The Food Miles debate

Fairtrade roses

Sainsbury's and World Flowers have commissioned a report carried out by Cranfield University which showed carbon emissions from Kenyan roses, including air freight, were 5.8 times lower than for Dutch roses.

These results have provided a fresh challenge to current thinking on sourcing and the impact of air freight versus artificial heating and lighting for growing cut flowers.

The report studied a Kenyan farm, which supplies Sainsbury's with its roses. The experts in environmental analysis at Cranfield University studied the growing, packing, cooling and transport of the roses to Hampshire and included direct energy consumption, the manufacture, use and delivery of fertilisers, pesticides, vehicles, and materials used for buildings. This was compared to the same inputs from a Dutch grower, where artificial light and heat from fossil fuel replaced natural sunshine as the lighting/heating source.

Cranfield scientists completed a 'Life Cycle Assessment' considering both the immediate emissions from growing the crop and the energy used to create and transport every component.

The explanation behind the Kenyan roses producing less carbon emissions are:

  • The yield of roses in Kenya is approximately double that in Holland
  • The main Kenyan energy source is geothermal, whereas the Dutch is mainly fossil fuel
  • Roses grown in Kenya have the advantage of natural heat and light when compared to Holland
  • Roses are packed and transported in specially designed boxes which are very efficient to air freight and are densely packed

"We are currently looking at the big picture regarding carbon emissions and the part Sainsbury's play in that. We have been extremely proactive over the last 10 years on all aspects of energy efficiency. The debate is now wider and we are keen to encourage suppliers to be more energy efficient as well as looking at our customer offer. What this report shows is that it is not as simple as avoiding products from far-flung places. It's about gathering information to make an informed carbon choice. Real information is the key now."

Alison Austin, Sainsbury's Head of Brand Policy and Sustainability

*This work was completed based on figures from one operation in Kenya and one operation in Holland, but the authors would expect comparisons with other Dutch and Kenyan operations to produce generally similar results, but national averages have not been compared.

About the article

  • Posted on: 01 January 2007
  • Type of article: Case study

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