More transparency for consumers: Swiss Post wants to introduce a CO2 label for parcels

More transparency for consumers
Swiss Post wants to introduce a CO2 label for parcels

Online trade in Germany is booming. In order to give consumers an insight into the CO2 emissions of their parcels, Deutsche Post is calling for the introduction of environmental labels. However, the implementation of the project poses some difficulties. This not only calls the FDP on the scene.

From Post’s point of view, Germany’s parcel companies should be obliged to present their climate footprint per parcel in a way that is close to the consumer. Such a regulation would make sense in order to “make the CO2 emissions of their parcels transparent to people,” said the responsible division manager at Deutsche Post, Ole Nordhoff, in Bonn. He referred to animal husbandry classes for meat products and the nutritional value logo Nutri-Score, in which information on sugar, fat and salt is evaluated and classified on a scale from A to E. “We can well imagine something comparable in the parcel industry.”

The Post’s demand for an environmental label relates to the reform of the postal law, which should be decided by the end of this year. In a key issues paper, the Federal Ministry of Economics recently made a rather vague proposal to create “transparency and comparability for users” on the subject of the CO2 footprint.

Clear standards against greenwashing

Now Swiss Post is making a move as to how this should be specified. So far, consumers have not had an overview of the carbon dioxide emissions per package when ordering online. That could change in the future: during the ordering process, consumers could see how many grams of CO2 are released on average when sending parcels, depending on the provider. This could influence the choice of shipper.

A labeling requirement would be a boost for Swiss Post. Because the Bonn-based group has invested significantly more in electromobility than its competitors Hermes, DPD and GLS and therefore has a relatively good greenhouse gas balance. According to the company, it has around 23,000 electric transporters in use, which is far more than the competition. The CO2 information per parcel should be calculated according to clearly defined standards so that “not every company can provide creative information to create a climate-friendly impression,” says Nordhoff, who is responsible for product management, marketing and branches at Post & Paket Deutschland.

Different reactions come from the Bundestag. SPD MP Sebastian Roloff considers the Post’s proposal “interesting”. “Everything that draws attention to more climate protection in parcel delivery is worth considering.” The specific design is still open. “But there should be more transparency for consumers.”

unfair competition

Reinhard Houben from the FDP, on the other hand, has a “feeling of disturbance” with the Post proposal. He fears that the market leader Deutsche Post DHL will gain a clear advantage over its smaller competitors through climate labeling. “If the big ones keep getting bigger and the little ones keep getting smaller, that’s bad for competition and therefore also bad for consumers.” Houben doubts that the CO2 balance of the different companies would actually be comparable one-to-one. Thanks to the network delivery, Swiss Post would have an advantage over pure parcel companies anyway. This means that postal workers deliver both letters and parcels in some places – the Liberal fears that this will distort the calculation of CO2 parcels.

And what does the competition say? A Hermes spokesman basically welcomes more transparency. He believes that information on the carbon footprint should be available from companies’ sustainability reports. However, the mandatory labeling required by the postal service is “not sensible”. Nutri-Score is based on a metric for products from the food sector and suggests a level of transparency “that cannot be transferred to packages,” says the Hermes spokesman. It is currently not possible to make a specific forecast for an individual package before it goes through the logistics process.

Problem: multitude of factors

In fact, the question of how much carbon dioxide is released when a package is shipped is a difficult one. The Post reports that each DHL package in Germany produces between 400 and 500 grams, which is estimated to be at least 30 percent less than that of the competition. However, the gram specification is only an average value. How much CO2 a package really causes depends on a variety of factors – such as the distance of the route and whether an electric vehicle or a combustion truck is used for the last mile.

The Hermes spokesman points out that the utilization of the transporters and the energy use of logistics locations also play a role. All of these are “parameters that simply cannot be fixed during the checkout process in the web shop”. If, on the other hand, you take average values, they would be “only of limited significance” and could not be converted into a real CO2 score. After all, it can be said in advance exactly what content is contained in a food. This is different with parcel transport.

The real problem is suppressed

The Biek association, which represents the interests of the postal competition, expresses itself in a similar way to Hermes. It is not surprising that Post’s competitors shake their heads at Bonn’s proposal. But even environmentalists are not very enthusiastic. “The real problem with the booming online trade is not the shipping in Germany, but the climate impact and waste of resources through the manufacture of the product itself,” says Viola Wohlgemuth from Greenpeace. Fast-moving products left a huge carbon footprint.

If consumers only got an overview of the average greenhouse gas emissions of parcels, they would in most cases click on the service provider with the lowest CO2 emissions and then have a good feeling. But that would be wrong, says Wohlgemuth. “Sustainable consumption is good for the climate – so few packages with products that you use for a long time and that remain in circulation instead of being thrown away after a short time.”

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