The French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy has since 2010 engaged in a massive and unique environmental labelling experiment. By providing consumers with information about the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts of their purchases, the Ministry hope to nudge both consumers, producers and distributors towards a more resource efficient behaviour.
Household consumption in Europe is a major contributor to environmental problems such as climate change, air pollution, water pollution, land use and waste . This includes consumption of food and drink; in fact within the EU almost a third of all greenhouse gases associated with consumption are food related .
Environmental labelling – a way of displaying the environmental price of products – is a unique way to influence both consumers and producers. On the one hand, consumers are given the power to choose products according to their environmental impact. On the other hand, it can improve transparency and introduce new production indicators within the food sector.
The Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy embarked on this journey in 2010 with a call for tenders to which 168 companies and organisations responded. Among those were Casino who was already working with food manufacturers, environmental experts from the BIO Intelligence Service and the ADEME on carbon labelling. In response to the tender, Casino stepped up its actions and in partnership with ADEME/AFNOR developed its environmental label.
The environmental label was developed using Life Cycle Assessment, an analysis that consider environmental impacts throughout a product’s life cycle – from field to plate. Thanks to this multi-criteria approach, Casino came up with an Environmental Index which takes into account greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and water consumption. It compares the impact of 100g of product to the total daily food consumption of a French person. Inspired by the already existing nutritional index, consumers are familiar with this kind of labelling.
Feedback following the experiment shows that the environmental labelling had a number of positive results. It has shown that lowering environmental impacts can also lower production costs, for example by improving packaging, or using less raw materials and energy. Overall, the label helped improve the brand’s image, and helped the company engage with partners, both upstream and downstream.
Unfortunately, consumption patterns haven’t drastically changed: only two to six percent of consumers changed their purchasing habits based on the label. However, the experiment lasted for one year only – quite possibly too short to change segmented buying habits.
Regardless, most companies involved in the experiment agree there is a need for a simple, clear EU-wide environmental label. The French government continues to develop and consolidate the technical tools acquired through the experiment and encourages the companies to participate in the EU’s Product Environmental Footprint pilot phase, ending in 2016.
Further information on: https://www.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/-Experimentation-de-l-affichage,4303-.html
 OECD (2002a): Towards Sustainable Household Consumption, Paris.
 Environmental Impact of Products (EIPRO), 2006 https://www.sik.se/archive/pdf-filer-katalog/SR802.pdf