The production of foodstuffs and other agricultural products is frequently associated with a high level of environmental impact. This raises questions as to what forms of agriculture are the most environmentally favorable, what influence discarded or not consumed food has on the environment, what forms of packaging are environmentally favorable or harmful, what packing materials have the largest ecological footprint, and at what points we can influence the sustainability of food.
Life cycle assessment, as standardized in ISO 14040/14044, can be used to achieve the above objectives. Products or services are studied over the entire life cycles along the value chain and represented in an environmental profile. Life cycle inventory data, as well as impact assessment results can help the LCA practitioner to make better informed decisions regarding sustainability. If required, this quantitative information can be complemented by qualitative ratings.
Given commonly decentralized value chains, however, the complex relationship between input and output as well as variable influencing factors on farm production demand a special approach. A life cycle assessment with these challenges can only be properly conducted with specially developed models for the agricultural sector and with appropriate software solutions.
In cooperation with PE INTERNATIONAL AG, a highly sophisticated, fully parameterized and non-linear agricultural model has been developed, fitted to the complex relations in agro-processing, within the software and dataset system GaBi. The model contains datasets for upstream agriculture and animal husbandry as well as for downstream processing of products. The entire value chain is represented, beginning with seed preparation, arable farming, fertilization and other soil amendments, harvesting, processing, transportation logistics, and storage.
Assessment of land use
Traditional impact assessment categories capture a large part of the global environmental impact of a product’s life cycle. The effects on local conditions, however, are more difficult to model. These local considerations include ecosystem services, such as groundwater recharge, filtration capacity of the soil and biodiversity. In 2002, the department of Life Cycle Engineering developed a fully functional tool in collaboration with research and industry partners. This tool is called LANCA® (Land Use Indicator Value Calculation Tool) and allows the user to assess soil-based ecosystem services, including erosion resistance, mechanical and physicochemical filtration, groundwater recharge, and biotic production.