Thursday, April 25, 2024

Evaluating green claims: only a full picture paints a 1000 words

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Ballance Agri-Nutrients science and strategy manager Warwick Catto unpacks the ethical obligations of ecological reporting.
Using life cycle analysis ‘has enabled us to identify opportunities for innovation that support reducing emissions within the primary sector’, Ballance Agri-Nutrients science and strategy manager Warwick Catto says.
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By Warwick Catto, Ballance Agri-Nutrients science and strategy manager

As we face a growing list of environmental concerns, there’s an important ethical and moral obligation to be transparent in our ecological reporting. One of the more frequent risks customers currently face is environmental claims that unfairly or partially represent the full scope of emissions associated with the entire life cycle of a product. The most comprehensive and systematic way to gain a full understanding of a product’s emissions footprint is by conducting a cradle-to-grave life cycle analysis (LCA) – that is, stand back and take a look at the product’s entire journey rather than isolating individual parts. 

Performing such an in-depth analysis allows you to direct your attention to the issues that matter most. As the science and strategy manager at Ballance Agri-Nutrients, I’ve seen first-hand just how instrumental running a full   LCA has been for the improvement of our products. 

We conducted our first comprehensive LCA in 2002, to help customers make smarter choices by giving them the lowdown on emissions.

Utilising this process as a tool has enabled us to identify opportunities for innovation that support reducing emissions within the primary sector. By breaking down the manufacturing, production and on-farm processes of our New Zealand-produced urea, for example, we’re confident that our nitrogen fertiliser is one of the most sustainable on the NZ market when it comes to emissions footprint compared to average imported products. The LCA was independently verified by AgResearch. 

By analysing the full life cycle of our nitrogen fertilisers, we can also understand what their relative footprints are, which enables farmers and growers to effect greenhouse gas emissions through their product choices. 

But the key to sustainability is to not just stop there, which is why we continue to evaluate each of our products to ensure we’re meeting the evolving needs of our customers. 

If you were to simply focus on just one part of the process, and not the full life cycle, it would leave room to miss opportunities to further improve a product’s sustainability and overall emissions. 

For example, as a nation, if we solely focused on reducing transport emissions alone, we would never be able to reach our goal of net zero by 2050, because this factor is only part of our emissions profile. 

From my experience at Ballance, I can see how it could’ve been very simple to only track either the footprint of our business, offshore activity, or the farmer/grower activity as the path of least resistance.

However, as a co-operative, we’re determined in our commitment to eliminating emissions wherever possible within a product’s life cycle, and we support our customers’ journey towards more sustainable and low-emission farming and growing – through providing the right advice, the right product, at the right time and in the right place.

Nevertheless, we recognise that innovation in this sector isn’t easy. We’re constantly focusing on perfecting nitrogen inhibitors in our fertiliser products, as well as continuing to invest in a programme that aims to decarbonise our manufacturing sites, including NZ’s only ammonia-urea plant in Kapuni, Taranaki. 

Overcoming environmental challenges within our sector demands time and effort, but our aim is to introduce a nitrogen inhibitor solution by 2026, in line with when farmers start reporting their on-farm emissions. 

And beyond that, to invest in our Kapuni asset with the aim of significantly reducing our urea manufacturing emissions. These are big goals that we are seeking to find solutions to on behalf of our farmer and grower shareholders and because they are the right thing to do for NZ. 

Now is the time for leadership; to transform industry practice, we must ensure that we’re representing the full picture of emissions accurately. 

My hope for the future is that businesses across all sectors will appreciate the importance of adopting a cradle-to-grave life cycle approach, as it not only identifies current vulnerabilities but also opportunities to reduce and eliminate emissions – which is the ultimate end goal.

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