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Finding value in carbon footprints and environmental labelling

Synthesis Agri-Food Insights
February, 2010

Finding value in carbon footprints and environmental labelling

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics have been touted as the most "green" games ever; in fact, they are the first Olympic Games ever to actively develop a carbon management program to reduce and offset its emissions. This includes using "clean" hydroelectric power, clustering event venues to lessen travel, re-using heat energy from ice refrigeration to heat other buildings and collecting rainwater.

In Sweden , a fast-food chain has added environmental labeling to its food products. Max Burger is displaying the carbon footprint of all of the food items on its menu, a move that is reported to be going over well with consumers in the environmentally-conscious Scandinavian nation.

This growing desire for "greening" our lifestyles can present opportunities for the agri-food industry and its time to take advantage of those possibilities, says Rob Hannam, President of Synthesis Agri-Food Consulting.

"Consumers are increasingly starting to care about sustainability and although it may require a bit of a shift in thinking on the part of our sector, I definitely see this as a trend that is going to keep growing," says Hannam. "Our planet is a non-renewable resource and we all have a role to play in nurturing and protecting it."

A recent Farm Credit Canada report looks at green economics - integrating environmental considerations and consumer needs into business models - and different ways agriculture and agri-business can find value in going green.

It is important, according to the report, to put a value to green initiatives for your business by re-thinking inputs (water, energy, feedstocks/ingredients), operations (design, marketing, transportation) and outputs (products, services, emissions, packaging, waste).

Water, for example, is one of the most-used resources in agri-food and as droughts and water shortages are increasingly starting to pose problems, recycling and conservation is becoming a necessity.

Biomass - like re-using food or farm waste products or growing plants like miscanthus specifically for energy- can be an alternate source of energy. Transportation opportunities for improvement include local supply chains or environmentally friendly options like hybrid vehicles.

New technologies are being invented constantly with a view to lessening environmental impacts, and green chemistry - replacing harmful substances used in manufacturing processes with ones derived from renewable resources - is providing alternatives in plastics, crop protection and pharmaceuticals.

But despite the many possibilities and opportunities, Hannam has a caution for anyone seeking to build and promote a business on environmental labeling.

"Consumers are becoming skeptical of empty promises of environmental friendliness," he says. "If you're going to make claims of environmental responsibility, you better be able to back them up if you want your brand and your reputation to stand for something and to be valued by your customers."

Insights - so what does this mean?

It's a growing trend - Consumers are starting to look for eco-friendly alternatives in many aspects of their daily lives as their environmental awareness increases. Being a leader in this area and telling the world about it can help attract and keep customers.

Adopt a green approach - Going green may require a change in the way we look at our farm and food businesses. Some changes will be obvious, like re-using waste products or recycling water, because they save or make money. Other changes may require up-front investment so we need to re-think how we do business. Organizations should embrace "green" or "sustainability" as a part of their culture similar to the way a manufacturing operation embraces safety as a part of their culture.

It's the right thing to do - Transitioning to greener practices may mean incurring additional upfront costs and while that investment does not come with a guarantee of increased profitability, it is the right thing to do. Being environmentally conscious is part of our larger societal responsibility to ourselves and future generations.


The Synthesis Agri-Food Consulting Team

Synthesis Agri-Food Consulting

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