There’s enough food today

04/05/2014 Comments Off

There’s enough food today to feed everyone,  2,800 kcal per person per day available in fact. It’s just that the system isn’t designed to feed everyone but instead to maintain the lifestyles of populations in certain countries as well as protecting the political and commercial interests of agribusinesses in the developed world.

Vibrant cities

17/04/2014 Comments Off

Vibrant cities, cities where you enjoy walking around, there is bustle, community and trade. They need to make fewer concessions to cars and less skyscrapers.

Fez, a vibrant medina before cars and skyscrapers

Fez, a vibrant medina before cars and skyscrapers


Water harvesting from the atmosphere

28/03/2014 Comments Off

Around the world, 768 million people don’t have access to safe water, and every day 1,400 childrenunder the age of five die from water-based diseases. Designer Arturo Vittori believes the solution to this catastrophe lies not in high technology, but in sculptures that look like giant-sized objects from the pages of a Pier 1 catalog.

Prototype WarkaWater Tower
‘WarkaWater’ is a project conceived for the mountainous regions in Ethiopia, where women and children walk several hours to collect water. To ease this dramatic condition, the studio ‘Architecture and Vision’ is developing the project ‘WarkaWater’ which is harvesting potable water from the air and honours the disappearing Ethiopian warka trees. The 9 m tall bamboo framework has a special fabric hanging inside capable to collect potable water from the air by condensation. The lightweight structure is designed with parametric computing, but can be built with local skills and materials by the village inhabitants.

To read more visit

Lowhub, a post-mortem.

29/01/2013 § Leave a Comment

Functioning for 3 years as a low carbon distributor for London’s wholesale markets, Lowhub undertook to revolutionise distribution techniques and methodology with a electric and bio-diesel vehicles. Utilising EV’s, Lowhub’s per mile carbon output was 16% of that of a comparable diesel powered vehicle. Using the resources in our environs, Lowhub created a closed-loop feedback system, collecting (otherwise wasted) cooking oil from our customers, and using it to produce biodiesel, to power its bio-diesel vehicles. Lowhub encouraged collaborative behaviour from customers, reducing costs to the customer and increasing distribution efficiency, minimising wasted mileage and associated carbon output.

But! Lowhub operated through the beginning of the financial crisis, as margins on luxury items and (as UK economic figures can attest to) across sectors were squeezed to historic lows. Therefore, when Lowhub, as an alternative service provider, arrived in the industry, without an obvious ‘bottom line’ cost saving, barriers to entry were quite strong.

Behavioural change is difficult to overcome in all industries, but Lowhub was a game-changer, asking/requiring its customers to share client information previously considered sacred. After group meetings and enthusiasm from some members, customers did share this information. With shared information, Lowhub created highly efficient distribution routes which grew on the basis of contracted geographic areas. However Lowhub needed to find kindred spirits who had the inclination to deal with, and appreciation for, carbon ‘issues’ within the food industry. As an industry, the food sector has gained an incredible awareness of its carbon impact, but in early 2007, in the small geographic area that Lowhub was operating, the number of people willing to participate in collaboration was not large enough to sustain the momentum required.

Specialisation: Lowhub took the ‘vanilla’ function of the delivery of produce and became a specialist in the area, as well as introducing low carbon techniques. The drivers were trained by the suppliers to give advice and information regarding the products – this deepened the relationship between supplier and buyer though something as simple as delivery. This skill-set incurred costs of time and training, which although gave a handsome return to the customer, was not a cost that could be passed through to the client, which decreased Lowhub margins.

Industry recognition: The SRA (Sustainable Restaurant Association) was set up eighteen months after Lowhub, and has since taken the restaurant industry into new and exciting realms where carbon IS addressed at all levels, from provenance, supplier accreditation, kitchen design, restaurant energy consumption, to making the general public aware of progress within the industry. Lowhub consulted with the SRA and worked alongside many other representative bodies such as Foodshare, Sustain, WASTE etc. Each body contributed something unique and worthwhile, but Lowhub was unable to harness all of the potential because of its relatively small size in a vast industry with so many strands of energy consumption.

Externalities: The influence of government affects every newcomer to any industry. However, a lack of uniform direction in London’s low-carbon strategy left Lowhub without a clearly defined infrastructure in which to operate. Ken Livingstone’s policy direction pointed to the creation of a hydrogen fuel infrastructure across London, but this direction was abruptly changed by Mayor Johnson’s support for electric vehicles within London. Lack of policy uniformity left Lowhub without the knowledge that it had support from local government policy.

Differentiation: Lowhub operated in the very specialist market of produce delivery. The existing methods of transport were hugely wasteful in terms of energy, and inefficient in terms of distribution. Shared distribution, operating on behalf of multiple suppliers, was very rare before Lowhub. Despite the low-carbon motivation and the increased route efficiency that it brings, that differentiation was not sufficiently demanded from, or aspired to by the industry, to the extent that Lowhub required in order to create a sustainable business model. Maybe the model was before its time, or maybe the model just needs tweaking?Lowhub hits the road!

As a result Lowhub, despite various awards and many supporters, ceased delivery operations. Lowhub continues to provide consultancy advice and support through the Chi Group network.

Dilemmas, dilemmas

25/01/2013 § 2 Comments

The scale of the challenges of the New Model Orchard (NMO) project is dawning on me. Testing ourselves against the 5 Capitals Framework on every decision is already provoking serious debate. Latterly it has been down to the spacing of trees in the orchard.

Modern orchards are high intensity typically 3000 or more trees per hectare, more than double an old orchard. It allows more efficient machinery and agrichemical use and produces the yields which are (usually) financially sustainable today. However if we go for these very narrow rows we have to have special narrow orchard tractors, not much use for anything else on the farm. If the rows were wider we could use our existing pool of wider mid-range tractors and save on buying new manufactured capital.

Conversely agrichemical use, more efficient in narrow rows, represents the greatest carbon sink (see previous post on agrichemicals and the embedded carbon) in modern orchards so a point to narrow rows. Wider rows would perhaps allow inter-cropping increasing financial sustainability, however we would lose sward biodiversity which hosts beneficial insects reducing demand for agrichemical use. Another point to narrow rows.

Ultimately on this farm we have a strong field vegetable business, the more space taken up by orchards the less space for the veg. So it looks like sticking with convention this time – and the customers didn’t like the intercropping idea anyway. Although I still think free range chickens would love living in orchards, just don’t tell the customers.

New Model Orchard

21/01/2013 § Leave a Comment

Can modern commercial food production be truly sustainable?

Consumers are bombarded with ethical and environmental claims about the food they eat and the practices of those businesses bringing it to their table. The term ‘Sustainability’ is the claim of the moment and widely abused.

At the family farm on the north eastern tip of Essex we are embarking on a project to challenge whether apples can be grown commercially in truly sustainable fashion. The ‘NEW MODEL ORCHARD’ project will use the 5 capital’s framework to assess the sustainable use of environmental, social, human, manufactured and financial capital.

The ambitious project features a 1hectare planting of Opal apples and is being supported by partners Forum for the Future, the Chi Group, New Holland, Bayer, East Malling Research, Barclays, Oxford Biochar, More People, Mosscliff Renewables, Van Nifterik, EWT and many others. The orchard will be planted in February / March this year and an introductory event held in the Spring to bring partners and interested parties together to begin to develop ideas. The apples are ultimately destined to end up on the shelves of leading UK retailer, Marks & Spencer.

Key hurdles to overcome will be the large carbon sink presented by the use of agrichemicals, use of fossil fuels by vehicles and how to engage the local community. Not to mention achieving financial sustainability as the economic climate ensures retailers are unlikely to increase prices returned to farmers despite the significant capital investment required.

We will post regular updates and progress reports as the project unfolds.

What if all of us drove electric cars?

31/12/2012 § Leave a Comment

According to the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) 2010 published by the UK Government we use nearly 7M tonnes of diesel and 15.5M tonnes of petrol or gasoline in our cars and taxis. So how much electricity would we need to generate if we replaced all our national fleet of fossil fuel powered vehicles with electric ones?

7M tonnes of diesel and 15.5M tonnes of petrol contains 277 TWh of energy. According to the same report, the UK electricity industry delivered 326.1 TWh of energy to its users – simplistically we’d need to increase our capacity by 85%.

However an electric car is far more efficient than one powered by an internal combustion engine (88% vs 35%) so it does far more useful work for the same amount of input energy. 277 TWh put into a fleet of ‘normal’ cars will do 97 TWh of useful work, whereas an electric fleet will do the equivalent useful work with only 110 TWh of input energy.


The UK needs 25k additional windmills to power EVs

Allowing for transmission and distribution losses across the grid, around 9%, we find we need to generate 122 TWh of electricity  – equivalent to roughly 25,000 wind turbines or 34 nuclear power plants.

Reducing Energy Use and GHG Emissions of a Commercial Apple Orchard

27/12/2012 § Leave a Comment

Engaged 383ppm in 2007 to complete a carbon footprint of their apple growing and storage processes, this was before there was a Carbon Trust standard so we worked closely with Carbon Trust to agree an approach and verify our findings and in 2008 we returned to implement some carbon reduction measures and to help communicate the work to a wider audience. Before we start a bit about Blackmoor:

  • Grower of Premium English Apples since the 1920’s
  • 100 ha Top Fruit orchards
  • Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco
  • Pack house & Fruit Nursery


Our work found agrichemicals (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertililsers) to be the largest sources of carbon emissions. This is important because for a number of reasons (poor data from manufacturers, uncertain science) the emissions due to agrichemicals are probably the least understood or easily quantified.

Agrichemicals are the largest source of Carbon

Agrochemicals are the largest source of Carbon

Some varieties are a lot easier to grow than others and it shows in the carbon footprint. Cox is a more delicate fruit requiring more support during the growing season and needs more application of agrochemicals hence the greater emissions when compared to Gala.

Cox requires more support to grow successfully

Cox requires more support to grow successfully

Fruit grown on a traditional tree has a 40% greater footprint than one grown on a Trellis system. This simply down to yield per unit hectare – planting density 800 per ha in a Traditional orchard and 2,600 per ha on a Trellis orchard. Due to the flat geometry of the a trellis tree (fruit very nearly grows on the main trunk of the tree) whereas on a traditional tree you get significant branching before fruit is produced – this benefits the trellis tree as spraying is a lot more efficient and targeted. This means you apply the same amount of agrichemicals on ha of Trellis trees as you would on a ha of Traditional trees.

Trellis systems have significantly lower carbon emissions

Trellis systems have significantly lower carbon emissions

On the ‘Trellis’ Tree the fruit grows nearly directly on the main trunk so no energy is wasted growing extra woody material, additionally it’s a flatter 2-D structure making it easier and more efficient to spray agrochemicals and absorb sunlight.

Traditional Trees

Traditional Trees

Trellis System

Trellis System








Early Bird: Low Carbon does not imply High Tech

Fruit is cooler at daybreak than later on in the afternoon – less time and energy to pull down. Currently harvesting starts at 08:30, early bird would start at 06:00Field measurements show apples are around 9 °C at 06:00 and can reach 31°C in the afternoon. On a “typical” day pull-down times could be lowered by 21%, on a hot day by over 40%. Orchard managers should plan to use Early Bird using short term weather forecasts. Apples should go into storage as dry as possible the surface moisture is no greater at 6:00am than at 10:00am, in fact is probably less.

Early Bird Cooling Curve

Early Bird Cooling Curve

Best Practice: Often Low Carbon

Fruit is collected by pickers and put into fruit bins (circa 350kg) in the past empty bins were placed individually between orchard rows and collected again by tractors when they were full, you’d end up with tractors driving up and down rows all day, burning a lot of diesel and reducing the productivity of the picking team as they waited for a bin to replaced. The picking train an innovation introduced by Blackmoor before we started work in 2007 reduced diesel usage by driving a train of three bins very slowly between a row of tress as they fruit is picked, when the bin the three bins are full they are driven out again, all in a single pass of the tractor.. The electric vehicle in this picture is not usually part of the picking train it’s normally a diesel tractor. This EV was trialed as part of 383ppm’s work in 2008.

Electric Picking Train

Electric Picking Train

Marks and Spencer decided to take advantage of the work done and are using a unique label for apples from Blackmoor Estate. The label reminds the consumer about the great taste, that the apples are British and uses an uncontroversial element of the carbon footprint (Trellis) to make a low carbon claim and allude to the ongoing commitment of Blackmoor to reducing carbon.

Marks & Spencer Low Carbon Label

Marks & Spencer Low Carbon Label

Conclusion: A Meaningful Low Carbon Label

  • Transparent & Practical Analysis
  • Often Best Practice is Low Carbon
  • Well communicated commitment to innovation and continuous improvement
  • Focus on commercial benefits (cost and competitive advantage)
  • Taste & Nutrition are still the consumers top priorities

Low Carbon Label: Is there room and does anyone care?

27/12/2012 § Leave a Comment

Consumers are overloaded with a plethora of different labels. In the UK alone there are over 80 different labels and food assurance scheme including Organic, Red Tractor or RSPCA Freedom Foods. Companies want to help consumers make the right decision and differentiate their products but a recent survey by Which? [a consumer research magazine] found that only 20% of consumers understand the majority of labels. But does that mean for a carbon label?


Give me a kilo of whatever takes the least ethical reasoning

Give me a kilo of whatever takes the least ethical reasoning

Despite all of this consumers do care if a brand is ‘Green’ or not. Ignoring for now what Green actually means across these countries from this research it is clear that Green is important to about 80% of consumers to a greater or lesser extent.

“When You Think About What Brands to Buy, How Important is it that a Company is Green?” (% of respondents)

“When You Think About What Brands to Buy, How Important is it that a Company is Green?” (% of respondents)


But Quality & Taste and I suspect price is still the most important factor effecting a consumers decision to buy. So we can’t sacrifice either of these to reduce emissions.

key characteristics

We hear a lot about what people like their brands to do, you know I’d like it to be green or ethical but does that translate into real hard changes in buyer behaviour. The simple answer is yes it does. The top two categories ‘Free Range’ and ‘Fair Trade’ are about reducing the suffering of animals (Free Range Eggs sales have increased dramatically in the UK over the last decade) or sharing the rewards with others (FairTrade). Organic is perceived to be better for the environment or the individual. Looking at this, the question is is their space for a Low Carbon label?– and I’d say yes it is but over time I’d expect it to become part of an overarching scheme such as organic.

“UK Consumers Who Have Increased Spending on Green Food Products, by Eco-Label” (% of respondents)

“UK Consumers Who Have Increased Spending on Green Food Products, by Eco-Label” (% of respondents)

Labels are either digital or they convey the values of the product being sold. To a consumer a digital label is easy to understand since it tells you whether a product is vegetarian, kosha or halal and either you have to have it or you don’t.

Ethical or green labels have a more complex message to communicate and whether it effects your purchasing decision is up to you. FairTrade is the most successful ethical label in the UK – it pays a fair price to growers in the developing world and not to exploit them. The Soil Association’s Organic Standard is the best known organic brand.

The UK’s Carbon Trust are introducing their own carbon label, it is well intended – providing a common measurement framework (PAS 2050) but it faces some challenges for example the process of completing a footprint is expensive and beyond the reach of most growers and secondly consumers don’t know if 100g of CO2e is high or low.

Common Ethical Food Labels

Common Ethical Food Labels

So we know two things, one consumer demand exists but a label (and the marketing behind it has to clearly communicate what it stands for) and two it has to be rooted in something meaningful to the consumer and not just a set of numbers.

We have yet to see compelling evidence that a consumer will pay extra for a purely carbon label. Free Range yes, Organic yes, Rainforest Alliance yes but I don’t think low carbon. So how does carbon reduction make sense for a grower – it only make sense if leads to lower production costs because you are increasing yield or are able to take advantage of renewable energy.



Beginners Guide to Carbon Footprinting with the PAS 2050

27/12/2008 § Leave a Comment

The Carbon Trust has been working hard developing a methodology for calculating the GHG emissions or the carbon footprint due to a particular product or service. Known as PAS 2050, it is currently going through a consultation exercise before being finalised. 383ppm has prepared a primer on completing a carbon footprint using the PAS 2050 explaining briefly what it means.

Purpose of the PAS 2050

Provide a consistent method for assessing life cycle GHG emissions for goods and services


Covers both goods and services e.g. a computer or an internet banking service

Emissions of the following Green House Gases (GHGs)

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrogen Oxide (N2O)
  • HFC
  • PFC
  • Sulphur HexaFlouride (Sf6)

Applicable to organisations assessing the lifecycle GHG emissions of goods and services across their lifecyle. Does not cover any other environmental, social or economic impacts e.g. acidification, eutrophication, or biodiversity



  • All relevant GHG emissions to be included
  • All relevant information to support these claims should be documented and available for inspection


  • Data should be used and collected in a way which facilitates meaningful comparison between GHG information


  • Spatially, temporally and technologically specific
  • Information should be provided on the reliability and completeness of the data used

System Boundary

The boundary conditions for a product are taken from the Product Category Rule developed with ISO14025:2006, if one exists. Where one doesn’t exist, use the guidelines on systems boundary – inclusion types.

Threshold for inclusion

  1. GHG emissions from a source should be included in the analysis if it is likely to contribute more than 1% of the lifecycle emissions of the functional unit
  2. the final analysis should have a coverage of at least 95% of the anticipated lifecycle emissions for the functional unit
  3. where a single source contributes more than 50% of the total anticipated emissions, the 95% threshold applies to the remaining sources of emissions

For the Use Phase of a product points 1 and 2 apply.

When less than 100% of the anticipated emissions have been determined, the assessed emissions are to be scaled up to represent 100%



GHG emissions due to the use and provision of energy during a process are included. Upstream emissions are to be included for example the drilling of oil and its transport to a power station.

Raw Materials

GHG emissions arising from obtaining and transporting the raw materials, from it’s natural state, to the process that requires it are included.

Capital Goods

Emissions arising from production and transport of capital goods are included. As the contribution of these is expected to be less than 1%, PAS 2050 suggests excluding these from detailed calculations.

Manufacture or Service Delivery

The GHG emissions arising from actually producing the product or delivering the service are to be included. For most organisations this will require the collection of primary data on what they actually do.

Lighting, Heating, Cooling and Ventilation

Any GHG emissions arising from operating any buildings required are included


Emissions for the transport of:

  • inputs forming part of the product lifecycle
  • waste products or material from the point they become waste to the point of disposal or reprocessing


Emissions arising from storage are included, including

  • storage of any inputs to the product lifecycle
  • cooling or heating of a product at any point in the lifecycle
  • storage prior to re-use or recycling activities

Use Phase

Emissions due the use phase are included, remember these should be temporally and spatially specific e.g. you should identify in which country a product is being used. The Use Profile of a Use Phase is determined using a hierarchy of definitions:

  1. Product Category Rules (PCRs) that specify a use phase for the product being assessed
  2. published international standards
  3. published industry guidelines
  4. published national guidelines

Where none of the above is available, a description of the use profile for the use phase is recorded.

Recycling & Reuse

The GHG emissions arising from the recycling of a product will be attributed to the life cycle of the product to which the recycled product forms an input

Final Disposal

GHG emissions arising from products disposed of permanently are attributed to the lifecycle from which it arose. GHG emissions may arise over time, in this case projected emissions over 100 years from the date of disposal are included.


  • Human energy inputs
  • Transport of consumers to and from the point of sale
  • Animals providing transport services (does this mean LowHub should get itself a fleet of horse and cart?)


The general aim is to be as accurate and reliable as possible, using data which is place, time (and possibly technology) specific. The GHG emission of an emissions source is calculated by multiplying activity data by an emission factor.

Primary data is used for processes owned or operated by the organisation undertaking the analysis. For each of these processes, 60% of the GHG emissions will be calculated from emission factors which have been derived from primary data for previous processes in the supply chain. This process continues until the input to a process step becomes a commonly available commodity such as cooking oil or diesel (which have published emission factors e.g. in the ELCD)

When collecting primary data care should be taken to ensure it is representative.

Where primary data is unavailable, secondary sources for emission factors can be used, in the following order of preference:

  1. those calculated in accordance with PAS2050
  2. reported in the ELCD
  3. reported in ELCD compliant databases
  4. reported in national (government) produced publication
  5. published national and industry guidelines
  6. reported in peer review research

Emissions Data for Fuel, Electricity and Heat

The GHG emissions will be calculated using the amount of energy used and the average emission factor for the energy source.

Emission factors for onsite generation are calculated using the method described in PAS2050 for offsite generation use the emission factor provided by the supplier or another reliable secondary data source e.g. tables published by DEFRA.

The emission factor for biofuels will be based upon GHG emissions due to the production of the fuel and excludes CO2 emissions from the biogenic carbon component of the fuel. When associating renewable energy to a process it must be clearly demonstrated the process consumed the energy generated or it consumed the same amount and type produced renewably and no other process consumed the energy and claimed it as renewable.

Allocation Guidelines

Between Co Products

When a process results in a co-product, the GHG emissions up to that point in the lifecycle are allocated according to their relative economic value (economic allocation)

Waste Emissions

CO2 emissions
No GHG emissions are attributed if the CO2 arises from the biogenic carbon fraction of the waste but they are attributed if they arise from the fossil carbon fraction.

Methane emissions
All methane emissions are attributed to the lifecycle unless the methane is combusted (producing carbon dioxide and water). If the methane results from a fossil component of waste, the GHG emissions are attributed, if it is from a biogenic component then none is attributable.

Where more than one product is being transported, emissions arising from transport are allocated on the basis of mass or volume, whichever is the limiting factor.


An organisation can claim three levels of conformity PAS 2050

  1. Results certified by an independent third party certification body who is able to demonstrate compliance to ISO 17021 with PAS in it’s scope
  2. Results validated by an independent third party
  3. Self Validation



Emission Factor The average emission rate per unit used / employed for a particular input to a process
Acidification The decrease in pH of a substance (e.g. fresh water, oceans or air) due to the action of pollutants
Eutrophication Excess nutrients in a body of water causing a dense growth of plant life leading to death of animal life due to a lack of oxygen. Can be due to run off of agrichemicals from cultivated land.
Product Category Rule Standardised and published rules for completing the GHG lifecycle assessment for a particular product type
Global Warming Potential (GWP) An estimate of how much a particular mass of atmospheric gas contributes to global warming. Measured using a relative scale with the GWP of CO2 taken to 1. The GWP of the six GHGs are shown below:
Carbon Dioxide – 1 Methane (CH4) – 25
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) – 298
Sulfur Hexaflouride (SF6) – 22,800
Hydroflourocarbons – specific to gas Perfluorocarobons – specific to gas
CO2 equivalent. See GWP, for example Methane has a CO2e of 25.
ELCD European Reference Life Cycle Data System (ELCD)
life cycle assessment dataset compiled by the European Platform on Life Cycle Assessment containing secondary emission factors for selected materials and processes
DEFRA Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs
Co Product Two or more products of the same process which cannot be produced independently of each other
Biogenic Produced or brought about by a living organism