Do eco-labels on products have sufficient impact on consumers?

In the face of the climate crisis, environmental labelling has appeared on many consumer goods. While more and more consumers are paying attention, Patrick, Carbon Maps' cofounder and CEO, wonders about the real impact of these eco-labels.
Jun 7, 2024

This article was originally published on Les Echos.

According to the European Commission (2020), more than half of Europeans pay attention to the environmental impact of the products they plan to purchase. In France, consumers are becoming less reluctant to pay more for eco-friendly products: 42% in 2012, compared to only 36% in 2021, according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition. A recent Opinion Way survey for Greenweez (2023) even indicates that 80% of French people now consider eco-friendly purchases during the holiday season.

However, multiple geopolitical conflicts and the rising inflation have pushed many French people to reconsider their purchasing habits. According to INSEE, food prices in October 2023 were 7.7% higher than in October 2022. Therefore, while the environment remains a major concern for the French, purchasing power is still a predominant worry (IPSOS, 2022).

Good intentions

It is thus legitimate to ask, in this context, whether environmental labeling is the be-all and end-all of responsible consumption: as commendable as it is, does the intention hold at checkout?

France is a leader in this field, particularly with the launch of Nutri-Score in 2017, followed by six other European countries, yet no study currently evaluates its impact quantitatively (sales, household spending, etc.) on consumption habits.

Cigarette packs

In France, two examples of public policies involving labeling teach us that while labeling has positive effects on informing the public, it only changes behaviors if correlated with a quantifiable notion, such as price.

In 2016, France banned the branded packaging of cigarette packs, which was a marketing tool for the tobacco industry. According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), adopting plain packaging had several positive effects on the population: making smoking less glamorous, reducing its appeal, especially among younger audiences, and increasing the perception of the product's danger.

By replacing the advertising character of cigarette packs with health information, plain packaging proves effective. However, according to the CNCT, supported by WHO data, the most effective way to combat smoking is the significant and regular increase in cigarette prices.

Linking price and the environment

In another domain, we can mention real estate and its mandatory Energy Performance Diagnostics (DPE). Since the announcement of the impending ban on renting energy-inefficient properties, their sale prices have significantly dropped on the market. According to a SeLoger study (2022), energy-inefficient properties sell for 3.9% less than equivalent properties that are not energy-intensive. Additionally, these properties have larger negotiation margins: an average of 5.6% compared to 3.7% for non-energy-intensive properties.

Thus, to convert consumption intentions into real habits, environmental degradation factors should be considered alongside raw materials in establishing the final price of a consumer good. Carbon emissions, biodiversity impact, water consumption...

If a product has a deleterious impact on the environment, and therefore indirectly on society, its price should be higher than an equivalent, more responsible product. To achieve this, it will be necessary to develop a unique framework and tools for accurately measuring this environmental impact. In this regard, the methodology developed by ADEME is already a good foundation.

As the latest report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) indicates that continuing current policies will lead to a 3°C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels this century, it is more urgent than ever to act. While environmental labeling is a crucial first step, supporting it with financial measures could accelerate the adoption of more responsible purchasing behaviors and production methods.

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