Different shades of green: Looking beyond carbon footprints

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Different shades of green: Looking beyond carbon footprints
You can try your best to avoid it, but when it comes to measuring carbon footprint, almost everything we do these days, either as a business or individuals, is likely to have a negative impact on the environment.

From using a kettle or popular internet search engine, to leaving on that nefarious stand-by light on your telly, reassessing how we use energy in relation to the resultant greenhouse gases is having a major impact on the way we view sustainability.

While commendable, it seems this ‘carbon neutral’ focus by consumers and food manufacturers is creating a catch-all green designation that is potentially forsaking alternate, or complimentary, sustainability drives. Drives, which at times, may offer more efficient greener business practices.

The carbon footprint is used as a means of accounting for the amount of greenhouse gases produced by an individual or organisation in terms of tonnes or kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions.

Now, wherever you stand on the global warming issue, businesses, under much media scrutiny, are aiming to cut emissions of gases like CO2 from their operations in concentrated attempts to ensure less detrimental environmental impacts. However, along with the corresponding headlines and news coverage carbon footprints are generating, fears are growing that as a society, we may on the whole be narrowing our understanding and commitments to environmental sustainability.

Some leading environmental groups suggest that while food and drink makers’ attempts in cutting greenhouse gas emissions are commendable, the industry should be adopting and playing up wider focuses on sustainability.

Areas such as water use or waste management were picked by groups like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as being just as critical to sustainable manufacture and maintaining the eco-system as carbon footprints. These concerns are nonetheless far less prominent in consumer awareness or understanding.

This isn’t to play down achievements already made by companies to reduce energy use or waste across their supply chains, but perhaps it is time that more manufacturers review their individual supply chains to see where they can provide the biggest reductions in environmental impact.

On an agricultural level, farmers are already looking at feed and fertilisers and the impact they are having on the environment. Drink and even food processors also claim to be working on maintaining water supplies in their plants amidst extensive use of the resource, on which their operations and life itself are hugely reliant.

Reviews of industry supply chains have additionally thrown up surprising areas where greener cuts can be made, with commitments to providing new technology across the supply chain from suppliers right up to retailers.

These reviews have, in one example, led some soft drinks groups to provide vending machines or refrigerators that use of different forms of gas like CO2 to potentially improve their environmental impacts.

Many of these commitments are themselves linked to the notion of carbon footprints, but take a wider view on industry impact beyond simply turning off more lights.

At a Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU (CIAA) Congress held in Brussels last November, the formation of a sustainable production roundtable was a big talking point amongst members in attempts to provide a more holistic business blueprint.

In focusing on providing and living greener lifestyles, consumers are already looking at the resulting carbon footprint of everything they do in their lives, from flying and transportation to the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from reading online business newsletters.

But are these same customers losing their way on other major green issues that may take more drastic commitments or, worse still, be harder to comprehend or quantify?

It is a question that every business must also ask of itself.

Neil Merrett, a staff reporter for BeverageDaily.com, has written on a variety of issues for publications in both the UK and France and accepts he uses a kettle far too often. If you would like to comment on this article, please e-mail Neil.Merrett 'at' decisionnews.com.

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