Why do you need a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?
Being responsible for an estimated 26% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, global food production must play a key role in mitigating the climate crisis. Providing a detailed measurement of a food product's emissions through an LCA is arguably the primary step in understanding how best to reduce them. LCAs help to identify the carbon hotspots that exist in your food supply chain, and work out which decarbonisation strategies will have the greatest impact.
This appeals to consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental footprint of their diet, and subsequently more picky when deciding what to eat.
According to a study by Teads in 2022, half of UK shoppers would prefer a low-carbon offering when it comes to their food. However, after years of greenwashing, people are more wary of brands’ eco-claims.
Which is why over two-thirds of them demand more transparency on the environmental impact of the products they buy.
Misleading claims could trigger costly legal action. To help consumers make more informed decisions, regulators have introduced anti-greenwashing rules, including the Green Claims Code. This blueprint defines a series of requirements a claim should meet in order to be verifiably "green", one of which is to consider the full life cycle of a product when assessing its environmental impact.
For example, in October 2021 the ASA held that Alpro’s “Good For The Planet” ad was "misleading", in part because a full Life Cycle Assessment had not been performed for one of the advertised products.
What does Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) mean?
LCAs can get very technical, so let’s clarify some of the jargon. An LCA refers to the assessment of a product that aims to understand its environmental impact throughout its lifetime from cradle-to-grave, (or farm to waste). Emissions can arise at all stages of a food item's life cycle, which is captured in an LCA. These stages include (but aren't limited to):
- Farming: Emissions arising from land use change (burning and carbon stock), farming, feed, and on-farm processing.
- Processing: Emissions arising from the processing and storage of ingredients.
- Packaging: Emissions arising from raw material acquisition, pre-processing, manufacture of packaging, transport to product systems, and end-of-life after disposal.
- Transport: Emissions arising from the transport of ingredients between stages. This includes transport from the farm to the processor, from processor to retail, and between processors if there are multiple. This also includes storage throughout the life-cycle journey, such as household storage, both pre-and post-preparation. This does not include the end-mile transport from the retailer to the consumption location.
- Retail: Emissions arising from retail operations. This includes the impacts of any chilling at retail and apportioned impacts of the retail facility, such as lighting and air conditioning.
- End-Mile: Emissions arising from transporting food items from their retail location to the location of consumption. This does not include the transport of the consumer to the retail location.
- Cooking: Emissions that arise from food preparation, such as appliance usage.
- Food Waste: Emissions arise from product disposal throughout the life cycle by anaerobic digestion, composting, incineration, sewer disposal, and landfilling. This also includes emissions from the production of food lost throughout the supply chain.
The Foodsteps LCA
Foodsteps has cooked up a data-driven solution for assessing the environmental impact of food across its entire life cycle, both quickly and accurately.
Our platform helps food businesses calculate the average carbon footprint of their food items, simply by inputting their recipe data. Impact calculations are based on our extensive database, which is made up of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies. The Foodsteps methodology is aligned with the most rigorous standards, including the GHG Protocol Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard and the ISO 14040 Standard.
If you are looking for a more specific assessment of your product's emissions, we can do an even deeper dive into your supply chain. This involves a more thorough data collection process to gather as much information as possible on the journey of your food from farm to waste.
From numbers to business value
Through our LCAs, Foodsteps can help unlock opportunities for both emissions and cost savings, by identifying carbon hotspots in your supply chain and ways to address them.
While accurate measurement is crucial, communicating the impact of your products is equally important. We also offer carbon labels, which can be added to products and menus, to help inform consumers on the environmental impacts of food and nudge them towards lower carbon options.
While it is essential to substantiate your sustainable food claims, performing an accurate life cycle assessment is not always straight forward. To make your life cycle easier and greener, Foodsteps has developed our platform to give you data-driven insights into your impact from farm-to-fork. Our platform is now accessible for free, get started today.
This piece was written for Foodsteps by Antonio Salituro, you can find his work here.