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Problems of benchmarking greenhouse gas emissions in dairy agriculture

Andrew Green (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)
John Tzilivakis (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)
Douglas J. Warner (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)
Kathleen Anne Lewis (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK)

Benchmarking: An International Journal

ISSN: 1463-5771

Article publication date: 7 August 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine the suitability of free carbon calculators aimed at the agricultural industry, for use in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission benchmarking, using the European dairy industry as an example.


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 GHG emission estimates, together with estimates apportioned using three functional units, were then compared to determine the robustness of the benchmarking results.


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/implications

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.


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.



Green, A., Tzilivakis, J., Warner, D.J. and Lewis, K.A. (2017), "Problems of benchmarking greenhouse gas emissions in dairy agriculture", Benchmarking: An International Journal, Vol. 24 No. 6, pp. 1470-1489.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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