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The Calorie Currency by S. Hesse + S. Pobst

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Report and disclose embodied energy in all products from food to building materials using a familiar human-scale unit - the calorie.



Require mandatory reporting of embodied energy in all goods in a common global unit of the calorie, and link financial costs of products directly to the amount of calories contained.

Understanding embodied energy in building materials and other industrially produced goods such as cars, furniture, clothing, and electronics is a foreign concept to the general public.  Current efforts to report embodied energy use differing calculation methods, and often report in obscure units that are difficult for the general public to understand, such as Kbtu, joules, or kWh.

By using a commonly understood unit of energy (the calorie), the general consuming public can quickly understand the amount of embodied energy in a product, and better understand energy use as well.  With a more intuitive understanding of embodied energy, consumers can more easily take energy impacts of their purchases into consideration.

For example, current U.S. energy use per capita per day is approximately 230,747,574 calories (according to EIA).   Intuitively, most individuals are familiar with the recommended 2,000 calorie diet, and can recognize the true scale of our energy impact on the world.

Linking the financial costs of items to the number of calories contained goes a step further, and provides a financial incentive for consumers to purchase lower embodied energy goods.  This price signal would work for large industrial products as well as food - making low-calorie food cheap, and high calorie food expensive.  This has the dual benefit of encouraging sustainable purchases and healthy eating habits at the same time.

Category of the action

Reducing consumption

What actions do you propose?

  1. Require all goods to report/declare the total embodied energy physically contained within the product as well as energy used during the manufacturing and extraction process.
  2. Report all embodied energy declarations in a common global unit of the calorie.
  3. Link the financial costs of goods directly to the number of calories contained within the product, and the number of calories used during the manufacturing and extraction process.

Who will take these actions?

  1. Government agencies
  2. Consumer protection agencies
  3. Manufacturers
  4. Economists

Where will these actions be taken?

To be successful, the reporting standards need to be adopted as widely as possible.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?

  1. Providing a common reporting methodology for embodied energy disclosures will make it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about their purchases.
  2. Utilizing a commonly and intuitively understood unit of measurement for the embodied energy (the calorie) allows a broader range of individuals to understand the impact of the energy used.
  3. Linking financial costs to the embodied energy in products provides a natural price signal for consumers, causing high-embodied energy products to be more expensive than low-embodied energy products, therefore shifting purchasing from high to low embodied energy goods.
  4. Pricing food relative to the number of calories contained inside them also provides price signals to purchase healthier low-calorie foods.  Currently, cheap food is typically high in calories, and lower calorie foods are more expensive.  This concept reverses that trend, and provides higher prices for unhealthier food.

What are the proposal’s costs?


Time line

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