A good green label

Alex Yeung, The University of Hong Kong
Alex Yeung, The University of Hong Kong |

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When you stroll down the supermarket aisles, what you'd notice most about products is usually the price tag, followed by the nutritional facts on the packaging - particularly for those on a diet.

In Hong Kong, consumers find out the effects of a product on their health by reading nutrition labels before they buy them. But there's no information on packaging telling us the product's effect on our earth's health.

Although various eco labels and organic food labels are already in use, sometimes they may not be as "green" as we would think.

Organic Chilean blueberries flown over 18,000 kilometres from Santiago to Hong Kong, for example, may seem very natural and wholesome, but exporting them over such a long distance creates a huge carbon footprint.

A proper carbon-labelling policy is needed to educate the public about the environmental effects of the food we consume and to change our attitude.

Carbon labels should indicate all carbon emissions in the food production process, including acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing, transportation and packaging.

The US state of California is currently in the process of implementing the Carbon Labelling Act, which looks to establish a framework for the measurement and labelling of the carbon footprints of consumer products.

So what can Hong Kong do more to be "green"?

And where will the motivation come from?

About 85 per cent of our total greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity generation and transport.

To be more green, the government needs to switch to a low-carbon energy profile and more renewable energy sources.

The effect of such a change will hardly be felt by individual households as it is largely a governmental process.

In our daily electricity consumption, we are given little reminder or motivation to cut down our usage.

A carbon-labelling system on food products has the potential to give us motivation to think about electricity usage. It could educate consumers about the emissions involved in electricity production and transport.

It may even change our perception that products delivered over long distances (and entailing higher emissions) are superior to locally produced ones.

Consumers may then make more environmentally friendly choices when shopping, forcing producers to respond and helping Hong Kong achieve a low- or zero-carbon economy.