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Opportunities and challenges of implementing life cycle assessment in seafood certification: a case study for Spain

Vázquez-Rowe, Ian, Villanueva-Rey, Pedro, Moreira, María Teresa, Feijoo, Gumersindo
The international journal of life cycle assessment 2016 v.21 no.4 pp. 451-464
European Union, business enterprises, business planning, carbon footprint, case studies, certification, computer software, ecolabeling, ecosystems, energy, environmental impact, fisheries, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, inventories, life cycle inventory, markets, seafoods, sustainable fisheries, Spain
PURPOSE: Eco-labelling has become part of the business strategy of companies thanks to numerous advantages in terms of engaging with consumers and gaining market quota. The aim of this article is to present a critical discussion on the development and implementation of a new eco-label named pescaenverde, registered in Spain, as the first type III eco-label in the Spanish fishing sector that is based on life cycle approaches for seafood products. METHODS: More specifically, it aims to complement ecosystem-based eco-labels with the computation of the carbon footprint and the energy return on investment (EROI) of seafood products. Furthermore, it proposes to discuss the ecological criteria, certification process or the opportunities and challenges of the market implementation of this eco-label in detail. Finally, the authors argue that life cycle eco-labels should be considered important complements for more specific sector- or ecosystem-oriented labels already in use, rather than direct competitors. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: There has been much criticism towards the eco-labelling sector as regards the transparency and scientific rigour of its standards. The fishing and seafood sector, which has experienced a boom in eco-labelling in recent years, due mainly to the strength of the Marine Stewardship Council certification scheme, is not alien to this controversy, since critics advocate expanding the concept of sustainable fisheries beyond an ecosystem approach in order to account for global environmental concerns such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or energy use. Not surprisingly, the European Union and other authorities currently encourage eco-labels to base their ecological criteria on life cycle approaches. Therefore, the current study discusses the ecological criteria, certification process or the opportunities and challenges of the market implementation of this eco-label in detail. CONCLUSIONS: The specificity of the life cycle inventory scheme used in pescaenverde delivers an accurate computation of environmental impacts for the specific case of Spanish fisheries. However, the geographical expansion of this scheme to other nations or regions will be conditioned by an important software adaptation to the particular inventory characteristics of the new fisheries, fleets and products. RECOMMENDATIONS: Adapting ecological criteria to other situations would also need substantial discussion, since the use of this certification scheme is not intended to contrast or compare seafood products against each other but to provide consumers with an easily identifiable label through which they can detect environmentally sustainable practices in terms of GHG emissions and energy use in the fishing fleets supporting the seafood products purchased.