Scott Stoll logo world traveler. A bicycle wheel and the globe symbolizes Scott's journey around the world on a bicycle.
An eco-label showing the resources and energy used. Horizontal version.
A mockup of the Eco-Footprint Label. It shows how far away the product originates, for example locally or the other side of the planet. It also lists the resources and ingredients used to manufacture the product. For example, this 16 ounce can of corn used 9 gallons of water to grow the corn, and it used 1 gallon of oil to fuel the farm machinery and ship it to the store. And the key shows whether the resources are sustainable or irreplaceable.
An eco-label showing the resources and energy used. Horizontal version.
A mockup of the Eco-Footprint Label. It shows how far away the product originates, for example locally or the other side of the planet. It also lists the resources and ingredients used to manufacture the product. For example, this 16 ounce can of corn used 9 gallons of water to grow the corn, and it used 1 gallon of oil to fuel the farm machinery and ship it to the store. And the key shows whether the resources are sustainable or irreplaceable.

What if there was a nutrition label for the planet?

Introducing the Eco-Footprint Label

Introducing the Eco-Footprint Label. The ecolabel helps consumers make environmentally-conscious decisions by informing shoppers of the “ingredients” in their packaging and the costs of manufacturing and shipping a product of any kind, not just food. I’m using the example of a can of corn produced locally. The environmental cost is still staggering even for a local can of food, which includes minimal transportation costs. I explain why below.

A sustainability label for shoes that looks like an ingredient label for food.
Pictured here is a sustainability label for shoes created by a Nashville-based footwear brand Nisolo. Read the article about why knowing where your clothes come from is important. What if you could read a fashion label like a food label? Credit: New York Times. Disclaimer.

Update 2022-01-13: Here’s a quick update about making a difference. This morning, 15 years later, I was surprised to see a story in the New York Times about this concept. It says, “What if we could read the labels on our clothes the same way we read the labels on our food?” And that this idea dates back to at least 2019. Well, as you can see here, I published this idea way back in 2007. It’s hard to say what role my idea played, but I think it’s fair to say it did play a role. Regardless, I’m glad to see the idea has finally caught on. These types of achievements are worth more than gold to me.

Update: I have so many ideas for inventions that I’ve decided to give them away for free. I’m proud to say I thought of this idea around 2005 and created the label in 2007, and since then it has been presented to the Australian Parliament, incorporated into a UC Berkeley student’s MBA research project and generally the idea has gone viral and been making an appearance on mainstream products such as Apple Computers, albeit in a different form. The hard part about a good idea is implementation, so if you can implement any of the following good ideas, please email me an update to share. Feeling accomplished is my reward.


What is the true cost of food?

A 1994 US study (1) reported that 400 gallons of oil a year are used to produce the food for the average American. So, it was easy for me to calculate that the average person uses 1.1 gallons of oil per day, which is 17 times more energy than a person actually gains by eating the food. Some independent studies report as much as one gallon of oil is consumed to grow, fertilize, pesticide, package and ship one can of food, and the cost increases when you include all the other factors such as water. It takes an estimated 500-5000 gallons of water to grow one pound of beef. So, at an average of 2500 gallons per pound of beef, that’s $2.50 using Phoenix tap water or $1350.00 dollars using New York City tap water.*

A mockup of the Eco-Footprint Label or Ecolabel. It shows how far away the product originates, for example locally or the other side of the planet. It also lists the resources and ingredients used to manufacture the product. For example, this can of corn used 9 gallons of water to grow the corn, and it used 1 gallon of oil to fuel the farm machinery and ship it to the store.
The vertical design of the eco-footprint label or ecolabel. Now called a sustainability label.

So, how much does something really cost, especially if you include the subsidies and tax incentives? And what about the future cost of topsoil erosion, pesticides and pollution (some which take over 50,000 years to degrade), aquifer depletion, oxygen depletion, loss of natural habitats and biodiversity, global warming, et cetera — No one knows the true cost of food.

What is an ecological footprint?

Ecological footprint analysis is an estimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate (if possible) the resources a human population consumes and to absorb the corresponding waste. This estimate measures how many resources, defined by a land area called global hectares, it takes to support a given population. The United States citizen consumes 9.6 global hectares, meaning it would take 9.6 planet Earths to sustainably provide for the United States alone.

Why should you care?

Even if these numbers are greatly exaggerated, eventually this will affect everyone as our environment becomes increasingly polluted and degraded, causing an increase in health problems, rise in the cost of living and a lower quality of life. The Eco-Footprint Label allows consumers to make educated decisions of how their everyday purchases affect themselves and the environment.

How can you make better choices?

The Eco-Footprint Label can be applied to all consumer products, similar to a nutrition label for food. You could call it a nutrition label for Mother Earth. It would measure the resources needed to manufacture a product and ship it to the marketplace, giving consumers tangible evidence of their cost of consumption.

Examples of better decision making

What if you are on a small budget yet want to maintain a healthy lifestyle? You could compare the Eco-Footprint Label and Nutrition Labels of competing products. What is the cost of vitamins to supplement the low-nutritional value of mass-produced, genetically-engineered and processed foods? Maybe it is actually cheaper to spend more money upfront on organic whole foods and free-range meat.

What if you’re an animal rights activist? Which decision makes more sense: To buy synthetic shoes made from Saudi Arabian oil, shipped to China, manufactured into shoes, shipped to the USA and trucked across the country? Or to buy those leather shoes locally made? Which has bigger consequences on the environment and ultimately everything that lives in it?

Or, what if you are an eco-friendly, health-minded vegetarian. Does it really make sense to eat that tofu packaged in plastic, with a fancy label using toxic, non-degradable metallic inks, and shipped from Asia? Maybe it is healthier for everyone to modify their diet to eat locally produced, seasonal meats and vegetables to reduce environmental pollution and depletion of non-renewable resources.

Free to the world

Unlike most things on my website. I’m offering this idea free to the world. I am putting this idea, words and artwork into the public domain. The public announcement of this concept and design on my blog represents what’s called “prior art” in patent law, which basically means that a big corporation can’t patent this concept. Now, why would that be a good thing? Often corporations buy technology simply so that they can prevent something from undermining their profit margin, even if it is overall detrimental to society.

Now, I leave it to you.

Please spread the word to those that can make this work!

Footnotes

1) “Food, Land, Population, and the U.S. Economy” by Drs. David Pimentel of Cornell University and Mario Giampietro of the Istituto Nazionale della Nutrizione, Rome.

* I cross-referenced dozens of resources on the internet to find accurate numbers.

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