Friday, July 27, 2007

How Much Does It Cost?

Beef "costs" more than driving. I included an excerpt from an article in a recent Telegraph UK news item from Japan's National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science.
Eat a steak, warm the planet
A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef causes more greenhouse-gas and other pollution than driving for three hours while leaving all the lights on back home, according to a Japanese study.
A team led by Akifumi Ogino of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, calculated the environmental cost of raising cattle through conventional farming, slaughtering the animal and distributing the meat, New Scientist reports in next Saturday's issue.
Producing a kilo (2.2 pounds) of beef causes the equivalent of 36.4 kilos (80.08 pounds) in carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, Ogino found.
Most of these greenhouse-gas emissions take the form of methane, released from the cow's digestive system.
That one kilo (2.2 pounds) of beef also requires energy equivalent to lighting a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. The energy is needed to produce and transport the animals' feed.
A Swedish study in 2003 suggested that organic beef emits 40 percent less greenhouse gases and consumes 85 percent less energy because the animal is raised on grass rather than concentrated feed. (PDF of report)
The only way consumers will "get" this is of we assign dollar values to the embodied energy in the products. Carbon tax, carbon content labeling, whatever. My friend Alison Sander brought energy or carbon labeling up as part of AltWheels back in 2004 when I was part of the planning team. We did not have the resources to pull it off.

TESCO (in the UK) is attempting to do this. In articles dating back a few months, TESCO has revealed that they are attempting to influence consumer behavior by included data on their products indicating the product's carbon content. The Wal-Mart of the UK's supermarket industry "doing good" for the sake of "doing good"? Not exactly, since the threat of carbon emissions regulation is looming much more closely than here in the US, but so what? We've discussed before that business related sustainable activities have to be in the best interest of the business or they will go nowhere.

The real test will be how they determine the carbon content of the items (how far up in the supply chain will they go and out into their suppliers supply chain?) and make it meaningful for their customers. If the data is there without an associated change in price influenced by the carbon content, what will motivate the consumer to make the low carbon purchase? There may be more consumers interested in buying green for the sake of green, but to make it more broadly appealing, the price must be right.

Many thanks to my friend Joni Taylor for the photograph of some of the fires in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area. I can't imagine seeing scenes like that here on the east coast.

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