Australian manufacturers, farmers, and fishermen make some of the best products in the world and when you buy these products, you are keeping your local family members and friends employed.
But what about the environment? We all try to do the right thing, but sometimes we rely on simplistic measures and rules of thumb such as minimising food miles as proxies for a better environmental choice. These are not always correct. Here are two examples to illustrate the fallacy of using country of origin as reliable indicators for environmental performance:
Beef has its highest environmental impacts in the farm and feedlot phase, not in transport. For example, imported meat from Brazil can have an environmental impact up to 25 times that of Australian meat due to clearing of rainforest for pasture. When exporting Australian meat to the US, transportation contributes only up to 5% of its total impacts in greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and land footprint. If you’re eating meat, either in Australia or overseas, Australian beef may be the right environmental choice.
Aluminium smelters are very energy intensive. In Iceland all aluminium smelters rely wholly on hydroelectric and geothermal power. The carbon footprint of power from these sources is almost non-existent compared to the footprints of smelters that rely on coal-fired power stations, such as those in Australia. Even when shipped 12,000 miles (the distance from Iceland to Australia), aluminium produced using renewable energy sources can have a lower carbon footprint than aluminium produced from fossil fuels.
Even when shipped 12,000 miles, aluminium from Iceland can have a lower carbon footprint than that produced in Australia
In summary, we shouldn’t choose products simply based on where they are made. Consumers need to evaluate environmental performance based on comprehensive methods, such as independent ISO compliant eco-labels and environmental product declarations.
- Eco-labels and green certifications are great for quick decisions, as long as the underlying methods and certification organisations are robust.
- Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are short reports to communicate life cycle assessment information. EPDs are primarily developed for business to business information and data exchange, but are also suitable for consumers looking for comprehensive environmental product information.
Unfortunately, often this information is not available at the point of purchase. But organisations are increasingly filling this information gap and fortifying their positions as environmental leaders.
A few examples of early adopters of EPDs, across a range of sectors and products, include:
- Barilla – Declaring the impact of pasta (article)
- Iplex Pipelines Australia’s Environmental Product Declarations (article)
- Kingspan insulated panels EPDs (article)
- BlueScope – A better built environment (article)
- Bombardier – Intercity X55 train EPD, part of their EcoEfficient Optimised Environmental Performance portfolio
- Carlsberg and Tuborg beer Environmental Product Declaration
 Wiedemann S., et al., 2015, Environmental impacts and resource use of Australian beef and lamb exported to the USA determined using life cycle assessment, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 94, 1 May 2015, Pages 67–75.
 Cederberg, C., Persson, U.M., Neovius, K., Molander, S., Clift, R., 2011. Including carbon emissions from deforestation in the carbon footprint of brazilian beef. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45, 1773 – 1779