Carbon labels fail to communicate persuasively, says new research

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When was the last time you offset your carbon emissions? This may well be because the carbon labels fail to communicate. Research from Stefan Gössling and Ralf Buckley shows that carbon labels suffer from shortcomings in the presentation of information, and explain how such shortcomings can be overcome.

Results indicate that even if tourists care about their climate change impacts, carbon labels are currently ineffective because of deficiencies in communications.

Labels do not provide information that individuals can understand. Factual knowledge is primarily kg CO2 or CO2-e, per person or per unit distance/ consumption, with rankings and colour-coded infographics. Fewer labels provide information to compare performance against similar products, and even fewer explain the effectiveness of the saving, i.e. the actual savings or impact avoided.

The information provided does not convey the significance of carbon impacts from flying, and it does not come across as trustworthy and reliability. As a result customers do not know how to act more sustainably.

Results indicate that even if tourists care about their climate change impacts, carbon labels are currently ineffective because of deficiencies in communications.

The authors found that the degree of knowledge required to make sense of the information provided by the label, though without accurately assessing whether this information is factually correct, is too high. They suggested that ‘optimized’ labels use colour schemes and factual information, and tested this with a traffic light system for carbon footprint in flights, which was found more effective than the current schemes.

Ecolabels attempt to simplify sustainability information in a visually appealing way that customers can use to take informed decisions. The information currently presented is likely to be more product than market led, and suffer from lack of customer relevance and testing. More marketing intelligence is needed, to support the technical content of these labels.

Read the original research here: Gössling S, Buckley R. Carbon labels in tourism: Persuasive communication? Journal of Cleaner Production. 2016;111(B):358–69. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652614008907

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