Problems of Benchmarking Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Dairy Agriculture

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Purpose – To examine the suitability of free carbon calculators aimed at the agricultural industry, for use in greenhouse gas emission benchmarking, using the European dairy industry as an example.
Design/methodology/approach – Carbon calculators which were claimed to be applicable to European dairy farms were identified and tested using six production scenarios based on data from real European farms supplemented using published literature. The resulting greenhouse gas emission estimates, together with estimates apportioned using three functional units, were
then compared to determine the robustness of the benchmarking results.
Findings – It was found that although there was a degree of agreement between the seven identified carbon calculators in terms of benchmarking total farm emissions, once a suitable functional unit was applied little agreement remained. Tools often ranked farms in different orders, thereby calling into question the robustness of benchmarking in the studied sector.
Research limitations – The scenario based approach taken has identified issues liable to result in a lack of benchmarking robustness within this sector; however, there remains considerable scope to evaluate these findings in the field, both within this sector and others in the agricultural industry.
Practical implications – The results suggest that there are significant hurdles to overcome if GHG emission benchmarking is to aid in driving forward the environmental performance of the dairy industry. In addition, eco-labelling foods based on GHG benchmarking may be of questionable value.
Originality/value – At a time when environmental benchmarking is of increasing importance, this paper seeks to evaluate its applicability to sectors in which there is considerable scope for variation in the results obtained.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1470-1489
JournalBenchmarking: an international journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2017


  • Benchmarking
  • Carbon Calculators
  • Livestock Agriculture
  • Dairy Farming
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions


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