Switzerland's top two supermarket chains are giving their customers the chance to select products according to their climate-friendliness.
The independent Climatop organisation announced on Friday that it was launching a CO2 label to be awarded to products which cause the least damage to the environment.
Climatop has been set up by the myclimate foundation – a spinoff from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich - and the Ecological Centre at Langenbruck to provide consumers with reliable information about the environmental impact of products and services.
Switzerland's largest supermarket chain, Migros, is the first Swiss company to take advantage of the label, which will initially be applied to its washing detergent range.
It hopes to introduce the label at the beginning of March, after a second independent organisation has approved Climatop's findings.
The label will be based on the entire life cycle of the product. "Production, transport, how the raw materials are obtained, what it contains, and whether it is biodegradable or how it can be disposed of," Migros spokeswoman Monika Weibel told swissinfo.
Migros will designate the best product in the range as a "CO2 champion". "It makes things simple for the customer: they can see immediately that something is a climate-friendly product," Weibel explained.
"Of course the analysis will cost something, but we can't yet say what impact it will have on prices," she said.
She rejected the idea that the new label is a simply a way of getting ahead of rivals.
"The idea is that other enterprises should follow this example. It would be good if they joined Climatop. It would also be good if they have another system. This is really about protecting the climate."
Migros' main rival, Coop, introduced its own climate protection measures last September, spokeswoman Suzanne Erdös told swissinfo.
It was the first retail business in Switzerland to start declaring which goods have been delivered by air.
It is also trying to transport items by ship when possible.
Coop has set up a fund to compensate the air transport of its goods and the business trips of its executives, and it supports environmental organisations like WWF and myclimate in CO2 reduction projects abroad.
The chain wants to inform customers about the ecological impact of its products and is investigating the best way of doing this, Erdös said.
For its part, environmental organisation WWF Switzerland said it welcomed all moves towards transparency. The introduction of an environmental label encourages companies to offer climate-friendly products, said spokesman Fredi Lüthin.
"For years environmental organisations have been calling for a change in customer behaviour by issuing appeals. It is clearly much more efficient if the calls come from the enterprises themselves," he told swissinfo.
Many customers are already interested in buying sustainably produced and environmentally friendly items, he pointed out, but a label can help in the other direction too.
"If there is a new supply, this may create a demand," said Lüthin. "A customer who previously didn't think about it may now see two products, one with a label and one without, and the chances are that they will go for the one with the label."
But he stressed that the labels must follow strict standards such as those followed by myclimate.
"We don't want them to be merely pretty pieces of paper," he said.
swissinfo, Julia Slater
Carbon dioxide emissions
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the major gases responsible for greenhouse effect and global warming. In Switzerland it represents around 80% of harmful emissions.
The other gases include methane, nitrous oxide and hydrocarbons.
Despite ambitious emission targets, greenhouse gas emissions have actually risen by 0.4% in Switzerland since 1990.
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