Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Should Tesco's axe alter our carbon audit?

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

When one of the biggest retailers in the world pulls the plug on its carbon count initiative, it's a serious blow to all the stakeholder organisations that advocate the importance of carbon footprints for today's consumer.

Tesco's move to ditch its Carbon Trust-affiliated labels last week also highlights how quickly the goal-posts can move in the rapidly evolving issue of food sustainability.

Less than 18 months ago, the then chairman of Bord Bia, Dan Browne, told journalists at the launch of Bord Bia's carbon audit initiative at Europe's biggest food fair that "sustainability is hot with consumers at the moment". Hot, but obviously not hot enough.

The process of developing a carbon count for each product according to the Carbon Trust's criteria was turning into a mammoth task for Tesco, with each product taking months to analyse. At that rate, it was going to take hundreds of years for Tesco's backroom people to get through the 70,000 different products that line its shelves.


Yet, after all that effort, retail analysts are reporting that the consumer is bewildered by the array of different environmental 'standards' that adorn everyday food products.

Couple this with the fact that they are much more cash strapped now than when Tesco first made a big song and dance about their initiative back in 2007, and you begin to see why profit-hunting retail chains are beginning to question the value of potentially expensive carbon audits.

This is not the kind of news that those who are backing the roll-out of nationwide carbon audits want to hear, but all may not be lost. While it may not pay retailers to individually assess each of their products on their green credentials, there is no doubt that environmental sustainability is an issue that is here to stay.

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The retail giants are not blind to this and are beginning to realise they can't afford to pass the buck for sustainable choices back to the consumer. So we may see fewer labels on every product, while behind the scenes the multiples will be making 'sustainable' choices on the consumer's behalf. As a result, when it comes down to which supplier Tesco decides to plump for, the one that can show the greenest credentials will still be in pole position.

The key will be to deliver those credentials as cheaply as possible. Do we still need to individually audit 40,000 farmers as per the Carbon Trust's model or can we use a cheaper sample-audit system that delivers a credible end result? Time will tell, but Bord Bia must be able to move as fast as the ever-changing green agenda.

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