Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lifecycle Assessments of some common food products

Yesterday I wrote about the lifecycle assessment methodology created by The Center for Sustainability and Excellence, which is based on international standards and is used in the assessment of various products and services on behalf of companies who would like to verify and possibly "ecolabel" products as green or even carbon neutral.

Today, I am going to list several common food products and evaluate the general results of their lifecycles. For the most part, these include some of the most important industrial and agricultural food products in the world. As you will see, their highest impacts occur at many of their stages including raw material extraction, transportation, manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal; in other words, impacts occur across the lifecycle from "cradle to cradle." (This term was adapted from the "cradle to grave" to account for the more recently included use and disposal stages, creating a full-cycle loop and thus allowing for the incorporation of the concept of the closed-loop-systems-based thinking.)

1. Bread

Bread is one of the most important industrial foods products, and producing it is obviously a huge part operations of bakeries like Butternut, Bimbo, Wonderbread, Chicago's own Prairie City Bakery, among others(assuming part or all of the bread making isn't sourced out).

According to the Journal of Food Engineering, organic production of wheat combined with industrial milling and a large bread factory is the most environmentally efficient way to make bread. Primary production(not sure whether this includes crop production or bread production) and transportation were the 2 most impactful stages. Baking consumed a high amount of energy and cultivation accounted for a lot of eutrophication in the form of nitrogen leakage from fields, emission of nitrogenous compounds in the production of fertilizers, and use of tractors.

2. Beer

America's second favorite carbohydrate! I was pleased to see this included in the Journal study. Bottle production seemed to be very high impact, which is why Goose Island's Green Line Pale Ale is only served from barrels. Other stages which accounted for high emissions were packaging and beer production, filtration, fermentation, storage, and harvesting and transport of cereals. The Journal cited various sources which used conflicting system boundaries, so if anybody has a better study on the LCA of beer, please share!!

3. Dairy

Milk production, like most food production methods, is inevitably going to lead to a conversation about conventional vs organic. Conventional uses less land, while organic uses less pesticides. If you have to use conventional methods, some suggestions are using regionally or domestic produced feeds and less use of pesticides in imported concentrated feeds. For organic, the suggestion was to use more concentrated feed, and the cultivation of higher-yielding crops. Another overall suggestion was the scheduling of products to reduce milk waste from frequent product changes. The agricultural phases are the most significant. Also of importance are waste management, packaging, and cleaning processes. The main impacts of dairy production are high water usage, high amounts organic waste, and energy use.

3. Meat production:

Beef, as you might know, has the highest environmental impacts, whether it's measured per energy unit produced or per pound. Chicken is the most efficient, unless it's measured in terms of energy produced. In this case, pork is more efficient. The main reason for beef being inefficient is the greater feed conversion ratio(mass of feed consumed divided by gain of body mass). As with milk, most of the impacts environmentally are found in the agricultural production in the lifecyle of meat products. Interestingly, organic farming was found to increase global warming impacts as well as land requirements, with the exception of sheep production. Some suggestions for a better LCA would be shorter feeding lengths, replacement of soya meal feed by pea and rapeseed-cakes for pork production, and the introduction of green legumes in intensive crop rotations with high proportion of cereals and nitrogen fertilizer. If you're doing a strictly 'greenhouse gas emissions' lifecyle analysis, it should be emphasized that major sources from meat production are from gut emissions(CH4) from livestock and N20 emissions from feed(crops) production.

If you would like to have an LCA performed on any of your products or operations at your company, please contact the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence, or visit

Note: All information for this article was sourced from the Journal of Food Engineering, Volume 90, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 1-10.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ecolabeling best practices

When ecolabeling a product, what kind of requirements are there to ensure that the label provider has done its due diligence in determining the "greenness" of a product?

With more and more accusations of greenwashing, a product development professional or marketer has to be certain that the company he/she is working with has gone through the necessary 3rd party verification processes to ensure that their label is recognized as legitimate.

Ironically, many companies may simply be too "green" to be fully aware of the current available standards that exist to help validate ecolabels.

ISO Standards 14020 and 14024 are the current international standards for environmental labeling programs. Companies like Global Ecolabelling Network can be used as a third-party to review the standards developed. The main requirements of the ISO standards are that the product is evaluated using lifecycle analysis and each standard is given a chance to be critiqued by stakeholder input in the form of public forums online or in person.

The Center for Sustainability and Excellence is a company that has served many companies' products and operations to assess the lifecycle of both products and operations. They have developed specialized in-house lifecycle assessment procedures that has been developed with the guidance of internationally recognized methodologies, such as the Clean Development Mechanism, ISO 14040 & 14042, Environmental
Protection Agency’s LCA Inventory Guidelines and Principles, and the prominent WRI GHG Protocol.

For more information on the services CSE can provide for you or the company you represent, please contact or visit

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Intel releases its 2010 CSR report

Intel published its tenth CSR report, and it's impressive. Also, they were just listed as one of the top three leaders in procurement of renewable energy according to the 'Corporate Renewable Energy Index'.

I wanted to share some of the key takeaways from the environmental portion of the report, maybe it can provide some ideas for others working on their own company reports:

  • Linking employee compensation to environmental performance--although it's still only a small part of their overall employee bonus calculation, rewarding employees monetarily for in areas such as carbon management and energy efficiency is a breakthrough idea

  • Sustainability in Action Grant programs--employees have applied and received grant money from Intel and accomplished projects such as rainwater collection for water cooling towers in India, boiler emissions capture for consumption of algae to for use as biofuel, and a coral reef documentation system that uses Intel technology

  • Waste reduction--Intel claims they recycle at least 80% of solid waste. One interesting thing they did was give 25 tons of unused silicon wafers to a solar panel company for integration into their manufacturing processes.

  • Large scale renovation---clearly we see the impact of a large corporation--Intel was able to recycle 2,225 tons of material as part of a renovation of 1 million sq ft of office space.

  • Improving product energy efficiency---they estimate that the new energy efficient Intel Core technology has saved 26 terrawatt hours of electricity compared to the outdated technology between 2006 and 2009. One particular area that will be important in the years to come as data centers become larger is server processor technology. Finally, another issue of key significance is the elimination of lead from products. Intel claims to be working with governments, NGOs, and industry to "balance environmental protection with working technical solutions".

  • Applying technology to environmental challenges---this is a great way for Intel to prove its worth in the environmental, and they cite many projects, from a home energy management system, to wireless energy sensing technology, to technologies that can detect pollution or naturally occuring toxins that may be caused by climate change.

For more information on how your company can begin to implement realistic, strategic sustainable solutions, please visit the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence website at

Friday, January 21, 2011

A shot at some scholarship money----alas, no reply

Last October, I entered a writing competition given by a certain institute located in Springfield, Illinois. According to their website, they are a "nonpartisan research organization dedicated to supporting free market principles and liberal-based public policy initiatives for a better Illinois." They wanted to hear some type of commentary on any aspect of Illinois policy that promoted "free market principles", and the award money totaled about $1000, if I remember correctly. The money was tempting and I wanted to learn more about local state environmental policy, so I decided to write something up that promoted their "free-market principles". I know, I was teetering the line between championing that concept while still staying the course for environmentally-friendly policy. Still, I thought I might have a shot at the money.

The basic jist of the essay, which I can send you a copy upon request, was that nuclear regulation policy should be influenced by the industry. I supported the House passing the Senate bill that supports ending the moratorium on building new nuclear plants. I supported new pro-market, industry-supported additions to regulatory rules in license application processes so that companies can submit a single application for a construction permit and a conditional operating permit. I pointed to new capacity factors of over 95% which could be attributed to more operational efficiency spurred by new industry-supported deregulation legislation.

I also spoke about the national issues facing nuclear power generation including the difficulties getting final regulatory approval from the federal government, resulting in delayed projects and limitations on the amount that get started in the first place. This regulatory uncertainty has limited private investment to just two plants in the entire US currently being built. I mentioned some unfair fees a certain plant had to pay because of some ridiculous formulaic approach used by the White House's Office of Budget and Management. I must say, I was sounding very knowledgeable of free-market principles.

I argued the case for nuclear energy as an enviromentally positive solution, pointing out that in order to meet air quality goals in the next few decades this form of energy should be increased by 150%, which translates to a highly unlikely 187 new plants being built by 2050, given the current difficulty of building a new plant.

One interesting Illinois-specific issue was the fact that many other states are storing their spent nuclear fuel in casks located in Illinois. Also, Illinois is considering dry storage casks which use helium instead of water so they do not need to be placed near bodies of water, eliminating the need to store fuel in close proximity to larger populations that typically are located by water bodies.

Finally, I mention that deregulation in the electricity markets would improve competition among distributors and generators and possibly lead to newer and better power grids in the coming years.

This was my first chance at submitting an essay as part of a contest, and I thought I did a decent job of promoting the ideals of the organization while still remaining in favor of an environmentally responsible policy agenda. For this reason, I was disappointed when I failed to receive any type of response regarding the result of the competition. A simple "thank you for entering, your submission was reviewed. Another entrant was awarded. Thank you for your participation" would have sufficed.

But let's face it, I probably threw the game when I championed Obama's guaranteeing billions in loans towards nuclear generation in the first sentence of the essay, not to mention writing anything about nuclear energy, regardless of what stance one takes is going to be a controversial issue.

It was definitely a learning experience, but next time, I'm going to make sure my topic has a good chance at winning even before starting the research. Still, a little closure would've been nice.

Since I am a recent graduate from IIT Stuart with my Master's in Environmental Management under belt, I don't think I'm eligible to enter next year. Time to make money the old-fashioned way, by earning it (vs. winning it).