The Carbon-conscious Orange

Jaffa will become, apparently, the first Israeli product to divulge its carbon footprint.

The boxes of Jaffa oranges marketed at Tesco outlets in England proudly bear pictures of the fruit snuggled in green leaves, on a backdrop of a Mediterranean blue sky. Soon that pastoral picture will be joined by a black footprint, bearing the rather less pastoral notice: "125 grams of C02 per kilogram of oranges."

Jaffa will thus become, apparently, the first Israeli product to divulge its carbon footprint, the amount of air pollution caused in its production, from manufacturing to transport to decay.

Mehadrin, the company that produces Jaffa oranges, believes revealing its carbon footprint will ultimately work in its favor, giving the Israeli citrus an edge over competing fruits from Morocco or Spain. British consumers have become keenly aware of environmental issues and are deeply worried about global warming. They can help rectify the situation through educated shopping, which includes buying from companies that recognize their role in climate change, and are working to reduce their impact. As for Tesco and other grocery chains, choosing environmentally aware suppliers can help them reduce their impact on the globe as well.

Carbon footprinting isn't a phenomenon confined to Britain or to Israeli oranges. The greenhouse gases causing global warming, led by carbon dioxide (CO2), are in the spotlight. Web sites have sprouted like mushrooms after the acid rain, to help people calculate how much greenhouse gas their family emits, how much pollution a person flying from New York to London causes, and so on.

Did you want to fly from Tel Aviv to Rome? You will be adding 0.64 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. Are you feeling guilty? The Web site Carbon Footprint ( suggests ways you can compensate the planet. For instance, you could donate 4.80 British pounds to Voluntary Carbon Standard, a body that aspires to be the global benchmark standard for project-based voluntary emission reduction (it uses the money for carbon reduction projects). Or, you could donate 7 pounds to plant trees in Kenya, or 11.75 pounds to plant trees in Britain. You can even choose where the tree goes. Planting one tree compensates for 0.73 tons of CO2: You'd even have a little surplus for your next flight.

Mehadrin does its carbon calculation by itself. The company is owned by Hadarim (45%) of the Property & Building group, which is owned in turn by Nochi Dankner's IDB group and Yitzhak Tshuva's company Phoenix. Rafi Bisker and Segi Eitan, who sit on Mehadrin's board of directors on behalf of IDB, and Ehud Shapira, who represents Tshuva on the board, are involved in shaping policy.

The company's business is to grow, process and sell fruit and vegetables, from oranges to avocados and dates, from carrots to potatoes to persimmons. Its 2007 sales were NIS 955 million, of which NIS 750 million was from export. It netted NIS 61.7 million last year, but half of that was from returning land to the Israel Lands Administration to house settlers evacuated from Gush Katif.

Mehadrin has 15,000 dunams of orchards in Israel, on land that it leases from the lands bureau. Also, it runs 45,000 dunams for other companies.

Every tree and bean plant consumes CO2, giving Mehadrin credit points in its carbon equation. The company is diligent about uprooting trees past their prime, and replaces them with young trees, which consume more CO2 - growing plants use more of the stuff. The company is still calculating exactly how much its orchards contribute to Planet Earth, based on international carbon-footprinting criteria. Today it's become common practice for companies to trade carbon credit points and at some point, Mehadrin's positive balance could translate into hard cash.

A no-brainer

Guy Binstok, chief executive of Mehadrin, admits he had been global warming-unaware until a couple of years ago, and says he only encountered the concept of carbon footprint four months ago. However, it took him only two weeks to decide to get involved.

Insofar as is known, Mehadrin is the first Israeli company to export its produce with a ecological footprint label.

"I started to become aware of the whole issue of global warming at the start of 2007," Binstok says. "We'd all heard about the glaciers melting, but it was only two years ago that we began to see the issue needed management attention."

Ecological awareness involves water use and farming methods, too, he explains. What happened four months ago is that as part of the process of establishing itself in Europe, Mehadrin realized that the retail chains were greening themselves.

"Mehadrin's business development manager, Dov Warmen, came back from Britain and told us about the carbon footprint, as Tesco presented it to him. He told us that the chain takes it very seriously, and sees [the footprint] as a way to stand out from the competition." In the world of fresh fruit, a special quality can be make or break, Binstok explains; hence the subject caught his attention.

"As an organization, we set out to see how we could take part in the growing awareness of global warming and reduce our carbon emissions, and harness it as a marketing lever," Warmen says. Mehadrin is also looking into selling its carbon credits, gained from soaking up more carbon than it's producing, for cash.

"We have 2.5 million trees. That's a big garden and we're planting thousands of dunams more, which will add to the carbon equation," Warmen says.

Although Britain is among the most ecologically aware countries in Europe, it hasn't made carbon footprint marking mandatory. But Mehadrin isn't waiting. "We want to be first, as part of our branding," Warmen adds.

How much CO2 per orange?

After visiting Britain, Warmen sat down to calculate. "I met with Environmental Protection Ministry officials, who said they didn't mean to make carbon footprint marking mandatory, but would suggest that companies adopt it voluntarily," he relates. "They decided to use us as a pilot case and provided an adviser, attorney Lior Shmueli, to accompany us in the process of calculating our carbon emissions and absorption."

Mehadrin provided its 2007 figures, including consumption of electricity, gasoline, tractor diesel, fuel for transportation in Israel, transport of produce (and executives) by ship and plane, and so on. The outcome was 35,600 tons of carbon emissions for the year.

Of that, electricity consumption was responsible for 60%, transport by ship and plane for 22%, and land transport for 18%.

On the plus side, the company's orchards removed 582,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air, leaving Mehadrin with a tremendous surplus of 547,000 tons, right there for use in polishing its image. And, if possible, to fatten its wallet, too.

"Those are interim figures that haven't been officially confirmed yet by the authorized European body," Warmen clarifies. Also, before selling any carbon credits, Mehadrin has to make sure that its credit points comply with the standards of world trade.

Carbon Trust is an independent company funded by the British government, and it could provide that official stamp of approval. Mehadrin officials met with company representatives in June.

Tesco, for one, has greeted Mehadrin's initiative with approval, and wants to include the Israeli company among its "green" suppliers. The idea arose to mark Jaffa oranges, which are supplied year-round, with the Carbon Trust label - that black footprint stating 125 grams per kilogram of oranges. (During the summer month when citrus doesn't naturally grow in Israel, Jaffa oranges are supplied from the southern hemisphere, with the approval of Israel's Agriculture Ministry to use the Israeli brand on the produce.)

Tesco approved the idea, stipulating that the figure must include all the emissions related to the oranges' production all year.

A company with the Carbon Trust mark must also have undertaken to reduce its footprint, and Mehadrin will have to show what steps it is taking in that direction. The company's management is working on analyzing its footprint and ways to reduce it. One possibility is to abandon regular cars in favor of hybrid ones. In any case, Mehadrin's decision is to get in there first, to move before greening becomes mandatory.

"We want to be one step ahead of everybody else," Binstok says. They may well have achieved that aim.