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On 16 January 2020, the City Council of Cambridge, Massachusetts approved an Ordinance which for the first time in the US mandates warning labels with regard to the negative effects of burning gasoline, diesel and ethanol on health and the environment, including as contributor to climate change.


The Bill was introduced in October 2019 after an earlier attempt in 2016 proved unsuccessful.  There have been similar initiatives before. The Think Beyond the Pump and Our Horizon campaigns have legislation pending in the US and Canada since before 2013. As predicted  in a January 2014 SFGATE article,  the Western States Petroleum Association  opposed the proposal of fuel pump labels in Berkley in June 2014 as being a violation of their free speech rights according to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which effectively put the legislation on hold until now.

Jamie Brooks, the founder of Think Beyond the Pump, acknowledged in a personal communication that "without knowing it at the time, I knew my own evolution on the urgency of climate change was slow. As the climate crisis became ever more pressing, I knew enduring public apathy would never respond fast enough to what is essentially an invisible, delayed crisis where the solutions to it involved (unpopular) radical departures from a way of life. Warning labels were an alternative measure; especially since they had the ability to change attitudes (trigger an emotional response to climate change immediately and without delay) and could bypass politically untenable measures (like carbon taxes). Social Norms Marketing, warming labels as interdictions, had this ability disrupt/trouble business as usual viscerally. It could deal with the climate crisis now." 


A February 2019 San Francisco Chronicle OpEd, co-authored by Brooks, echoes this: "Becoming aware of the carbon intensity of fuels creates a more immediate feeling of personal responsibility. This feeling will help to develop a new social pressure on behavior. Bans on internal combustion engines and carbon pricing mechanisms — while important — cannot afford to ignore the power of changing social norms around fossil fuel consumption."


He is hoping that the Cambridge Mass. precedent, not least with the legal opinion by the Cambridge City Solicitor with regards to First Amendment compatibility, will get the legislative process not only in Berkeley, but also San Francisco and Santa Monica back into gear and have other US cities adopt the same mandate to display climate change warning labels on petrol pumps.

Swedish eco-labels mockup by Green Motor

Mockup by Gröna Bilister/Martin Prieto Beaulieu

In August 2018, the Swedish government promulgated regulation that mandating all fuel retailers to inform consumers on the dispenser about the climate impact of their fuel, and also about its raw materials and their origin. The eco-labels will be mandatory from October 2021, but two fuel suppliers, Kraftringen and E.ON, have already implemented them on a voluntary basis.

The Swedish Association of Green Motorists (Gröna Bilister) had been campaigning for this since 2013.  Per Östborn, Gröna Bilister project leader, furnished the following account of that campaign:


We had been scrutinizing the Swedish fuel companies from a consumer perspective for several years, and while we prepared another such report, we realised that the companies now possessed enough officially approved sustainability data to design a meaningful and trustworthy eco-label, thanks to recent implementation of EU regulations.

In addition, EU announced in January 2013 its “Clean fuel strategy”, which aimed at the “build-up of alternative fuel stations across Europe with common standards for their design and use”. Labels on all fuel nozzles telling the growing number of alternative fuels apart was part of the package (becoming mandatory in 2018). We thought: Why not include the most important thing of all on these labels: the environmental footprint of the fuels?

Our visual idea of such eco-labels came from the European energy labels with their graded scale of energy consumption replaced by a similar grade scale of greenhouse gas intensity, or “climate impact”.

We believed that eco-labels you see each time you fill your car would create a “mental imprint”, which would stimulate a more vivid general conversation about the sustainability of transportation fuels, and a gradual shift of attitudes. This belief was inspired by the considerable such effect of the disclosure of geographic origin and content on food packages.

In the same way, we hope that increased awareness about transportation fuels by means of labelling will push the full market in a sustainable direction, and also that it creates social pressure from below that facilitates radical political action at the top.

Regarding our plans for the future, we hope to plant the idea of eco-labels on fuel pumps throughout the EU. The data shown on the Swedish eco-labels are derived from EU-regulations, so they can be introduced across the Union at short notice.

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