Eco-labels, which show the environmental impact of food products across a range of indicators, have been making the news again.
Foodsteps, the platform that helps companies calculate, label, and reduce their environmental footprint from farm to fork, has just completed a $4.1m (£3.3m) seed funding round which will see the business launch a hiring spree and respond to growing demand for eco-labelling.
Foodsteps is already working with high street restaurant chains including Pizza Express, Wagamama, Ask Italian and Coco Di Mama, as well as food delivery services allplants, Mindful Chef, and caterers at Kew Gardens.
The platform holds a database of over 3,000 ingredients, containing impact information on an ingredient’s carbon footprint, as well as pollution, water use, and land use impacts. Companies can upload foods and recipes onto the platform and receive a traffic light rating from A-E.
Eco-labels are increasingly big business in the sustainability sphere and their number is proliferating. IGD recently announced that four food retailers – Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – will be trialling its own environmental labels in a virtual reality setting this summer to test consumer understanding of eco-labelling.
IGD has been working with a steering group involving representatives from Defra and Wrap as well as technical consultant Anthesis. It says the initial focus of the work has been on “developing a strategic framework for an environmental labelling scheme that will provide consistent and transparent information for consumers, enabling them to make more informed choices at point of sale, based on credible data and consistent methods for environmental footprinting”.
IGD says the pilot takes it one step closer to developing a “harmonised environmental labelling scheme”, albeit current market dynamics suggest this may be wishful thinking. Foundation Earth, for instance, says it is well underway with trials of its own eco-label that launched in September 2021: 19 companies are currently committed to its pilots across the UK and EU, with close to 200 products scored.
A spokesman for the organisation says Foundation Earth welcomes IGD’s adoption of many of its key principles and remains open to working and collaborating with IGD to deliver an optimum harmonised system.
Harmonisation of the data that underpins eco-labels will be key to ensuring the public isn’t bamboozled by a plethora of different schemes. Wrap recently published new guidance and protocols to provide businesses with a consistent methodology for measuring and tracking their progress in reducing supply chain emissions.
Elsewhere, the Environment Agency is running a project to develop a common set of environmental metrics that could be used by food companies.
The not-for-profit OmniAction, which counts food policy expert Professor Tim Lang among its leadership team and Foodsteps among its partners, is also working to take existing metrics and methodologies from across the food system and harmonise the data into one global and unifying open source framework.
There are many other projects besides – we haven’t even mentioned the European Eco-score label currently being trialled by Lidl.
It remains to be seen, however, whether labels designed to bring clarity will simply end up causing more confusion.