Ecolabels: scaling up LCA approaches in value chains

A change is needed in the way we measure and communicate environmental impacts of food products. Being able to measure impact in a consistent, scientifically sound and credible manner is crucial so that consumers can make informed purchasing decisions and thereby drive sustainable change in food systems. In this blog, we will share with you a few key insights from a leading initiative in the space of eco-labels and environmental foot printing of animal-based foods.

Environmental foot printing animal-based food to respect our planet’s boundaries

As the world’s population grows, so too will the demand for animal-based food – in fact, by as much as 70% by 2050. Over time, this need for ever-increasing quantities of animal protein, which is already placing tremendous pressure on our planet’s finite natural resources, will lead to significant environmental strain, and take our food systems well beyond the planet’s boundaries. In turn, animal protein companies are asking how they can reduce their environmental impact – In answering this question, they are looking for expert, independent advice to answer their many questions related to the environmental footprint of their business operations.

Sustell is an intelligent sustainability service offered by Royal DSM, that combines the most advanced environmental foot printing calculation tool with expert sustainability, animal production and nutritional knowledge to create tailor-made, practical solutions and business development projects that enhance the environmental sustainability and profitability of animal farming.

Their ask: Identifying opportunities for environmental foot printing  in the eco-label landscape for food products

To support the drive for sustainable food systems by enabling informed consumer purchasing behavior, Sustell’s environmental foot printing service and expertise can be leveraged by progressive LCA-based eco-labels.

In the winter of 2021, NewForesight Consultancy (NFC) was commissioned by DSM to provide and eco-label landscape analysis. We supported the DSM team in identifying opportunities for Sustell to leverage its environmental foot printing services and expertise in the emerging field of primary-data-based eco-labels for food products.

Learnings from the DSM team

We asked Dr. Heinz Flatnitzer, Managing Director – DSM Austria, to tell us about DSM’s experience and lessons learned on this journey and how they look towards the future. By reading this blog, you will learn from them about eco-labelling and how data, credibility and scalability are important drivers for the future of eco-labelling.

According to the DSM team, why are (eco-)labels important?

We see an increasing demand from consumers for sustainable food: 30% of consumers have a willingness to pay for sustainable food. 64% of consumers are more likely to think positively about a brand that could demonstrate it had lowered the carbon footprint. But the consumer asks also the question: How do I know what is the credible environmental impact of a product? Eco-labels help to bring transparency by measuring the environmental footprint in a credible way – if they follow scientific standards and if specific and credible data is used.

What have been challenges in navigating the eco-label landscape?

One of the challenges is definitely the high number of eco labels: ranging from standardized eco-labels issued by NGOs to specific, company-based labels. Currently there are globally more than 450 eco-labels published – and more are currently being defined as we speak. The quality and credibility of the labels vary tremendously, the consumer is confused which labels to trust. Quite many labels provide misleading or inaccurate average information or measure only a very narrow field of the environmental footprint. But the data is also a challenge for the producers. If you are a coffee producer having a high focus on sustainability it does not help you if all coffees are labelled e.g. “C” – you as a producer want to positively differentiate by having a precise footprint of your operations.

We think that there is a need for credible Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tool that enable accurate and scalable measurement of the full environmental footprint.

What are the key benefits of using Sustell in eco-labelling?

With Sustell services we offer a combination of a tool (providing certified methodologies) and expert services (to use credible data as input). Sustell provides environmental footprints based on scientific-based and verified methodologies. We see the main drivers of success for Sustell in the following:

  • High precision: Sustell use primary farm and feed data of the individual farms which allows producer differentiation.
  • Credibility: The LCA process is assured to ISO14040/44 and is aligned with leading methodologies such as FAO LEAP.
  • Full environmental footprint: It measures not only carbon but measure all 19 environmental dimensions, e.g. water, agricultural land occupation, ozone depletion, nitrogen and phosphorus, etc., following the EU PEF guidelines.
  • Scalable: Sustell is designed for fast, efficient multi-farm analysis.
  • Multi-species: Sustell covers e.g. dairy, poultry, and swine.
  • Expert centers: The expert centers support the customer to enter credible data and to reduce environmental footprint.

Sustell can be applied for various application, e.g. to meet ESG requirements, to calculate scope 3 footprint, eco-labels and others.

How has the NewForesight team helped with this?

Since the eco-label landscape is very fragmented and information is difficult to gather, NewForesight helped us to structure the process, to do research on eco-labelling (both desk research and interviews) and analyzed and compiled the sheer huge amount of findings in a comprehensive document, including conclusions and recommendation. During the process it also helped that New Foresight was well connected to the market participants and had access to EU policy-makers.

How does the DSM team foresee the future of sustainable food systems & eco-labelling?

We see clearly a trend for more LCA-based labels and use of primary and farm-specific data. Furthermore we see a consolidation of the eco-labels. The EU is currently preparing directives and give some more direction to eco-labels which hopefully will bring some more reasonable common standards.

In particular LCA-based eco-labels based on primary data will have the best chances to win.

What other lessons would the DSM team like to share with organizations working to promote transparent, eco-informed production & consumption?

Accurate, credible data and science-based methodologies are key.




For more information, contact Silvana Paniagua

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