Brands are introducing scorecards grading the impact of their products. They are similar to nutrition facts. However, the food industry is controlled by governments’ regulations while sustainability isn’t.

The goal of these new scorecards should be to inform consumers on the impact of products from fossil fuels to water use. But they appear to be more marketing solutions rather than real information tools.

As consumers rank sustainability as a key factor in purchasing decisions, brand’s eco-claims have flooded the market and generated plenty of room for greenwashing. To put all the blame on brands would be to overlook the complexity of the situation.

The Singing Food – The Muppet Show.

The current lack of regulation and common standards caused the proliferation of several labels and calculators using different measuring methods. Some of them are based solely on the environmental impact, other consider living wages and work conditions.

The European Commission is working on a framework aiming to regulate how brands back up environmental claims and help them measuring their impact. New rules are expected no later than July, but controversy is already there.

The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) focuses on 16 specific areas of environmental impact but doesn’t take into account the social impacts, the renewability or biodegradability grade, and it doesn’t include a metric for biodiversity or consider microplastic pollution.

Takahiro Hasegawa - “One Field, One T-shirt”.

The tool is intended as a basis for making credible sustainability claims in marketing messages, but as long as what sustainability really means is not properly defined, debate on what needs to be measured and communicated will persist.

Waiting for a unified approach and regulations across the market, how should brands do it right? Climate-conscious shoppers are more likely to trust brands that share details about their supply chain and are open to admitting where they can still make progress.

From the book “Fun Foods: Clever Ideas for Garnishing and Decorating” 1990.
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