With new carbon labels, brands tally their environmental footprints: 3 stories you may have missed

© Sasha Radosavljevic

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Companies bet carbon labels can help the climate. Will consumers catch on? 

Amid a growing demand for sustainable goods, some brands are giving consumers a way to track the carbon footprint of their purchases. 

The story: We’re used to scanning food labels to make quick, informed decisions about our nutrition. But what about making healthier choices for the planet? Some brands are starting to add carbon labels to their food products — and other goods, such as electronics, shoes and skin cream — to help consumers understand their environmental costs, reported Jessica Wolfrom for the Washington Post. The labels provide an estimate of a product’s carbon footprint — from production and transportation to use and disposal.

“We think of carbon as the new calorie,” Prakash Arunkundrum, Logitech’s head of global operations and sustainability, told the Washington Post. “We want carbon to be that thing that you look at and you say, ‘Okay, am I going to really need this in my life today?’”

The big picture: In a 2020 global survey, 57 percent of consumers said they would change their purchasing behavior if it helped reduce negative environmental impacts. As carbon labels become more common, they could empower consumers to make more informed choices and push companies to reduce their products’ carbon footprints, experts say.

But some environmentalists are skeptical. They say carbon labels could be more about marketing than reliable data. Accurately estimating carbon footprints is complicated and there is a lack of federal guidelines.

“Carbon labels also are not regulated and require consumers to translate relatively complex scientific terms like ‘carbon equivalents’ on the fly,” Wolfrom wrote.

Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Our list of sustainable living tips can help. No purchase necessary.

Read more here.

Global emissions are surging despite pandemic slowdowns.

The story: While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in some countries, others are gradually returning to normal — and carbon emissions are mounting. According to a statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere rose to 419 parts per million in May, the highest level ever recorded, and “there was no discernible signal in the data from the global economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Writing for Vox, Rebecca Leber compared the growing concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere to filling a plugged bathtub: “Even if you turn down the faucet for a little while, the water will keep rising.”

The big picture: Scientists overwhelmingly agree that we have until 2030 to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions or humanity will suffer devastating consequences. To borrow Leber’s bathtub analogy, we must close the tap. This means dramatically reducing fossil fuel emissions, urgently scaling up renewable energy and reversing the destruction of ecosystems such as forests that absorb and store carbon, according to Conservation International’s Chief Scientist Johan Rockström. 

“We have growing evidence that the final battle ground whether we fail or succeed in delivering the Paris Climate Agreement of holding the 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming line, is not only whether we are able to get off fossil fuels, it is also whether we are able to safeguard the carbon sinks in nature,” he told Conservation News.

Read more here.

Flushed into waterways, prescription pills could alter aquatic ecosystems.

The story: A recent study found that crayfish exposed to moderate levels of a common antidepressant spent less time in hiding and more time searching for food, reported Douglas Main for National Geographic. According to researchers, this behavior change could make the crayfish more vulnerable to predators — and eventually have broader effects on their ecosystems. 

“Crayfish are one of the dominant consumers of stream leaf litter and aquatic insects, and so any impact on their behavior could have wide-ranging ecological implications,” Main wrote.

The big picture: COVID-19 has taken a toll on mental health — and with a spike in depression, increased use of antidepressants could boost their concentrations in wastewater “to the highest levels ever,” Trevor Hamilton, an expert in neuroscience and climate change, told National Geographic. “This will create a significant challenge for many organisms with neurochemistry that is affected by these modulators.”

Experts recommend disposing of unused medications by taking them to a pharmacy or a “drug take-back” event. If that’s not possible, they suggest removing the pills from their container, mixing them with an unappealing substance (cat litter or used coffee grounds), sealing them in a plastic bag and placing them in the trash.

Read more here.


Vanessa Bauza is the editorial director at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A power plant, Germany (© Sasha Radosavljevic

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