The results are still being analysed, but an innovative experiment conducted at East Ballina FoodWorks shopping centre has given Southern Cross University professor Jerry Vanclay (pictured) plenty of food for thought.

Professor Vanclay, head of the School of Environmental Science and Management at the university, and students wanted to find out if consumers would change their shopping choices after learning about the carbon footprint of the products they were buying.

In an Australia-first experiment conducted at the East Ballina supermarket, final-year students from the School of Environmental Science and Management designed carbon footprint labels for a range of commonly purchased household grocery items, including bread, milk, butter, bottled water and pet food.

Black labels marked a heavy carbon footprint, yellow was middle-range and green marked a low carbon footprint.

“We’re still finalising the anaylsis, but the initial results look pretty interesting,” Professor Vanclay said.

“Sales went up by five per cent in the two weeks after we put the labels up – there’s a lot of interest (in the survey).

Professor Vanclay said the experiment got a lot of media coverage, so ‘clearly lots of people are interested’ in carbon footprints.

He said the experiment did not label all items, but targeted ‘bread and butter’ items such as milk, butter, bottled water and pet foods.

“Across the board we saw a three per cent shift away from black, and a three per cent shift towards green labelled products,” Professor Vanclay said.

“Butter was a special case. The local butter was the cheapest and greenest, and doubled in sales.”

Professor Vanclay said that last year the Australian Conservation Foundation looked at the carbon footprint of the average Australian household, finding that electricity and fuel formed only a small part of the footprint.

“A lot of it comes from the stuff you buy in shops, so we can make some savings by making sensible choice in shops,” he said.

Professor Vanclay said he would not like to see all supermarket items carbon-footprint labelled, but if government decided on some form of passing-on of shoppers’ carbon footprints, ‘this is worth discussing’.

“No wholesaler or distributor wants more paperwork. We shouldn’t do all all items, but labelling would be good for bread-and-butter items – that would make sense,” he said.

Professor Vanclay said that, personally, ‘I’m overwhelmed by labelling in shops’. He felt that simple labels such as those used in the experiment would be sufficient.

As for the supermarket itself, FoodWorks’ co-owner John Shortis said the study had created much interest among shoppers, with people from as far away as the Gold Coast visiting the store after hearing about the experiment.

“People are interested in doing the right thing and have to be shown the right way,” he said, adding that the labels were a great way of doing so.