Could Market Forces (And Carbon Labeling) Turn The Tide On Climate Change?

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When food manufacturers were required to list nutritional information on packaging, something interesting occurred.

People changed some of their eating habits.

Frank Dalene is hoping something similar can happen with climate change, except instead of percentages of saturated fat and sodium, consumers would learn the amount of carbon emissions companies contribute to the climate problem.

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“Right now, nobody really knows the carbon footprint of any product or company,” says Dalene, author of Decarbonize the World: Solving the Climate Crisis While Increasing Profits in Your Business.

That would change, though, with a system Dalene devised called ICEMAN – (International Carbon Equivalent Mechanism Attributed to Neutrality). The system, which businesses could use for free, assigns an index number based on a product’s greenhouse emissions.

Dalene would like to see the ICEMAN system implemented nationally so consumers would be aware of what a company’s carbon emissions level is and make purchasing decisions accordingly.             

“Knowledge is power,” says Dalene, who is president and CEO of Telemark Inc., a construction services business that has become a leader in embracing the latest in energy efficiencies. “Once the consumer has access to that information, that will be the incentive for corporations to clean up their act.”

An Easy-To-Understand System

Something similar happened when food manufacturers were required to list nutritional information on packaging. People read that information and, at least in some cases, reacted for the better.

In 2018, a report appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showing that, since the labeling began in the early 1990s, consumers reduced the intake of calories by 6.6 percent, total fat by 10.6 percent, and other generally unhealthy choices by 13 percent. They also increased vegetable intake by 13.5 percent.

Food companies, aware that consumers were paying attention, reacted as well. They, on average, reduced the amount of sodium in their products by 8 percent and the amount of harmful trans fat by 64 percent. The authors of the Journal article said consumers didn’t completely adopt healthier diets, but it was clear the labeling had some impact on their choices.

Translating that success to climate change is trickier, but doable, Dalene says.

“Nutrition labels on food are effective because consumers generally have a basic level of knowledge about nutrition, about what is healthy or unhealthy,” he says. “But the average American isn’t steeped in the science behind climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.”                                         

So how to counter that?

ICEMAN converts metric ton measurements of greenhouse gases into a simple, universal indexing system based on a percentage value of carbon neutral.

“This index system can be universally understood by any consumer anywhere in the world regardless of what measurement system they use or their level of knowledge about climate change science,” Dalene says. “Placing these labels on a product will eliminate the mystery of whether or not a product is truly ‘green.’ ”                                                       

'Good For Brand Image'

With that knowledge, consumers already weighing factors such as price and quality will also be able to make purchasing decisions based on which product has the smaller carbon footprint.

“It’s just common sense that someone would want to pick the product that would have less of a negative impact on the environment,” Dalene says.                                         

And that, in his view, is how the market could help drive the battle against the forces of climate change, as opposed to government mandates.

“With people getting more and more onto the green bandwagon, being environmentally responsible is good for brand image,” Dalene says. “Everybody wants to be viewed as environmentally responsible. ICEMAN allows a company not just to seem environmentally responsible; it allows a company to demonstrate, as an objective, mathematical fact, exactly how environmentally responsible they are.”

About Frank Dalene

Frank Dalene, the author of Decarbonize the World: Solving the Climate Crisis While Increasing Profits in Your Business, is president and CEO of Telemark Inc., a construction services business he co-founded with his brother Roy in 1978.