'Huge opportunity' in sustainability

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Kiwi businesses failing to embrace the concept of sustainability risk being spat out by the new wave of green consumerism, says Britain's minister for trade and investment.

Lord Jones, formerly Confederation of British Industry director-general Digby Jones, told the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development in Auckland that, though the idea of food miles had become common currency around the world, it was the full life cycle of food that businesses need to digest.

"The drive for sustainability is now as inevitable as the sun coming up every morning.

"Any business that misses that point is missing one of the main drivers of the success of the global economy and consumer accountability."

Working out the carbon footprints of food was no longer just about the contentious concept of food miles - the distance produce travels from field to plate - but the embedded emissions in the full life cycle of each product, he said.

"The important message for New Zealand from Britain is that there is huge opportunity in this for the right products. New Zealand goods that are efficiently produced and transported will do well in the new market place of Europe and the UK."

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It would take a concerted international approach, he said, to prevent global trade falling victim to the growing concerns about carbon emissions.

But the "spirit of partnership is one that can and surely will spill over into many aspects of the drive for sustainability".

He pointed to research by British groups with the interests of New Zealand in mind.

One such study, carried out by Lincoln University, concluded that rearing and distributing British lamb produced more carbon dioxide than transporting New Zealand meat thousands of kilometres by sea.

New Zealand had greater production efficiency in many food commodities compared with Britain, it concluded.

For example, Kiwi agriculture tends to apply fewer fertilisers - which require large amounts of energy to produce and cause significant carbon dioxide output - and animals can eat grass year-round instead of needing large quantities of feed such as concentrates.

New Zealand was far more energy efficient, even including transport cost, than Britain, the report went on to say.

It was twice as efficient in the case of dairy and four times in the case of sheep meat.

"For example, a product that gets on a ship [in Auckland], gets off in Southampton, is put on a truck and taken to my home town of Birmingham is going to put more carbon in the environment between Southampton and Birmingham than ever it is between Southampton and Auckland," Lord Jones said.

Not appreciating and understanding the full life cycle of a product allowed "non-accountable, opaquely funded" non-governmental organisations to exploit the carbon footprint debate.

Far from working as separate entities, business growth and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could succeed hand-in-hand, he added.

A move toward a globally accepted low-carbon approach to economics presented opportunities for business.

Such developments in Britain, through organisations such as the Carbon Trust, had been profitable for companies.

Next year Britain is expected to overtake Denmark as the biggest producer of offshore wind power in the world.

 

The Dominion Post