A new standard has been launched by BSI British Standards, the Carbon Trust and DEFRA to help businesses assess the carbon footprint of their goods and services.

The PAS 2050 standard calculates greenhouse gas emissions throughout a product’s life cycle, from sourcing raw materials to manufacture, distribution, use and disposal. It is hoped it will help businesses reduce emissions at various parts of the chain and ultimately develop products with lower carbon footprints.

NFU vice president Paul Temple welcomed the launch of the standard, but was concerned it did not recognise the unique position of agriculture and horticulture.

“In its present form, the Specification will add to the administrative burden of farm paperwork with no obvious financial return. In order to provide a stronger incentive, we have proposed that producers should be able to earn greenhouse gas (GHG) credits from the export of renewable energy services which displace fossil-fuel use elsewhere in the supply chain, as well as the small amount of carbon sequestered by woodland and pasture.”

Accredited assessment of the carbon footprint under PAS 2050 for individual food products was unlikely until early 2010 and Mr Temple said the industry had to work with the standard’s developers to provide a credible, rigorous and practical way to measure greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural products.

“We also want to help assessors in their interpretation of the standard when its use becomes widespread.”

Prior to the launch of PAS 2050, the Carbon Trust piloted it with 75 product ranges across a range of companies, which included Tesco, The Co-operative Group and British Sugar.

British Sugar was the first sugar business to certify the carbon footprint of its granulated sugar using the new government standard. It calculated that 0.6g of CO2 equivalent is produced for every gram of sugar made.

There were no plans to include the figure on packaging, but BS managing director Gino De Jaegher said it was necessary to establish a baseline from which sugar production’s carbon footprint could be improved.

“Extracting sugar from beet and delivery accounts for 65% of the overall carbon footprint for a kilogram of sugar, while farm emissions account for the remaining 35%. Of this, diesel, fertiliser and emissions from the soil are the biggest contributors.”

Mr De Jaegher said British Sugar had made great steps forward with its sustainability programme, but further improvements could be made elsewhere in the production process from farm to factory. He rejected suggestions that this could result in a grower protocol for ‘low carbon’ beet. “We will continue to work with the NFU and BBRO to find the best ways of doing things and this information will be passed back to growers through area managers.”

Dairy UK environment manager, Fergus McReynolds added: “As an industry, we are well aware of the need to keep reducing our environmental impact. That is why we have agreed to a set of demanding environmental targets with DEFRA in the Milk Roadmap, which will transform the industry over the next decade. PAS 2050 is another tool to boost that process.”