The language of green

Published by Sally on May 8, 2009

A version of this article first appeared in the Drinks Business, January 2008.

Scientists have discovered CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased 30% faster than they expected since 2000. Industries are doing an enormous amount of work on calculating emissions, and improving efficiencies, but is there yet a best practice scenario for measuring and communicating a consistent message on environmental credentials?

Carbon footprints

Carbon footprints, which measure greenhouse gas emissions, are making tracks, but there are a number of available methodologies, including Bilan Carbone, which was used by Oeneo to study their closure types, and CarboNZero in NZ, used by Marlborough’s New Zealand Wine Company, which makes brands such as Grove Mill and Sanctuary.   

Different schemes use different, and therefore potentially non-comparable, methodologies. To counter this, a lot of work is being done by the Carbon Trust, Defra and BSI Global to produce a generic methodology for calculating greenhouse gas emissions, which, they hope, will be widely adopted, even going so far as to say they hope at some point in the future the generic methodology will become an international standard (ISO).

The work is being done via a Publicly Available Specification – PAS 2050 – which measures the embodied greenhouse gas emissions of products and services. In the food and drinks industries, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, the Co-operative Group, Scottish and Newcastle and Tesco are all part of the second phase of pilot partners trialling the draft specification.  

A spokesperson for BSI Global said “Part of the PAS process has been to identify and assess existing methods for the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions.  PAS 2050 is intended as the first step towards a future internationally agreed method for organisations to measure the GHG emissions embodied in their products and services.”

The aim is to develop a single common standard relevant across products and business sectors, using the feedback from partners.  Publication of the specification is expected in July 2008. This will be relevant for anyone wanting to look at their carbon footprint. 

The generic calculation will need to be customised for different industries. “A project is being lead by the wine industries of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and California”, said Amy Russell, National Natural Resource Management Coordinator at the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia. And FIVS, the International Federation of Wines and Spirits, have been briefed, she says “as they may choose to adopt the ‘carbon footprint’ protocol and methodology and expose it to a wider industry audience”.

FIVS head of secretariat, Bennett Caplan said: “The [wine industry] protocol will determine what emissions sources and sinks should be included in the calculation of the carbon footprint of wine production.” A calculation tool was expected to be completed at the end of 2007.   It is planned that this global methodology will be consistent with the PAS 2050, and it is being designed to be relevant to small, medium and large businesses. Provisor, an Australian consultancy company has been awarded the contract to produce the work.

Fundamental to carbon footprints are what to include and exclude, where the carbon trail starts and stops. Caplan said: “Key issues will be the inclusion/exclusion of emissions arising from transport to market, the Kyoto assumption of sequestration in the vineyard directly offsetting emissions from fermentation, and the actual availability of hard data that can be used in calculating a carbon footprint.”

Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and sustainability

A life cycle assessment most commonly covers all ‘environmental impacts’ through the lifecycle of a product, from raw material production, the manufacturing process, through the ‘in-use’ phase (e.g. driving a car, or consuming groceries) and disposal. As well as greenhouse gases, this assessment could also cover such things as the use of water, emission of toxic wastes and gases, and packaging waste.  

Peter Clark, operational and technical affairs manager at the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) says “a carbon footprint could be an element of the wider sustainability picture. Carbon footprints relate to one part of measuring sustainability.  LCAs look at a whole range of other environmental impacts.”

The SWA is working with its members to develop an industry environmental sustainability strategy, but in the meantime they have been part of a voluntary climate change agreement covering distilling operations, which focus on the production element of a life cycle. The 67 distilleries involved, which include gin and vodka distilleries, have improved efficiencies and invested in new, greener technologies, such as recycling excess distillery energy to heat local homes and facilities. Clark said: “Since the agreement started in 2001, production is 4% higher and we have achieved a 10% reduction in CO2  emissions.”

Putting their full weight behind the sustainability route, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has committed its members, who represent around 70% of the UK food and drink manufacturing industry, to a five-fold environmental plan, which includes sending zero food and packaging waste to landfill by 2015 and reducing water use by 20% by 2020, compared to 2007.

An FDF spokesperson said: “Our ambition is to make a real difference to the environment by focusing on those areas where we can have maximum impact.  CO2 reduction is the most important aspect but not the only one.  Indeed, the food and drink manufacturing sector has reduced its CO2 emissions by just over 15% between 1990 and 2005.  FDF’s aspiration for a 30% reduction by 2020 would mean our members saving 1½ million tonnes of CO2 compared to 1990, the same as taking 350,000 cars off the road.”

Eliminating food miles

Whilst consumers in the UK have taken ‘food miles’ to their hearts as an ostensibly easy-to-understand concept, the reality is that food miles as a single indicator of sustainability has been discredited.

We know that efficient long miles can produce less carbon than inefficient short miles. Caplan said; “Studies have shown that long distance sea freight, a common mode of wine transport, produces fewer emissions compared to short-haul road and air freight. ”

And so to labelling …

As one climate change consultant said: “you have to be very careful comparing one carbon footprint with another – you must be clear what has been included and what has been ignored.”

Whether it’s carbon footprints, LCAs, or sustainability indices, there are numerous difficulties to translate these complex equations to something that’s understood by, and useful for, consumers.  

The Carbon Trust’s ‘carbon reduction label’ is being trialled with the project’s partners.  It communicates a commitment to reduce carbon emissions. Used in conjunction with the carbon footprint logo and emissions figure, consumers would be able to track a lowering figure of the brands they buy.

The Trust’s spokesperson said: “The carbon reduction label includes emissions from source to arrival at the store and also includes product disposal. The emissions in the use of the product are not included, as these are highly variable depending on the user of the product. For example the carbon emitted when shampoo is used varies according to how hot or cold a person’s shower is.”

Labelling so far largely occurs at the point of production, but, said Russell: “how wine distribution, sale, consumption, disposal, collection and recycling are dealt with will be interesting. All these are out of the control of the producer and are subject to gross generalizations.”

Additionally, she said: “A carbon footprint is not static, and will change with seasonal variations, transport modes, packaging and product use/disposal/recycling. Measuring the footprint is therefore not a one-off exercise, and constantly updating or changing labels can be expensive.”


It’s early days and things are fast-moving. The PAS 2050 will be emerging at the time of publication, as will Provisor’s carbon calculation for the wine industry. Communicating consistently with consumers exactly what climate change measures are being undertaking by businesses and products will become increasingly important. And, given the speed of progress, not-very-much-time-at-all will tell whether carbon footprints are one giant leap for mankind, or one large, purposeful stride of a longer walk towards full-scale environmental impact accountability.

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