retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Fascinating piece this morning in the New York Times about how PepsiCo decided to try to figure out the environmental impact of orange juice. According to the story, “PepsiCo hired experts to do the math, measuring the emissions from such energy-intensive tasks as running a factory and transporting heavy juice cartons. But it turned out that the biggest single source of emissions was simply growing oranges. Citrus groves use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer, which requires natural gas to make and can turn into a potent greenhouse gas when it is spread on fields.

“PepsiCo finally came up with a number: the equivalent of 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere for each half-gallon carton of orange juice.”

But now that the research has been done and the conclusions reached, PepsiCo is said to be facing another problem: deciding how to use that information, and even figuring out whether anybody knows whether 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide is a lot or a little. These are important considerations, because manufacturers are facing pressure to use things like “carbon footprint” on packaging…but there is a general acknowledgement that there may be a lack of context for the numbers.

KC's View:
There’s a pretty good argument that “carbon footprint” is one of those phrases tossed around by people with very little understanding…a classic case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. It probably would be a lot more effective for industry and government to come to sort of agreement about how to measure and communicate such information in a transparent and user-friendly manner…because the alternative may be a plethora of ratings systems that will only confuse the shopper. Which won’t help anyone in the long run.