Appetite for green progress

This weekend's Sunday Times featured a piece about Hewlett-Packard's plans to build "computer warehouses" on US farms. The theory goes something like this: the amount of data we store online increases, so in turn does the demand on energy to power the systems to keep it; dairy farms produce waste, which can fuel power plants so, why not use the farms' waste to power computers?

It's fascinating stuff: "cow-poo-ting", as the paper put it. But there's a very serious message here: just how can the food industry contribute more to an environmentally-sound economy of the future? Rather than just reducing their impact on the environment, the US farms would also be pushing the boundaries of renewable energy.

Of course, the incentive to get involved in anaerobic digestion and the like on these shores has its own issues; government support is currently lacking. Yet the results of MTJ's environmental survey, in which 83% of you said it was down to industry to tackle climate change not the government reveal there is an appetite for progress.

The MTJ green issue showed there is undoubtedly confusion in the industry on many issues (footprinting and emissions levels), as well as ire on others (consumption). Hence, it's enlightening to see these tackled head-on by MTJ.

The livestock industry has important environmental, social and economic roles. Our work at WWF is to explore ways of reducing the industry's environmental impacts without penalising producers, harming diets or otherwise causing more problems than are solved. We believe that 'to do its bit' in terms of hitting the UK's target of 80% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, emissions from food consumption (from production right through to waste) need to fall by at least 70%.

The 253 megatonne question that's the figure our work puts UK food consumption GHG emissions at is how do we achieve that? In his editorial, Ed Bedington rightly suggested that efficiency is one thing this industry is good at. That will help towards the cuts as will technological advances and decarbonisation of our energy supplies. But it won't be enough and because of that there will have to be changes in consumption. By that I don't mean a straight choice of meat versus vegetarian; I'd pitch it as sustainable food choices versus unsustainable ones. What's more, the further the industry takes us with efficiencies, technology and initiatives like that in the US between dairy farmers and HP, the lower the cuts in consumption will have to be.

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