Monday, February 18, 2008

Green Memo: Big Foot: How Big is the Food and Grocery Industy's Carbon Footprint?

A little more than a year ago, Sir Terry Leahy, who is the chief executive of the Tesco chain of supermarkets, Britain's largest retailer, delivered a speech to a group called the forum for the Future, about the implications of climate change.

Leahy had never before addressed the issue in public, but his remarks left little doubt that he recognized the magnitude of the problem. "I am not a scientist," he said. "but I listen when the scientists say that, if we fail to mitigate climate change, the environmental, social, and economic consequences will be stark and severe...There comes a moment when it is clear what you must do. I am determined that Tesco should be a leader in helping to create a low-carbon economy. In saying this, I do not underestimate the task. It is to take an economy to where human comfort, activity and growth are inextricably linked with emitting carbon and to transform it into one which can only thrive without depending on carbon. This is a monumental challenge. It requires a revolutional in technology and a revolution in thinking. We are going to have to rethink the way we live and work."

Above are the opening two paragraph's of an excellent feature article about global climate change, carbon foorprints, food miles and related environmental issues of significant importance to those in the food, grocery and allied industries, by writer Michael Spector in the newest addition of the New Yorker magazine, just out today.

Spector's piece focuses on what Tesco and other food and grocery companies are doing--and not doing--to reduce their respective carbon footprints. He also discusses the larger issue of the science and faith behind the global warming issue.

Tesco's Sir Terry is one of the leading proponents in the grocery industry for the concept of labeling grocery products with their carbon footprint. These labels would be similar to nutritional labels currently on packaged goods and other grocery products. The carbon label would tell consumers how many miles the ingredients in the packaged food product traveled, the amount of energy required to produce it, and similar points of information.

Tesco is currently in the process of funding a large-scale research project in the UK, designed to create a carbon footprint measuring protocol, as well as design the labels the retailer will use on all of its store branded food and grocery products in the near future. Tesco also is working with its major suppliers, telling them it expects them to carbon footprint label their branded products in the not too distant future if it wants to sell them in Tesco stores.

The interelated issues of global warming, carbon footprints and foot miles are significant and important ones for the food, grocery and related industries, including agriculture and transportation.
Spector's New Yorker piece, which isn't a short one, titled: "Big Foot: In measuring carbon emissions, it's easy to confuse morality and science," provides a good, thoughtful overview on the interelated subjects regardless of one's personal opinions. [Read the full article here.] We recommend the piece to our readers.

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