The project “The carbon footprint of food” looks at the potential for mapping and calculating the carbon footprint of foodstuff at the product level
Global warming is becoming an increasingly important issue within the field of international trade. As a consequence, low carbon goods are becoming more attractive. At the same time, governments are looking for policy tools to achieve emissions reduction in different sectors, and industry in many countries face emissions reduction efforts from governments. Both industry and consumers look for ways to reduce their emissions, but often lack information and incentives to do so. This project looks at how carbon footprinting can be a useful tool for different actors in the pursuit of a low carbon society.
Carbon footprinting is a method for calculating the emissions from a product using a life cycle analysis from farm to fork. There is significant uncertainty around GHG emissions from food. Uncertainties tied to natural processes, and variations dependent on season, or what happens to the food after the point of sale, create challenges for calculating a carbon footprint. Moreover, the application of different methodologies makes it difficult to compare results from existing studies.
There is a need for knowledge at different levels. Firstly, it is necessary to strengthen knowledge about emissions from the various activities in the value chain. Secondly, there is a need for knowledge about the whole life cycle of a product to identify critical factors, while making sure efforts at one level do not mean increased emissions at another – a so-called leakage.
A common footprinting methodology
In order to compare the carbon footprints of different products, there is a need for a common methodology. This method must describe how to calculate and document emissions at each level in the life cycle, and how to synthesise this information into a carbon footprint.
The system boundary of the analysis must ensure that all significant emissions are included, and prevent leakage. An analysis must tackle variation over time by the use of relevant categories and estimates. The analysis must be accurate enough to stimulate incremental change, and at the same time easy to use and credible for third parties. 50 % of Norway’s food consumption, measured in energy, is imported. Norway is also an exporter of food – with fish as an important export commodity. The international trading of food creates a need for a common methodology that allows for comparisons between products of different origin. Without a common methodology, claims about GHG reductions based on different calculation methods can lead to confusion and distrust.
A poll done by the Norwegian Board of Technology shows that 76 % of Norwegian consumers want information about the carbon footprint of the food they buy. Together with general information about how to reduce emissions in their everyday lives, a labeling scheme would give consumers valuable guidance in stores. A carbon label can also stimulate reduction efforts in the value chain – it should function as a guarantee for low emissions, and be used by businesses to gain advantages in the market. A label must set clear reduction and documentation requirements. Labeling should be a voluntary measure.
Carbon advice in the food sector
In light of the national goal to be carbon neutral within 2030, the Norwegian Government has an important task to promote knowledge about global warming and encourage businesses and citizens to reduce their emissions. To make sure carbon footprinting is effective, the food industry needs information and guidance on how to cut their emissions. The British Government has established the Carbon Trust to accelerate the move towards a low carbon economy. In addition to giving businesses advice, Carbon Trust invests in low carbon businesses, and funds research projects.
In Norway, a similar role could either be added to an existing institution, such as Enova or KSL Matmerk, or a new entity could be established. This organ should act as a resource centre that offers guidance to carbon footprinting and reduction measures. In addition, it should promote the generation of knowledge, and support low emission initiatives in the food sector. The focus here is food, but it is important to point out that carbon footprinting and reduction guidance also is necessary for other products and services.
The project produced specific recommendations to the Norwegian government and food industry:
- To strengthen and systematise knowledge about emissions in the life cycle of food.
- Developing a standard method for carbon footprinting in cooperation with international initiatives.
- Initiating pilot projects to identify knowledge gaps, and to test the carbon footprint methodology for a group of products.
- To develop a carbon award label that can be implemented within a short time span.
- Contributing with the development and testing of an emission label based on international standards.
- To establish an independent organ whose mandate is to help the food sector map and reduce their emissions.
The Norwegian Board of Technology (NBT) gathered a group of eight experts that had six meetings between January and June of 2008.
The expert group consisted of the following members:
- Mekonnen Germiso, The Future in our hands
- Thomas Angervall, SIK, The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology
- Eivind Jacobsen, National Institute for Consumer Research
- Jakob Simonhjell, The Federation for Norwegian Agricultural Co-operatives
- Roy Robertsen, The Norwegian Seafood Federation
- Jens Strøm, Bama
- Knut Lutnæs, Coop Norway
- Edel Elvevoll, The Norwegian College of Fishery Science and the Board of Technology