All these figures – how do you calculate food’s carbon footprint?
There are various accuracy levels in the carbon footprint calculations for food. That is why it’s good to pay close attention when comparing different products and companies. Most methods rely on general estimates of a similar product’s carbon footprint, estimates that are found in external databanks. This method may lead to the product’s true carbon footprint being vastly different from the estimate, and the external figure may not provide us any opportunities to develop our production chain to reduce our carbon footprint. When looking at carbon footprints, the nutritional values of different foods, such as protein and energy content, vitamins, and minerals, should also be considered.
In practice, a carbon footprint calculation is a significant undertaking, as there are many stages to getting a single product to the store shelves and each stage has its own climate impact. There are also farm-to-farm differences to consider. Carbon footprints are calculated with a life-cycle analysis (LCA), in which the greenhouse gasses generated in the various stages of food production are allocated to the end products.
Guidelines for food’s carbon footprint calculation
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, provides guidelines for calculating food’s carbon footprint at three levels of accuracy:
- Level 1: IPCC-provided emission factors
- Level 2: Emission factors are calculated with IPCC-provided formulae and parameters
- Level 3 (most accurate, Valio uses this): Own, most accurate national calculation methods, factors, and parameters
Emission factors may also be picked from other general inventory databases.
It’s also possible to compensate for carbon footprints, i.e. compensate for emissions with external actions (such as forestation projects in developing countries). This does not reduce or change a product’s true carbon footprint. That is why guidelines forbid including compensations in the carbon footprint, instead stating that the carbon footprint has been compensated for. Valio carries out carbon footprint calculations for various products. Climate impact calculations do not include emission compensations – we focus on minimising the emissions in our own production chain.
Guidelines for calculating milk’s carbon footprint
Current calculations for milk’s carbon footprint are based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s formulae. The European Dairy Association EDA has used them to create carbon footprint calculation instructions for the European Commission, called the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR).
In Finland, greenhouse emissions are reported in accordance with the Statistic Finland instructions for various reporting sectors. Greenhouse emissions from peatland, i.e. organic soil, are, in national reporting, counted in the land use, land use changes and forestry sector’s (LULUCF) emissions, which means they are not shown in statistics as part of agriculture and food production’s greenhouse emissions – not for milk or any other food.