Are you ready for carbon labeling?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Taiwan recently announced its support for carbon labeling of products, although the agency has said it would be difficult to mandate the requirement by legislation. So instead the EPA is raising public awareness about making low-carbon consumption a habit as a way to promote product carbon footprint labeling.

A carbon footprint is based on the total of carbon-dioxide emissions caused directly or indirectly by a product or service throughout the entire supply chain, said the EPA. This means it includes every step to make or deliver the service from selecting raw materials, manufacturing and transporting through to using the product and end of life.

Since the National Council for Sustainable Development under the Executive Yuan set the goal at “each person reducing 1 kilogram of carbon footprint each day” in 2008, the EPA has promoted the use of product carbon footprints, helping to institute measures such as selection of the carbon label, carbon footprint calculation standards, and application for carbon footprint labels.

Taiwan is the 11th country in the world that promotes carbon labels and established “Product and Service Carbon Footprint Calculation Guidelines” in March 2010 as the basis for carbon footprint calculation in Taiwan, said Hsiu-ling Kuo, deputy director of the DPA Department of Supervision, Evaluation & Dispute Resolution.

When the uniform standards for international product carbon footprint calculation are established next year, the EPA said it will adopt the international standards to synchronize with the global calculation.

Kuo noted that most enterprises have adopted carbon footprint labeling in response to foreign buyers’ demand for product carbon footprint labels, but only demand from the public and distributors can persuade more manufacturers to adopt carbon labeling.

What about carbon labeling in the U.S.? If you think about it, isn’t the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star label a form of carbon labeling or at the very least carbon management? If you reduce energy consumption, then you reduce carbon emissions. Product categories range from appliances and electronics devices to heating & cooling and lighting products.

In addition, the Sustainability Consortium, along with leading electronics companies and retailers, announced plans earlier this year to establish a system to help consumers identify “green” electronics. Partners include Dell, HP, Intel, Toshiba, Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

The Sustainability Consortium is expected to publish findings on the lifecycle environmental and social impacts of electronic products. These findings will be used to support efforts to identify products as sustainable or green. However, I would like to see a status update on how far this group has come to actually establishing a ranking system.

Also in the U.S., a host of big retailers including Wal-Mart, Costco and Whole Foods are pushing their supply chain to report on their emissions and improve their environmental status. For example, Wal-Mart is striving to reduce 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the end of 2015 with help from its suppliers.

And office product retailers are starting to play a role. Case in point: Office Depot offers more than 9,000 office supply products under the retailer’s “Shades of Green Rating” system, which was implemented to help customers make better “green” office product purchasing decisions.

Similarly, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) system helps businesses and consumers buy green electronics by providing a rating system that ranks electronic products by environmental performance including elimination of toxic materials, design for recycling, extended product life, energy efficiency, and availability of takeback and recycling services.

But green ratings or rankings aren’t carbon footprint labels. Is carbon labeling a viable way to reduce global carbon emissions? I’d be interested in finding out what OEMs think about product carbon labeling in the U.S. — benefits, drawbacks, standardization, cost, etc.