The U.S. federal government yesterday revealed the new window stickers that will be required on vehicles starting in the 2013 model year. The new labels provide more information about fuel economy, CO2 emissions and smog impacts and are intended help consumers consider those factors in their purchase decisions. Coverage of the news by the New York Times cites some controversy over the selection of this label versus alternatives championed by NRDC and others. But what struck me was how the Times characterized the new label.
The Times said the new labels “for the first time include estimated annual fuel costs and the vehicle’s overall environmental impact.” (Italics mine.) But the labels only count emissions produced while driving, not during the entire vehicle life cycle. While it’s true that driving the vehicle accounts for the majority its CO2 emissions, other life cycle phases can account for well over 20 percent of them, as these results from a life cycle assessment published by automaker Nissan show.
I hope we can gradually raise public awareness of the concept of life cycle thinking by using more precise language when we talk about environmental impacts.