Improving the carbon footprint of poultry businesses

The UK Climate Change Act, passed by parliament last year, requires all businesses to report their carbon footprint, which will make carbon accounting a parallel process to financial accounting over the next few years.

But it is not just about complying with the law – there are many benefits, such as reduced energy use and possible marketing spin-offs.

Consumers are increasingly interested in the green credentials of food and low carbon use could prove an extra selling point for eggs and poultrymeat on supermarket shelves and in local shops.

But if you are apprehensive about assessing the environmental credentials of your poultry business, there are solutions and advisers out there to help make your business a greener place.

How to get started

The most basic form of carbon footprint covers the direct emissions from the business’s activities.

These include on-site combustion of fuels, emission of gases during operations and the running of vehicles, says Paul Holmes-Ling, senior energy consultant at Laurence Gould Partnership.

But these figures alone will be a massive underestimate of carbon footprint because they do not include emissions from electricity use, he adds.

Although you don’t have much control over the emissions produced in generating your electricity (buying green electricity helps), by using it, you are responsible for the release of the carbon dioxide created in its production.

To take full account of your business’s impact, you need to include indirect emissions from other products and services not directly controlled by the organisation, says Mr Holmes-Ling. This is called a life-cycle analysis.

What is a life-cycle analysis?

A life-cycle analysis looks at the total carbon embodied directly and indirectly in the production of a product or service – perhaps equivalent in detail to a full financial audit, says Mr Holmes-Ling.

In the poultry industry, this would mean working out the carbon per egg or whole chicken, including its portion of electricity usage, feed, gas heating, water and all other inputs, he says.

To do this, you need to calculate or obtain a footprint for all the kinds of feed used during the bird’s lifespan, the footprint of the energy mix used on site, and so on. Then make an accurate calculation of the portion of all these things devoted to the product in question.

This level of analysis is best carried out by an experienced professional.

Who can I approach for advice?

Independent advice can be sought from the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust, and from government bodies.

Consultants such as Laurence Gould can perform carbon footprint calculations and many specialise in particular sectors, says Mr Holmes-Ling.

But it is advisable to check consultants’ case histories to see if they have the experience to handle your business.

The British Standard for carbon footprinting is PAS 2050, so, ideally, ensure any organisation working for you is aware of this standard.

Tools such as the Carbon Accounting for Land Managers (CALM) calculator produced by the Country and Land Business Association (CLA) can help land-based businesses make an online estimate of their impact.

Results from consulting a professional

Commissioning a professional carbon footprint of your business may reveal some surprises, says Mr Holmes-Ling.

For example, carbon footprinting the poultry sector shows that the way birds are reared on-farm is much more important than any subsequent transport of them to market.

Poultry producers will have to be increasingly discerning about the sourcing of feed for their birds, he says. For example, is the soya element heavily processed and shipped a long distance?

Other important considerations include: What happens to the 0.5kg of litter that may be produced for every 1kg of meat? Could this “waste” have a further purpose in energy generation or fertiliser?

Points to consider

Intensive production results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than free-range or organic methods (see Poultry World February 2009, p20), says Mr Holmes-Ling.

This, apparently, is because those birds take longer to slaughter weight and have a lower feed conversion ratio.

But moves to intensify production would go against demand for greater welfare requirements, he adds.

How easy it is to reduce your carbon footprint?

Reducing your footprint can be very simple, says Mr Holmes-Ling. Large initial cuts can usually be made at low or negative cost, because most businesses have significant inefficiencies.

He advises some basic measures, such as cutting electricity usage, installing energy-efficient devices, using less transport fuel, insulating and investigating electric vehicles on site.

He also suggests designing better buildings, using greener materials, importing less feed and recycling your waste, including poultry litter.

An anaerobic digester will generate heat, power and fertiliser from waste while also reducing the waste’s carbon emissions, he points out.

Are there grants available?

The Carbon Trust has interest-free loans and grants available to businesses wanting to reduce their carbon emissions, says Mr Holmes-Ling.

Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) funding and many other grant funds are increasingly looking for environmental benefits when setting award criteria.

Eventually, all carbon will be priced in a market or by a tax, he says. This will be a huge incentive not to pollute.

Businesses that are preparing for this change in the economy by being as efficient as possible will have an advantage, he says.

Getting suppliers to participate

Just as buyers may put pressure on you to reduce your footprint, you can apply pressure to suppliers by requesting lower-impact products or switching to an alternative, says Mr Holmes-Ling.

Will reducing your carbon footprint result in further costs?

Initial moves to improve energy efficiency, such as meters and insulation, will produce savings within the normal business timescale of months or a few years.

Bigger infrastructure improvements, such as wind, biomass or solar power generators, do require a large investment.

However, a well-designed project can produce a good return on your investment, reduce your vulnerability to energy price fluctuations, and give you a marketing edge, says Mr Holmes-Ling.

How easily can the results be seen?

If recommendations are followed through carefully, savings from reduced energy use and feed costs can be seen as soon as the next bill arrives.

In the medium to long term, investments made now in green energy generating infrastructure that is immune from fuel price rises, as well as the opportunity to market low-carbon produce, will pay dividends, says Mr Holmes-Ling.

Top five tips

1. Cut your electricity bill and fuel bill per unit of production.

2. Use feed produced locally with fewer inputs and distribute locally where you can.

3. Reduce waste and packaging. Where this is not possible, reuse it or recycle it.

4. Improve the efficiency of buildings and machines, by upgrading, insulating and replacing inefficient assets.

5. Develop a management culture with ongoing sustainability and a long-term view of efficiency at its core. Consider which of your current production practices could be viable for 50 or 100 years. Measure every new activity against this standard. This mindset will keep you ahead of the legislative, economic and environmental upheavals and will save you money. 


Want to know more?

Paul Holmes-Ling is a senior environmental consultant for Laurence Gould Partnership and is a key speaker at Business Link’s interactive workshop Earth, Wind & Fire Profiting from Alternative Energy.

Business Link is running workshops for land-based businesses throughout south-east England and attendance is free. Workshops are 9.30am for a 10am start and conclude at 12.30pm with a buffet lunch. For bookings and more information on forthcoming workshops near you, call your local Business Link on 0845 600 9006 or visit