an opportunity to further inform people — this time about the environment.

As reported recently in Australian paper The Age, the conservative LDP government of Japan is developing an extensive scheme (I love how the Aussies and Brits refer to these things as “schemes”) that would encourage companies — it’s voluntary, at least for now, and modeled on a British pilot project — to include “carbon footprint” labeling on food packaging and other products such as detergents and electrical appliances, with the aim of persuading companies and consumers to do more about their own greenhouse gas emissions.

Calculations of the detailed breakdown of each product’s “carbon footprint” will be made according to formulae being devised by the Japanese Trade Ministry. To promote the new initiative, the ministry released details of the “carbon footprint” of a bag of chips. One bag produces 75 grams of carbon dioxide: 44% from growing potatoes, 30% in production, 15% from the packaging, 9% during delivery and 2% from disposal.

According to the trade ministry’s Takuma Inamura, the new scheme is part of Japan’s stated commitment to reduce total carbon emissions by up to 80% by 2050. Whether consumers can be persuaded to consider a product’s “carbon footprint” as well as its price tag is unknown although it seems doubtful. In a recent survey almost 80% of Japanese shoppers said they would be willing to spend no more than an extra 2,000 yen ($20 CAD) a month on energy-saving vehicles and other eco-friendly products.

“Most people don’t know what the term carbon footprint really means,” Inamura said. “But we hope this will be a launch pad for other companies to take part and increase public awareness.” Of course, the Conservative government’s track record on public awareness schemes hasn’t been great — one of their very first actions after coming to power was to can the “One Tonne Challenge” set up by the previous Liberal government to urge Canadians to cut greenhouse gas emissions by changing their personal habits, from using less energy to conserving water.

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