When Mike Casey and Angus Curry first reached out to the Environmental Assurance team AsureQuality about their idea for a ‘zero fossil fuel’ standard for food producers, I was sceptical. Having spent 15 years immersed in the world of carbon footprinting, I was very familiar with the accepted methods of calculating and reporting carbon emissions. Alternative methods in this space are generally treated with suspicion, and that was my initial reaction.
After discussing the concept in detail, and thinking about it for a while longer, it dawned on me that what NZ Zero is trying to achieve is quite different altogether, and it is a concept that is something of an antidote to the distrust that can come with some carbon-related claims. The concept is simply: eliminate fossil fuels from your operation. This can apply to both growers and processors of food products, and prospective organisations can also opt for a three-year transition period to make the necessary changes.
Carbon footprints and their associated reduction claims are not simple. They need clear assumptions, boundaries, emission factors and calculations, and they need to be done in line with a recognised Standard. After all this work is done, a claim can usually be made that emissions associated with a particular organisation or product have been eliminated where possible, with offsets being used for the emissions that cannot be avoided.
In practice, these claims can be rather light on the elimination piece, and heavy on the offsetting piece.
The NZ Zero Standard focuses on action. Everything about its design is to eliminate fossil fuel use from the product, starting with the site where it is grown. This results in a standard that is practical, action-oriented, and very easy to understand. It is not a comprehensive carbon footprint, nor does it try to be- in fact it is a complementary Standard to existing carbon offerings. AsureQuality provided technical expertise to develop this Standard alongside the NZ0 team throughout 2022, with financial support from AGMARDT.
The Standard has a clear initial requirement: no fossil fuel combustion onsite. That is black and white. But nothing is perfect, and the reality is there will be occasional situations where something is needed onsite where a zero fossil fuel option just does not currently exist. For example, you cannot feasibly use Clydesdale horses for earthmoving. In these cases, there are strict criteria to ensure this fuel use is absolutely necessary, and if so, the fuel use is calculated, and compensation is required. Currently this is using high-quality offsets at 200% for onsite services, and 100% for transportation of product. (Note: this method of compensation is an interim approach while an action-focused compensation method is finalised – watch this space!)
The Standard also requires growers to make transparent decisions related to purchased services (upstream and downstream) that result in emission reduction action. For example, if a grower needs maintenance done on their irrigation system, they must prioritise contractors that are taking action to eliminate fossil fuels, with a clearly defined decision hierarchy.
The Standard is designed to be updated regularly to push the boundary of what is feasible in terms of carbon reductions. This means expanding requirements to other parts of the supply chain as zero fossil fuel options become available. We look forward to seeing more growers and producers adopt this Standard and show the world they’re taking action.
NZ0 Certification is independently audited by AsureQuality, and AsureQuality also has a member in the Management Committee to ensure updates to the Standard are robust, appropriate, and auditable.