by Marion Nestle
May 9 2023

Annals of Marketing: Oatly’s climate change numbers

Quaint as it may be, I still read the print edition of the New York Times.  That way, I don’t miss things like this (May 7, pages 16 and 17).

My phone security system would not allow me to use the QR link so I went to Oatly’s climate website to find out what this was about.

Oatly’s product climate footprints are expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents (shortened to ‘CO2e’) per kilogram of packaged food product, calculated based on a life cycle assessment approach from grower to grocer. CO2e considers the effect of different greenhouse gasses, including, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The calculation, which is validated through a partnership with a leading climate change organization CarbonCloud, aggregates the emissions into one single unit based on how much of each of those greenhouse gasses is emitted and their global warming potential over a 100-year period.

This required a detour to Carbon Cloud, which, alas, does not give away its algorithm for calculating. CO2e.

The Oatly explanation continues:

Unlike nutrition labels, there is no common or mandated methodology for CO2e labeling. Until standardization and a mandate become reality, Oatly wants to encourage other companies in the food industry to put their CO2e figures on their packaging. If Oatly is only one of a few to make this commitment, it’s difficult for consumers to make informed purchases against other products in the market.

But Oatly: if there is no agreed upon methodology for these calculations, and Carbon Cloud gives no details, how are we supposed to know how seriously to take this challenge?

Cute.  Will it increase Oatly sales?

Oatly, according to Food Business News, lost money in 2022.

While management sees better days ahead, the company struggled in fiscal 2022, ended Dec. 31. Oatly incurred a loss of $393 million, greater than the loss of $212 million the year before.

Maybe two-page ads in the New York Times will help?  We will find out today.

Additions May 10

Oatly posted reduced losses in the first quarter, 2023.

Oatly’s communications director sent further information about its climate calculations:

CarbonCloud’s growth marketer sent this information:

Most of the products we have calculated footprints for – unfortunately not Oatly products – have their own footprint page on our ClimateHub with traceability through ingredients and methodology descriptions. Here’s an example from Dole:

Here’s also a couple of links to our methodology description, if you would rather read up on it on your own.

The short version / The long version

Thanks to both for sending all this.  Most helpful.