Environmental labelling scheme in France: the Planet-score

Jun 10, 2022
Sébastien Bouley

On Tuesday, May 31 the NatExpo team organized a webinar-debate on nutrition labeling and environmental labelling schemes. The five speakers were: Florence Roublot (Natexpo), Emmanuel Fournet (NielsenIQ) as moderator, Sabine Bonnot (Institut de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation biologiques – ITAB, Institute of Organic Agriculture and Food), Sybile Chapron (Nature et Aliments), and Vincent Colomb (Agence de la transition écologique – ADEME, Agency of Ecological Transition).

The discussion was opened by the presentation of the results of a NielsenIQ survey conducted at the end of 2021, showing that responsible consumption issues (as packaging reduction or animal health preservation) are of (great) importance for the majority of French people. The implementation of an environmental labelling scheme would make it possible to communicate to consumers the degree of environmental impact of a product; moreover, in a similar way to the nutrition labeling (implemented in France through the Nutri-score) the index would represent the possibility to compare two products of the same category, and could be the engine of a virtuous change in company practices and choices, aiming at improving their positioning.

These considerations are at the basis of the national decision, in France, to create a mandatory environmental labelling scheme. This is preconized by the French Climate and Resilience Law* (Loi Climat et Résilience) and AGEC Law* (the Anti-Waste Law for a Circular Economy: see our recent article on this subject). The envisaged deadline for implementation in the agri-food sector is 2023.

The European policy in this domain is similar but not identical to that of France, as it focuses more on limiting “green” claims (possibly before the end of the current year); even though the two goals are not quite the same, some of the tools to achieve them would certainly be in common.

The objective of developing an environmental labelling scheme is clear; however, the way to achieve it is not. Several models have been proposed, and the difficulty lies in defining the “driving compass”. For the Nutri-score (nutrition labeling) the cardinal points were easily identifiable (the PNNS recommendations of Santé Publique France); however, the debates on the indexes to be taken into account for an environmental labelling scheme are still open.

As stated in the French government report on the subject*, the selected model should be based on the life cycle analysis (LCA) of a product, ideally complemented by other indicators. The proposed tools differ from one another in aspects as the degree of simplification, the calculation method, or the system used to quantify the impact of each factor.

The French Institute of Organic Agriculture and Food (Institut de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation biologiques – ITAB) and other agencies have proposed the Planet-score*, a “simple but not simplistic” index that takes into account the LCA by correcting and completing the Agribalyse data (see our article on the topic), as well as other sustainability aspects. The result is a global score, composed of sub-indicators on pesticide use, impact on biodiversity, and on climate; where applicable, animal welfare issues are also displayed.

The Planet-score is recognized by national associations and dozens of companies*. Its use can lead to an improvement of the environmental impact of products, reflected by an improvement of the score. However, these elements might not be sufficient to make it the first choice of French Institutions. The Planet-score currently lacks key features as transparency on its algorithm, and a publication, which would submit it to scientific debate. A priori, its algorithm should be published within the year.

At the moment, a company wishing to display a product’s Planet-score must share its data with the ITAB (under confidentiality agreement); following the calculations, the Institute will provide a score, along with advice for possible improvement. The required additional research into the supply chain is justified by a concern for product responsibility.

The discussion at the round table then turned to the risk that the current inflation in the agri-food sector might divert consumers’ attention (and purchase) from the issue of environmental preservation. The speakers unanimously answered that the risk is limited: consumers are aware that, crisis or not, the environmental stakes remain present and of extreme importance. It is also interesting to note that the presence of an environmental labelling scheme can contribute to justify possible price differences between products. The ITAB claims that companies continue to approach it for the evaluation of their products; moreover, the use of shorter supply chains, triggered in some cases by the geopolitical crisis, may lead to a better environmental impact index.

The debate on environmental labelling schemes and on the Planet-score is not over! Orchidali will remain vigilant and will communicate you the next developments.

The replay of the round table is available online*.


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* : Link in French