Sweden begins using eco-labels for transport fuels

What’s happening? Sweden has become the first country to introduce a mandatory eco-label at fuel stations detailing the climate intensity, origin and renewable content share of fuels. The eco-label, which was welcomed by the Swedish Association of Green Motorists, has been designed so that it can be adopted by all EU member states. In the US a climate, environment and health warning label was introduced for fuel pumps in Cambridge, Massachusetts in December. (Bioenergy International)

Why does this matter? Road transport represents over 70% of the transport industry’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. While there is still a way to go to decarbonise the industry, individual action can play a part. Making information on the sustainability of different fuels more accessible can give consumers more power to make greener decisions.

The first-of-its-kind mandate will require fuel dispensers to display information about the fuel, such as its origin, its percentage of renewable raw materials and of fossil fuel-based raw materials. The fuel’s climate intensity will also be shown on a colour-coded scale, calculated using a “well-to-wheel” methodology – i.e. from when the fuel is extracted from the ground to when it is burned in the engine – which focuses on the energy required and greenhouse gas emitted over the course of each fuel’s lifespan. Labels will be added on pumps for fossil fuel-based petrol and diesel, biofuels and EV charging points.

What are the likely outcomes? The move will work alongside Sweden’s wider emissions policies and make consumers aware of the environmental footprint of fuels and the value of sustainable fuel options. Altering consumer habits is a key contributor to broader issues of climate mitigation and progress toward achieving emissions targets. Companies are likely to face greater consumer scrutiny over the green credentials of their products, giving all producers a chance to compete fairly on the basis of sustainability.

Aside from climate concerns, increased reliance on renewable-based and low-carbon alternatives could offer better long-term stability and reduce the risk of supply shortages, which the UK is currently tackling.

Interestingly, a study recently found solo journeys in a diesel or petrol-powered car can generate more emissions per passenger compared to a flight within the EU. Given this, eco-labels could have wide-reaching effects on travel emissions, as the average car passenger occupancy in the EU sits at just under two people per vehicle. Some experts state Sweden’s initiative must be backed up with incentives to ensure success, like discounted public transport fares and congestion charges.

What other consumer labelling is out there? Similar sustainability-focused labels have gained traction among retailers and companies. Increasingly conscious consumers are also seeking to vote with their wallets, with more preferring to buy products with good environmental credentials.

Around 30,000 of Unilever’s food products in North America or Europe will have carbon footprint labels added by the end of 2021, after the firm indicated interest in adopting “carbon-friendly” aisles in supermarkets – in a similar manner to vegetarian aisles. Lidl is set to offer traffic light labels across 50 own-label products to display information on the impacts created by packaging and on biodiversity. The UK is also expected to adopt similar system on food and drink packaging.

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Katie Chan

Sustainability Curator

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