Food Miles Concept Too Basic

Published: Wed 17 Nov 2010 09:28 AM
Life cycle assessment proves food miles concept too basic
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 by Roger Kerrison
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 if consumed 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 we need to remember New Zealand is the land of the hydro-lake, wind farm and geothermal power plant before we assume that buying local is best.
Roger Kerrison - Senior Advisor

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