Monday, May 27, 2013

Carbon-Free Sugar?

Domino is advertising a new kind of sugar: their “certified carbon-free sugar”, with which you can “go green” (for a hefty price premium, no doubt).  But what on earth does it mean for sugar to be “carbon-free”?

First I went to Wikipedia to make sure that sugar really was a carbohydrate, as I believed.  First sentences:
Sugar is the generalised name for a class of chemically-related sweet-flavored substances, most of which are used as food. They are carbohydrates, composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Hard to get any more direct than that.  Sugar contains carbon, period, end of story. So what the heck is Domino talking about?  I found the explanation in their FAQ.  First, the sugar isn't really “carbon-free”:
CarbonFree® is the registered trademark of, a non-profit organization that certifies products as CarbonFree® following an extensive life cycle assessment to determine the product's carbon footprint and greenhouse gas reductions that in turn render the footprint neutral. Please note we use the trademark CarbonFree® not the phrase "carbon free". To learn more about the CarbonFree® certification, please visit their site at or visit us at
It's plain old sugar.  Nothing different about it at all!  So how did it come to be certified as CarbonFree?
In order to earn's CarbonFree® certification, Domino® Sugar products were put through a comprehensive, six-month certification process. Each product's life cycle assessment, from the primary inputs of farming, milling, refining and packaging the sugar, all the way to the product's final delivery to store shelves, was evaluated by The Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management, a noted expert on carbon management, policy issues and project development. After determining the product's footprint, Domino® Sugar's method of greenhouse gas reduction to render emissions net zero was through our production and supply of renewable energy. More than a decade ago, our agricultural operation in Florida that produces Domino® Sugar's CarbonFree® products built its own renewable energy facility, which is the largest of its kind in North America. The renewable energy facility is integral to our sugar process. We use our leftover sugar cane fiber and recycled urban wood waste to power our sugar operations as well as supply clean, renewable electricity for tens of thousands of homes.
I've actually read about this power plant (there used to be one on Hawai'i, too, before the unions killed the sugar cane business there).

This is wickedly good marketing on Domino's part.  The sugar they produce in Florida costs Domino less than their competitors cost, because Domino doesn't have to pay for fuel and electricity.  Then they certify it through this program, and charge more for it!  Brilliant!

Of course, all of this ignores one fact that most Americans are ignorant of: we pay more than other countries for our sugar because of an elaborate system that financially “protects” our domestic sugar farmers.  It protects them, but we all pay in the form of substantially higher sugar prices.  If it weren't for this system of protection, our sugar farmers (including Domino's Floridian operations) would either have to figure out how to reduce their costs to the global level, or those farmers would have to switch to more lucrative crops.  Bye, bye green sugar...

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