Distance to Market - A Small Life Cycle Impact

Saturday, November 27, 2010 by Roger Kerrison , under

Distance to Market - A Small Life Cycle Impact
Last week we blogged about the incorrect assumption that the large GHG increase between a glass of Mobius Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc consumed in New Zealand or consumed in Australia was due to "food miles", or in more technical terms, transportation.

The blog was distributed through linkedin and twitter, and received some interesting comment from experts in the field of life cycle assessment. The first response came from John Henry Looney, Managing Director of UK based Sustainable Direction Ltd, who provide sustainability services to the UK beverage industry:
"Interesting it has taken this long for this perspective to get into the public arena.

A full cradle to cradle to analysis of a product life cycle, of which many have been completed for some years, shows regularly transport not to be the major issue. For example for UK beer the main carbon and resource use (and note these are different and both important) is due to raw material and in particular the nitrogen fertiliser used with its high embodied energy and to refrigeration and storage at the point of use, so not even manufacture and certainly not transport.

It is good to see hard science breaking through into public awareness, we need more of this to get people focused on the good things they can do and to feel good about it (positive reinforcement encourages behaviour change)."

This insight was agreed upon by Craig Jones, a leading expert in embodied carbon who works for Sustain Ltd, also in the west of England:

"I also find it curious why its taken so long for people to understand this. This also applies to products and materials. In the majority of products I've analysed transport is certainly not the significant contributor to its life cycle impacts. I've now analysed the embodied energy and carbon of hundreds of materials (www.bath.ac.uk/mech-eng/sert/embodied) and for the vast majority of them transport is probably 7%, or so, of the embodied carbon. Although of course there are exceptions (sand, aggregates) and this doesn't mean that transport should be neglected."

One of Craig's colleagues at Sustain, Matthew Fishwick, also backed up the fact that transport is not of major significance for food and beverage products:

"I always found the focus on transport quite strange! For the majority of product carbon footprints I have carried out I have also found transport to be a relatively small proportion of overall impacts. This is especially true for food and agricultural products."

Through the work of such expert analysis the "food miles" concept has all but been debunked by those in the technical carbon arena. The issue though is that it is intuitive for those without technical knowledge, the media and consumers, to assume that transport is a significant component. The continued emergence of product carbon footprinting will provide more transparency in this space.

Another important point is that if transport is not as wholly significant as we were once led to believe, then we can look more towards a global market model whereby component parts of goods are produced in regions that have natural or technical production efficiencies.


Life cycle assessment proves food miles concept too simple

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 by Roger Kerrison , under ,

Over the last couple of weeks we have seen tremendous interest globally in the launch of Mobius Sauvignon Blanc, which is the first wine to carry the Carbon Reduction Label.

Aura worked as consultants on the project and provided assistance in the measurement, certification and also the subsequent PR. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest the story has raised, with articles appearing in The Guardian, Decanter, The Herald and it was subsequently syndicated through Reuters and picked up as a story by many overseas dailies.

One element needing elaboration from all this comment in the media is the often made assumption that the 50g CO2e difference between a glass of Mobius enjoyed in New Zealand versus one enjoyed in Australia is all to do with transport. For many commentators this has subsequently led on to the misguided assumption that buying local is better for the environment. Unfortunately this is not necessarily so.

With Mobius over 80% of the 50g difference between the countries relates to the life cycle process within those countries. In other words even a white wine originating in Australia will have a footprint higher ifconsumed in Australia and lower if consumed in New Zealand! The two largest factors at play here are internal transportation of wine and most significantly the increased emissions associated with refrigeration in Australia (over three times that of New Zealand) in bottle shops and at home. The last 20% difference is attributed to transport from the winery to port and then shipping over the Tasman.

If you left the blog at this point satisfied that there is still a 10g CO2e betterment per glass to purchase local I’m afraid you’d still miss out on a major point. Given our analysis we can say:

“It’s 10g CO2e better to drink Mobius in New Zealand than Australia.” We cannot say, with absolute certainly, anything else at all. However...

Over 35% of Mobius’s full life cycle carbon footprint has proven to come from emissions associated with the manufacture of packaging materials. It’s a given that if these materials are manufactured in New Zealand they will very likely be responsible for a much smaller footprint than if they came from a country with high CO2e per kW of electricity. It wouldn’t take a lot to make up a 10g difference.

Of course anyone could start purchasing packaging, like New Zealand glass, to make their products more carbon competitive so again it’s not about local or otherwise. (As an aside this is where the market force we call carbon-bonding works as suppliers compete to provide supply chain inputs that are CO2e lower than their competitors’). On top of which we’ve yet to see enough comparison of the process emissions.

In this case the moral of the story may be to remember that New Zealand is the land of the hydro-lake, wind farm and geothermal power plant before we assume that buying local is best.

Carbon Bonding - Creating a market model through the supply-chain

Monday, November 1, 2010 by Roger Kerrison , under , , ,

Aura Sustainability has this week been involved with the launch of Mobius Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. This is the first wine in the world to be certified by the Carbon Trust, and it will carry the Carbon Reduction Label in the Australian, New Zealand and UK markets. Aura provided the management of the measurement and certification through the use of its barefootTM tools and models.

This launch is the culmination of 2 years work for Aura in building capability in product carbon footprinting. We have invested considerable resource in barefootTM, as we actually see that product carbon footprinting can provide a market model that can facilitate change, we have coined this "Carbon Bonding". Aura's Chairman, Dave Pearce outlines his thoughts on this below:

Carbon Bonding - How does it work and why should I care?

I’ll start with “why should I care?” because without that bit the “how does it work” can be a little boring, this way I think it becomes a little less so... (you may already have guessed that I’m not at the technical end of things).

If you’re reading this you are probably already aware that “Global Warming” looks to be both coming down the turn-pike and is more than likely manmade. Both points are bad news but one is marginally better than the other; that is, what man makes, man can presumably un-make. I’ve used “man” carefully here, not to exclude women but the more generic “mankind”, to emphasise the individual responsibility of global warming. I mean that you are responsible, as am I, as were our parents and our neighbours, communities, countries etc. Sure some faceless industry did its bit but always in our name, as consumers or investors or just plain citizens. So let’s get rid of the:

“It’s too big for us to deal with!”

It wasn’t too big for us to make and it’s only going to be un-made the same way, one decision at a time, made by one individual at a time. Why care? Because it’s going to influence the wellbeing of you, your children, and your neighbours, communities, countries etc if you don’t. It’s a good reason.

"So how does it work?”

Well Global Warming isn’t yet an exact science but it’s fairly clear that it’s been caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by us; mostly, but not only, by burning fossil fuels. We need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we are responsible for, measured as “carbon dioxide equivalents”.

Some steps are relatively easy and obvious, like burning less fuel or switching to renewable energy sources. Some decisions are not at all obvious because we don’t know which products are greenhouse gas intensive and which are not, much as we didn’t know which foods were high in salt, sugars and fats until they put the information on the label. Information is power and choosing wisely based on that information has changed the way many of us eat. It’s how we’re going to change the way we look at food, and every other product in the world, in just the same way. It’s called a carbon label and it comes with a number that shows the effect a product has, over its entire lifecycle, on greenhouse gas emissions. And that’s the technical bit, pleasantly over...

So it works by us making good decisions, one by one, based on buying products that have a carbon label on them. The more of us that do this, the more producers will take up labelling their products just to stay on store shelves. Having more carbon labels available will lead to us selecting products with lower emissions over those with higher, much as we do now with price or nutrient ingredients. Producers will strive to reduce their emissions to stay more desirable to us and so drive their supply chains to measure and reduce their emissions by choosing lower carbon inputs and components, and so on.

A market model is born and one by one we have a positive influence on global warming and our own future, which is how carbon bonding works and why I care.

Dave Pearce, Winemaker and Sustainability Strategist