An increasing number of food chain partners and public authorities have launched initiatives to inform consumers and other stakeholders about various environmental characteristics of food and drink products and to support continuous improvement in environmental performance. These initiatives are wide-ranging and include labels, statements, product declarations and other means that address different environmental elements of a product.
Such initiatives show a high degree of diversity in terms of their scope and means of communication. This diversity reflects the immense variety of food and drink products and the range and complexity of environmental factors and impacts along the food chain. Presently no commonly applied guidelines to communicate environmental information along the food chain, including to consumers, in a practical and reliable way exist.
The European Food SCP Round Table has therefore developed 10 Guiding Principles on the voluntary provision of environmental information along the food chain, including both business-to-business and business-to-consumers. Based on these principles, the European Food SCP Round Table will work on identifying suitable tools for communicating the environmental performance of food and drink products and other relevant environmental information to consumers and other stakeholders, thereby exploring all means and channels of communication.
In brief, the 10 Guiding Principles on voluntary environmental assessment and communication of environmental information along the food chain, including to consumers, are as follows:
Lead Principle: Environmental information communicated along the food chain, including to consumers, shall be scientifically reliable and consistent, understandable and not misleading, so as to support informed choice.
I. Principles for the voluntary environmental assessment of food and drink products
1. Identify and analyse the environmental aspects at all life-cycle stages.
2. Assess the significant potential environmental impacts along the life-cycle.
3. Apply recognised scientific methodologies.
4. Periodically review and update the environmental assessment.
II. Principles for the voluntary communication of environmental information
5. Provide information in an easily understandable and comparable way so as to support informed choice.
6. Ensure clarity regarding the scope and meaning of environmental information.
III. Principles for both voluntary environmental assessment and communication.
7. Ensure transparency of information and underlying methodologies and assumptions.
8. Ensure that all food chain actors can apply the assessment methodology and communication tools without disproportionate burden.
9. Support innovation.
10. Safeguard the Single Market and international trade.
Building on these 10 Guiding Principles and following a public consultation, the Round Table has adopted a Report on ‘Communicating environmental performance along the food chain’ , which identifies suitable tools and good practices for communicating the environmental performance of food and drink products and other relevant environmental information. The report includes recommendations on the information that can be used to promote food and drink products with an improved environmental performance, such as the use of certification schemes.
In sum, the Round Table assessed the following:
- Available communication methods and tools and their strengths and challenges. Both product- (e.g. certification schemes, ISO labels, environmental footprint information) and organisation-related information (e.g. company specific commitments, sustainability partnerships) were evaluated.
- Where and how to communicate, at the point of sale (e.g. on-pack, on shelf, price-terminal), close to the point of sale (e.g. leaflets and receipts) and finally beyond the point of sale (e.g. public relations, media and marketing campaigns).
The report presents a guide and examples for the effective communication of environmental information when using different communication tools.
Communicating environmental information was found to be best achieved using a multifaceted approach and tools which help:
- to raise awareness amongst consumers and food chain partners to environmental aspects of products and services
- to increase their familiarity and understanding of environmental performance
- to help inform their purchase decisions and support more sustainable choices
Moving forward, the Round Table believes that solid consumer research to gather evidence on consumer understanding and their reaction to environmental communication on food and drink products needs to be undertaken to enable consumers to make informed choices.