Friday, March 23, 2007


Of late there's been significant carbon disclosure announcements from Britain. Last year the Tesco CEO announced significant investment into "a revolution in green consumption".

The British staple that is Walkers cheese and onion crisps now has carbon footprint labeling (hat tip Celsias). US footwear maker Timberland have a footprint disclosure in each shoe box.

Giving customers the information they need is crucial - carbon disclosure is exactly the type of info the expanding conscious consumer market is after. It's a significant step along the road toward genuinely open business. Consumers can only make truly accurate decisions about the quality of goods and services when all relevant info is available.

In December the EU trade commissioner called for free trade on green goods that will enable carbon emissions reductions. Clean power generation equipment came in for specific mention. It is in this global trade context that the Kiwi push to highlight the true carbon cost of our production system is important.

New Zealand goods stack up when competitors disclose their full carbon contribution. For our exporters carbon accounting is crucial. The fact that "growing" a pack of Walkers crisps accounts for 44% of its footprint and transporting it contributes 9% is indicative of the primary production intensities required to produce in Western Europe.

Will knowledge of this lead the average consumer choosing "disclosed goods" over non disclosed? Probably, because the average consumer is becoming more aware. But only when we get to choose between "disclosed goods" are we getting somewhere.

The market has guarded profit formulae (and secrets in general) for so long that non-disclose for all sorts of wider community impacts is the norm. Or alternatively, the fact that businesses have no need to disclose means they can lay costs on the community in order to create more private profit. It's simply profiting from free use of the commons.

Suggestion that the neo-liberal economic model needs reigning in is not uncommon, countered of course by calls of "nanny state" over-intervention. There is a genuine and quite serious push toward a more open way of doing business. This extends down to the individual and is especially common for online trading - TradeMe or eBay ratings.

The concept of open humanity has been aired at the Half Bakery. I caught up with the chap who suggested the idea last year. His motives were much the same as what drives the conscious consumer - people do care. Ultimately this is why more consumer goods will be carbon labelled.

Just as open source software has enabled development beyond what a single entity could manage, carbon disclosure will open business practices on an unprecedented scale.

With open business there is opportunity for finding solutions faster. Sharing the load and sharing the benefits. If it's only carbon disclosure that is initially opened so be it - joint discovery of lower carbon profiles may well lead to open-ness throughout business.

No comments: