Skip to content
Life Cycle Assessment - Food Production
Tunley Environmental13 Jun 20243 min read

Sowing Sustainability: Life Cycle Assessment in Food Production

Sowing Sustainability | Tunley Environmental

In our rapidly evolving world where sustainability has become the linchpin for future growth, Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) have emerged as a critical tool in reshaping existing systems and products. A LCA is an in-depth evaluation of a products, service, or process. It provides the framework to evaluating the products efficiency amongst a plethora of different metrics. One of which is the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the product. LCA’s are therefore a crucial tool in the food industry for evaluating the environmental impacts of produce from farm to fork. In this article, we will explore the challenges of completing LCAs which are unique to the food industry.

Cultivating a Sustainable Food Industry

Building a sustainable food industry faces a myriad of challenges, from agricultural practices to packaging waste. Adding to the complexity of the situation are crucial challenges associated with how large the industry is and the complexity of processing data from various disparate inventories. LCAs emerge as a powerful tool to address these challenges by enabling a comprehensive analysis of environmental impacts at each stage of the life cycle for food products. By examining every stage of a food product's life cycle, raw material extraction, production, processing, packaging, distribution., consumption, and disposal— This compartmentalisation enables carbon hotspot to be identified and the most effective carbon reduction strategies employed.

Sustainable Irrigation Systems

Agricultural Sustainability

Without agriculture there would not be enough food for our civilisation to have developed as it currently did. Put simply, no farms mean no food. However, current agricultural practices are responsible for a large proportion of the annual greenhouse gas emissions, as well as other negative effects on the environment such as freshwater depletion and soil degradation. This does not have to be doom and gloom, instead consider the huge potential improvements we can make within agriculture to yield material reductions in annual greenhouse gas emissions. LCAs shall be a critical tool to identify the most impactful stages of agricultural production and enable farmers to adopt more sustainable practices. For example, optimising fertiliser use, improving irrigation efficiency, and implementing crop rotation to significantly reduce the environmental footprint of farming. According to the European Commission “agriculture contributes more than 10% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, chiefly through the release of methane and nitrous oxide.” When focusing on these areas, LCAs can be used to drive agricultural sustainability, by promoting practices that maintain soil health, reduce resource consumption and ultimately reduce emissions.

Tackling Food Packaging Waste

Traditional packaging materials (plastic, Polyvinyl Chloride etc.) are not only resource-intensive but also difficult to recycle. LCAs provide insights into the life cycle impacts of different packaging materials, helping companies make informed decisions. Innovations such as biodegradable packaging, recyclable materials, and minimalistic design are increasingly being adopted to reduce packaging waste. Our white paper ‘Sustainable Packaging: Material Selection, Carbon Reduction, and the Role of Legislation’ offers valuable insights into sustainable packaging, exploring key themes such as carbon reduction strategies and circular economy policies.

Enhancing the Food Supply Chain

The food supply chain involves multiple stages, each with its own environmental impact. LCAs provide a comprehensive assessment of these impacts, enabling companies to optimise logistics, reduce emissions, and improve overall efficiency. For instance, choosing more sustainable transportation methods, improving storage conditions to reduce spoilage, and streamlining distribution can all contribute to a more sustainable supply chain. LCAs assist companies, as well as their suppliers, in understanding where they can make the most significant improvements, leading to a more sustainable food industry overall.

Local Changes, Global Impacts

LCAs empower businesses to make informed decisions by identifying the stages of a product's life cycle with the highest environmental impacts, known as "hotspots". This targeted knowledge helps in choosing the most environmentally friendly options for materials and processes, thus avoiding "regret solutions" where one environmental problem is inadvertently replaced by another.

By implementing LCAs, organisations can steer towards more sustainable practices across the entire supply chain. This includes optimising production processes, material choices, and even developing climate-friendly menus, all contributing to a robust and sustainable supply chain. Additionally, LCAs support the creation of environmental baselines crucial for transitioning to sustainable practices. Adopting LCAs will aid in meeting the requirements of directives like the Green Claims Directive and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, ensuring a business remains future-proof in an increasingly complex regulatory environment.


Get in touch with our Sustainability Consultants today.