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Carbon footprint of food – approaches from national input–output statistics and a LCA of a food portion

Virtanen, Yrjö, Kurppa, Sirpa, Saarinen, Merja, Katajajuuri, Juha-Matti, Usva, Kirsi, Mäenpää, Ilmo, Mäkelä, Johanna, Grönroos, Juha, Nissinen, Ari
Journal of cleaner production 2011 v.19 no.16 pp. 1849-1856
carbon dioxide, carbon footprint, climate change, emissions, farmers, food choices, food consumption, food industry, food supply chain, issues and policy, life cycle assessment, lunch, methane, models, monitoring, nitrous oxide, portion size, ready-to-eat foods, stakeholders, statistics
The aim of the study, on which this paper is based, was to provide guidance to consumers to make environmentally responsible choices in their food consumption, to assist food supply chain stakeholders to identify the key areas for environmental improvements, and to provide policy makers with a tool for monitoring the potential impacts on climate change resulting from developments within the food sector. At the macro level, the EIO-LCA model was developed specifically for the Finnish food chain; at the micro level, LCAs were performed on 30 lunch portions. The contribution of the Finnish food chain to climate change was 14%, which comprised 40% CO₂ emissions, 25% CH₄ emissions, and 34% N₂O emissions. The share of impacts from domestic agricultural processes was the highest, at 69%. The impact of a single lunch portion ranged between 0.65 and 3.80 kg of equivalent CO₂. According to the EIO-LCA model, the average impact was 7.7 kg CO₂ eq/person daily. The consumer phase accounted for between 8 and 47% of the climate change impacts for homemade portions. In ready-to-eat portions industry and retail phases were emphasized, representing 25–38% of climate change impacts. We present an approach to steer the Finnish food sector onto an environmentally sustainable path; practical tools for consumers and farmers will especially need to be developed further.