Life Cycle Assessment Carbon Footprint of Food Portion

life cycle assessment carbon footprint
The environmental impact of food products can be calculated using the Life cycle assessment carbon footprint. Then why is the carbon footprint important to discuss?

Life Cycle Assessment Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint, i.e. the climate change impact of food, is arguably one of the most important issues in increasing the environmental responsibility of the food chain and is also the most intensively discussed in Finland at present.

Farmers, industry, trade and consumers are all interested in mitigating the impacts of climate change but currently lack the means to adequately address the problem.

Therefore, a major challenge for science is to provide the information and tools necessary for those involved in food systems to understand and influence key issues such as the potential for carbon sequestration and mitigating carbon footprints, including reducing the negative impacts of bad agriculture. technique and consumer choice.

Our research approach is based on an environmental assessment of the food system based on a national economic output model (EIO-LCA) (Hendrickson et al., 2006; Suh et al., 2004), and on an life cycle assessment carbon footprint model based on a standard balanced lunch plate nutrition process.

Standard lunch plates are commonly used in Finland and other western countries to communicate to consumers how to make healthy food choices and are therefore very familiar to most consumers.

Using the life cycle assessment carbon footprint approach, we project the environmental impact of food consumption at the micro-level, and by the EIO-LCA approach at the macro level.

The aim, at the micro-level, is to illustrate how consumers can change the environmental impact of their food choices while taking into account the nutritional function of food.

The nutritional attributes of food are deemed necessary because most young people intend to make radical food choices.

However, nutrition is the main function of food, and good nutrition is a dimension of sustainability.

The results of the EIO-LCA approach are integrated with the results received from process-based life cycle assessment carbon footprint to build a comprehensive view of the impact of food consumption in Finland.

The specific target set for this study was to assess the total impact resulting from Finnish production and imports of foodstuffs, including their transportation, and the specific environmental impact of a standard lunch plate.

The end goal is: to assist consumers in making environmentally responsible choices regarding future food consumption, to improve food supply chains by identifying key areas for improvement in terms of various environmental impacts, and to provide tools for policymakers to monitor developments. the food sector in relation to its potential impact on climate change.

The impacts of food production are analyzed step by step throughout the food chain.

Using a micro-level approach, the impacts of different modes of food processing are compared: home, general catering, and industrial processes for ready-to-eat dishes.

The impact of household and post-household activities is also related to food consumption.

Base on life cycle assessment carbon footprint, The boundary conditions of the EIO-LCA model are defined as the expanded final consumption of the food chain product.

The limitations of both approaches are highlighted and the methodology and results are considered in the context of current efforts in the Finnish food sector to standardize carbon footprint accounting.

Notes are drawn from the strategic approach to food systems adopted in the UK by the main organization, Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Defra, 2010a) and in Finland on the initiative of the Prime Minister for food strategy (Anon., 2010).

For strategic life cycle assessment carbon footprint approaches, such as taxation and bonus incentive systems, holistic information on food system behavior is needed to secure the production of good quality data.

A discussion of the results regarding other EIO-LCA approaches, such as the Finnish economic environmental impact assessment model, the ENVIMAT model (Seppälä et al., 2009, submitted for publication) and the British Food System Indicators (Defra, 2010b) are included.

EIO-LCA approach The EIO-LCA model used to assess the environmental impact of food chains was developed specifically for the Finnish food chain (Virtanen et al., 2009).

Most of the data were obtained from the material flow and environmental impact of the Finnish economic assessment model, ENVIMAT-model (Seppälä et al., 2009, submitted for publication).

Result base on life cycle assessment carbon footprint

According to the EIO-LCA approach, the food chain accounts for 7% of domestic CO2 emissions, 43% of CH4 emissions, 50% of N2O emissions, 12% of PFC emissions, and 69% of NH3 emissions. 

In life cycle assessment carbon footprint perspective, the contribution of the impact of the Finnish food chain on climate change is 14%, consisting of 40% CO2 emissions, 25% CH4 emissions, 1% PFC emissions, and 34% N2O emissions, of which 3% comes from NH3 emissions.

The agricultural life cycle stage is dominant in the domestic greenhouse gas load of the food chain in Finland. The contribution of agriculture in terms of methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia emissions exceeds 90%. Agriculture's contribution to carbon dioxide emissions is 32%. For the impact of climate change, the share of agricultural processes is 69%. The energy industry accounts for 12%, trade and transportation together 6%, the food processing industry 5%, and other economic sectors together about 15% of the impact of domestic climate change.

The share of imports in greenhouse gas emissions from the food chain varies from 21% for PFC emissions to 48% for CO2 emissions. For CH4 emissions, imports contributed 27% and N2O emissions from imports represented 34% of the total.

the total impact of climate change from imports is 39%, of which 62% comes from imports of agricultural products and the food and beverage industry, 9% from energy industry products, 8% from agricultural input industrial products, and the remaining 21% from imports of products from the economic sector other. 

Transportation has a small contribution to climate change impacts than imports  <1% of the total impact of imports. This small contribution is due to the small scale of transportation both in shipping and in the average supply chain life cycle. However, the data on transportation are uncertain and need further investigation.

Household consumption has the largest impact on the climate change of the food chain in Finland result from the output. A low share of exports indicates that food is a small export activity in Finland, compared to many other countries. For example in Denmark food exports were 17% of merchandise exports in 2008, in Ireland 10%, while in Finland the corresponding share was 2% (World Bank, 2011).

Using life cycle assessment carbon footprint approach, The contribution profile differs greatly between domestic production and imports from the food chain. The constitution on the impact of domestic climate change is dominated by the output of food products. 

Non-food products such as energy, fuel, fertilizers, and other agro-inputs contribute much more to the impact of climate change from imports than domestic production. This shows that the supply of utility inputs comes mainly from imports, while the supply of food raw materials is largely based on domestic production.

The total climate change impact per unit of final output was found to be highest for domestic meat products, 2.7 kg CO2 eq / euro and lowest for catering and beverage services, 0.6 kg CO2 eq / euro. The value of each grain product is 1.8, for the plant-based product 1.5, and for fish 1.0. Average for the whole chain 1.3 kg CO2 eq / euro, for domestic food products 2.0 kg CO2 eq / euro (excluding catering and beverage services), and for each imported food product 1.8 kg CO2 eq / euro.

Base on life cycle assessment carbon footprint, Food per person per day has a total impact of climate change around 7.7 kg CO2 eq. Household consumption produces this 4.7 kg CO2 eq. These results appear to be in line with other studies. For example, Girod and De Haan (2010) estimated 4.6 kg CO2 eq per person per day for household food consumption in Switzerland.

Conclusion about this life cycle assessment carbon footprint

Due to climate protection, we have to focus on agriculture, and from agriculture to animal production, especially ruminants. About the greenhouse gases, the importance of CH4 and N2O in the agricultural phase makes up two-thirds of the climate impact on the portion of animal protein-based diets.

The main recommendations for food health issues can be combined with recommendations for food choices that are beneficial to the environment. In the micro and macro approaches, the direct and indirect roles of food transportation must be studied more deeply, and food waste must be determined. 

In order to assess the comprehensive sustainability of the food sector, other conventional categories, as well as extended life cycle assessment carbon footprint categories, should be included in the assessment. In conclusion, we note that there appears to be an increased likelihood of using the results of the EIO-LCA approach in the food sector.

Source: Virtanen et.al. 2011. Carbon footprint of food e approaches from national inputeoutput statistics and a LCA of a food portion

Also read: How Campus Activities Affect the Environment | ISO LCA 14044

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