Climate Warning Labels on Fuel Pumps: A Taste of the Future?

10.11.18 | Blog | By:

In August 2018, the Swedish government introduced a regulation requiring fuel retailers to inform consumers about the climate impact of fuel, its raw materials and origin with pump labeling. Sweden is the first country globally to introduce a national regulation like this, which will take effect in 2020. It will include EV charging stations as well. The measure is part of the government’s effort to reduce transport sector emissions by 70% by 2030.

“A basic principle in environmental policy is that it should be easy to do the right thing. When environmental information on fuels becomes available, this principle will also apply when choosing fuel,” said Minister for the Environment, Karolina Skog, in announcing the regulation.

The NGO Swedish Association of Green Motorists had lobbied for such a label with its “I Want to Know” campaign over the last few years, suggesting the label like the one below be considered:

Source: Swedish Association of Green Motorists

The group noted that while more information is available to consumers about the fuels they buy than in previous years, such information is not available in a uniform, accessible manner.

The labels will work as market mechanisms working in tandem with Sweden’s existing emission policies. By comparing different energy sources, the labels will let Sweden clearly illustrate the low climate impact of charging an EV versus the high impact of filling up on conventional fossil fuels. This will allow various fuel suppliers to compete with sustainability on a more level playing field. The idea is also to make the consumer not only more aware of their choices, but directly responsible.

There are two points I want to make in this post. First, I have been saying for the last couple of years that consumers increasingly want detailed information not just on the clothes, other consumer good and foods they buy, but they are increasingly going to want to know where their energy is coming from. The action in Sweden is proof. But, you may say, it’s Sweden — it’s a green-minded country anyway with a smaller population that can easily carry out such a regulation.

And that brings me to my rebuttal and second point: It’s not just Sweden (and by the way, sometimes initiatives in green-minded countries can be harbingers of what may be coming down the pike for the rest of the world.) A NGO in Canada, Our Horizon/Think Beyond the Pump, is lobbying for the same thing and borrowing from the Sweden experience.  They have been successful in introducing a similar type of label in North Vancouver in 2016, and now they are lobbying the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley and Santa Monica.

I would not at all be surprised to see the California legislature take up such a measure in the coming years with other states following, but for now, the campaign plans to go city by city. The idea is an interesting one: to bring in the consumer and make them aware and more thoughtful about their choices in an attempt to shift their behavior. I would argue that many fuels/vehicles regulations simply do not do that, which is something the Canadian NGO raised in a recent article that inspired this post. Finally, maybe those fuel producers with the sustainability creds want to actually push for such labeling as a way to grow market share?