Energy and Climate Change CommitteeMemorandum submitted by E H Booth & Co Ltd

Executive Summary

1. At Booths we treat consumption-based carbon metrics for the business and its supply chains as essential management information which we require to guide our response to climate change.

2. Food is responsible for between 20% and 30% of the UK’s consumption-based greenhouse gas “footprint”. Much of this is imported and therefore missed off the UK’s production-based carbon metrics.

3. The UK food retail industry understands clearly that the majority of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from food take place on the farm. If our industry is to be supported in managing its climate change impact it is important that our own greenhouse gas metrics take this into account.

4. The current omission of net trade imports from UK greenhouse gas reporting prevents many of our existing and potential greenhouse gas mitigation actions from being reflected in the UK’s progress towards targets In order for our own efforts and narrative to be connected with the UK’s carbon metrics it is important that the UK adopts consumption-based accounting.

5. It is difficult to be accurate about greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture whether from a production-based or consumption-based perspective. Considerable scientific uncertainty exists for both approaches. However, the consumption-based approach is a more inclusive measure, making it more relevant for many purposes.

Consumption-Based Greenhouse Gas Metrics at Booths

6. For the last four years, Booths has adopted consumption-based greenhouse gas metrics for its operations and food supply chains. This is the primary emissions metric that we use to inform our business activities. We use this information to drive a coherent and integrated response to climate change throughout the business. We adopted a consumption-based approach because it became clear that production-based measures could not adequately reflect the climate change impacts of our management decisions.

7. Our estimates of the greenhouse gas “footprint” of our operations and supply chains, along with a full list of mitigation actions is publically available on our website.i Whilst this level of transparency is currently unique among UK supermarkets, it is clear that larger supermarket chains also take a consumption-based approach to greenhouse gasses from food. Tesco’s food label initiatives and Marks and Spencers’ Plan A are well known examples.

8. Although we are one of the smaller UK supermarket chains, the resources required to develop consumption-based metrics have been relatively modest. The key has been to ensure transparency over methodology and uncertainties. In order to obtain high quality management information it has not been necessary to undertake detailed process-based life cycle analysis of a large number of products.

Food Production and Consumption are Important Parts of the UK’s Climate Change Impact

9. Food is widely cited as being responsible for around 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gas footprint, when estimated on a consumption basis. Only a minority of this is attributable to UK cooking and food disposal. A clear majority of food emissions take place prior to the farm gate. Processing, packaging and transport are also significant components.ii As well as our own work, numerous academic papers support this braod perspective. Although no other UK supermarket has yet published comprehensive estimates, the narrative of the larger UK supermarkets shows that this is well understood within the industry.

10. A recent WWF report estimates that the 20% figure for the relative importance of UK food consumption rises to 30% when the effects of international changes in land use resulting from UK food imports are taken into account.iii

The Significance of UK Net Food Imports

11. The UK imports around half of its food, probably accounting for between 50 and 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. We know from extensive secondary research that some of the foods we import are more carbon intensive than their UK alternatives, but that some are less so. Examples of greenhouse gas intensive imports include air-freighted foods, foods that are hot-housed in cold climates (such as Dutch tomatoes in January), those grown using unnecessarily high levels of fertilizer (including, for example, much rice production), and those whose production necessitates deforestation. Examples of low impact imported foods include many of those grown in season and in sunny climates and transported by sea.iv

12. For the most part, UK outdoor food production is relatively greenhouse gas efficient compared to most overseas alternatives as a result of high environmental standards, high industry knowledge and high energy costs. There is strong potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from UK food consumption through greater selectivity over our food imports. This is likely to favour the UK food industry. National and international consumption-based greenhouse gas accounting is required to reflect the emissions benefits.

The Importance of Consumption-Based Metrics

13. At Booths we understand that greenhouse gas management involves addressing every area in which we have influence on the emissions resulting from food consumption.

14. However, the current omission of net trade imports from UK greenhouse gas reporting prevents many of our existing and potential greenhouse gas mitigation actions from being reflected in the UK’s progress towards targets. The same will be true for all other UK food retailers. This disconnection between the most effective food industry greenhouse gas mitigation measures and national greenhouse gas accounting currently brings a significant element of incoherence and inefficiency to the UK’s response to climate change. It is important that this is resolved through the adoption of consumption-based national greenhouse gas accounts.

Practical Considerations

15. Scientific uncertainty over greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices ensure that both production-based and consumption-based food greenhouse gas emissions estimates contain considerable uncertainty. Practical management of the issues necessitates a pragmatic approach to the development of “good enough” management and policy information whichever approach is adopted at a UK level. This uncertainty does not in any way negate the value of adopting a consumption-based measure.

16. We do not believe it is particularly useful or practical and certainly not necessary to attempt process-based life cycle analysis of a very large number of products in order achieve robust consumption-based estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from UK food consumption. Our own work demonstrates the feasibility of a modelling approach.

17. A critical enabler of the provision of a robust methodology within realistic resource constraints will be the transparent acknowledgement of the uncertainties. The methodology and datasets can be improved over time.

Further Information

18. Our consumption-based greenhouse gas footprint report, including methodology and a full list of mitigation actions can be found at http://www.booths.co.uk/Documents/Booths_Full_Report_100720.pdf

October 2011

References

i Booths 2010 “The Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Booths”
http://www.booths.co.uk/Documents/Booths_Full_Report_100720.pdf

ii Audsley, E, Brander, M, Chatterton, J, Murphy-Bokern, D, Webster, C, and Williams, A, (2009) “How low can we go? An assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope to reduce them by 2050”. FCRN-WWF-UK. http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/how_low_report_1.pdf.

iii Audsley, E, Brander, M, Chatterton, J, Murphy-Bokern, D, Webster, C, and Williams, A, (2009) “How low can we go? An assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope to reduce them by 2050”. FCRN-WWF-UK. http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/how_low_report_1.pdf.

iv Garnett, T (2006) Fruit and vegetables & UK greenhouse gas emissions: Exploring the relationship. A report for the Food Climate Research Network http://www.fcrn.org.uk/sites/default/files/fruitveg_paper_final.pdf

Prepared 17th April 2012