Carbon footprint calculation becoming more accurate – soil emissions will now be included

The carbon footprint calculation is constantly advancing as more research data is gained on the impact of different types of emissions; as a result, the calculation methods are becoming more accurate. Valio’s dairy farms calculate their carbon footprint using the certified Valio Carbo® Farm calculator, which was developed for the Finnish climate and conditions and is based on the most accurate calculation method of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In the future, the IPCC’s calculation model will also include emissions from peat fields and refrigerant leakages, and the carbon footprint calculation model will also change. Valio’s target to produce carbon-neutral milk by 2035 remains unchanged.

The carbon footprint calculation will become even more accurate as greenhouse gas emissions from land use will be included in both national and international emissions inventories. Thus, for example, emissions from peatlands and refrigerant leakages will be included in the calculation.

Raw milk’s carbon footprint, calculated with the Valio Carbo® Farm calculator, is certified by Carbon Trust. This means that Valio’s carbon footprint calculation is verified by a third party. Starting in 2024, Carbon Trust will require companies to include soil carbon emissions in their carbon footprint calculation now that the IPCC has defined a sufficiently reliable way to estimate them.

“The calculation will become more accurate, but Valio’s target of carbon-neutral milk by 2035 remains unchanged. In our own calculation, we included also emissions from land use even before the IPCC calculation model’s changed requirements. The carbon footprint calculation is constantly evolving and becoming more accurate, and this will also bring changes to emissions reporting. Currently, the calculation does not yet take into account soil carbon sequestration, for example in perennial grasslands. The climate benefits of carbon farming on dairy farms will be added to the calculation when a scientifically sufficiently reliable and generally accepted calculation method is available,” reports Development Manager Aleksi Astaptsev from Valio’s climate team.

Carbon footprint calculation verifies and guides emission reductions Valio is committed to significant emission reductions along the entire production chain from dairy farm to store: a 50% reduction target at the dairy farm level, a 47% reduction target for energy use at factories, and a 28% reduction target in milk collection logistics by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. Valio’s target is to produce carbon-neutral milk by 2035.

The carbon footprint figure is a tool used at Valio to monitor the success in reducing emissions. However, the figure is not necessarily a good indicator of the climate impacts of a single product. To get an absolutely accurate carbon footprint, all emissions would have to be measured, which is not possible with current technology. Therefore, emissions are modelled as accurately as possible according to common standards.

“There are many different ways to calculate the carbon footprint, and the result depends on which method is used. Farm-level production conditions also have an impact on milk’s carbon footprint. The carbon footprint of milk transported to Valio’s dairies can range between 0.5–2 CO2e per litre. We do the calculation at the most accurate level possible using actual figures for each farm, instead of figures based on international averages or estimates,” Aleksi Astaptsev explains.

Valio’s emission reduction measures decreased emissions by 10% from 2019-2022

About 85-95% of the carbon footprint of dairy products comes from primary production, so the work done at dairy farms is of particular importance. It is important that emissions also from industry and logistics are monitored and reduced in various ways.

“Dairy farms have many ways to cut emissions. Like forests, grasslands sequester carbon, and carbon sequestration in mineral soil can be enhanced, for example through the use of multi-species, deep-rooted grasses. Improving soil condition also enhances carbon sequestration. We convert manure generated at farms into energy. In the future, the manure will be turned into biogas, which will replace fossil fuels in transport. In addition, the nutrients in the manure will be used in making lower emission fertilisers. Promoting the welfare, sustainability and health of cows also has an emissions-reducing impact. Moreover, feeding solutions can reduce the methane emissions from cows. We also aim to reduce emissions from peat fields, for example by applying different farming techniques and by restoring low-yielding peat fields back into wetlands,” notes Aleksi Astaptsev.

Total emissions from Valio’s Finnish operations (excl. wholesale operations) have decreased by 10% from the 2019 baseline to 2022. Valio complies with the international GHG Protocol, and the emissions report is verified by a third party. The emission reductions achieved in 2019-2022 were 42% in Valio’s own operations (scope 1) and 34% for Valio’s purchased electricity and heat emissions (scope 2). Emissions elsewhere in the value chain (scope 3) decreased by 8% overall. Of these, the four-year emissions reduction was 9% in raw milk received and 20% in logistics.

“There is huge variability in greenhouse gas emissions from organic peatlands, which the calculator does not take into account at the initial stage. However, research and calculations are the only way to find farming methods that reduce emissions from peat fields. Without accurate calculations, it’s impossible to find the right actions,” concludes Aleksi Astaptsev.

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