Carbon : The power of
benchmarking and optimising

Our focus has always been on the efficient use of resources. We achieve this by measuring, benchmarking and tracking inputs, and implementing measures to optimise their use. The numbers allow us to document this process of continual improvement. Agrilink has been involved in carbon footprinting right from the start. By using carbon as a measure of resource-use efficiency, we can compare different parts of the supply chain. This is what Agrilink did when we co-authored the Food Miles Report with Lincoln University in 2006.

Overcoming the tyranny of distance

In the early 2000’s, consumers who felt powerless to stop climate change had been told that they could make a difference by choosing products with fewer associated food miles. Obviously, this had significant implications for New Zealand as an exporter. But, by looking at the full supply chain, Agrilink was able to counter this faulty thinking and show that food miles are an extremely poor measure of environmental sustainability. Government and industry have used the Food Miles Report as evidence that the distance food travels in no way reflects its environmental footprint.

Fortunately the food miles argument has been replaced with a more holistic understanding achieved through Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Thinking.

A true assessment involves investigating the full supply chain, including all resource inputs, yields, transport, storage, and waste streams. This forms the basis of the carbon footprint. New Zealand’s competitive advantage in this area lies in its innovation, high productivity and quality, and low resource-use inputs – all of which have been shown to overcome the tyranny of distance.

The Government subsequently partnered with the primary industries to carbon footprint more than 80% of New Zealand’s agricultural and horticultural production. Together with a range of research partners, Agrilink was involved in almost all of these studies. They include: kiwifruit, wine, pip fruit, onions, berry fruit, greenhouse vegetable production, merino wool, sheep and beef, and organic dairy.

Helping you tell your unique story

The focus has now shifted from industry initiatives to individual companies. Agrilink is working with clients to build on the foundation that industry established through its methodologies and benchmarking. We are now tailoring systems that companies can use to monitor their own performance and tell their own unique story.

Outside of the primary industry, Agrilink has provided advice to diverse groups such as shipping, biofuel suppliers, Tourism NZ, and a manufacturer of recycled paper mulch. [link to reports]

We’ve noticed two interesting trends emerging:

  1. Developing countries (which are becoming significant trading partners) are often more concerned than our traditional European markets about environmental attributes.
  2. Consumers are now considering a much wider range of environmental attributes. Previously the focus has been exclusively on carbon, but now they’re equally interested in water, biodiversity and the community.

At Agrilink, we help our clients understand these emerging trends, and create strategies to implement, capture and document a wide range of environmental initiatives.

Food miles are an extremely poor measure of environmental sustainability.