As we make foods with a lower carbon footprint, it is important to us to measure our impact on the climate and the environment. We work with third parties to conduct detailed life cycle assessment (LCA) analyses, tracking every impact our foods have – from plant, to oil, to tub, to spread. These analyses look at ingredients, manufacture, transport and much more.
But that’s not all. Using this data, we have also been able to estimate the ‘emissions saving’ achieved by consumers and chefs choosing Upfield manufactured plant-based butters, margarines and spreads when compared to emissions attributed to dairy butter. And we call that, ‘The Upside’.
LCAs and our GHG Footprint
Environmental Impacts of Our Plant-Based Products
We worked with Quantis, an International Sustainability Consultancy specialising in Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs). They have conducted a range of LCAs for our products including Flora, Country Crock, Rama, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
We didn’t just do assessments for one or two products. In 2018, Quantis completed a large scale LCA covering 212 of our plant-based margarines and spreads sold in 21 different European and North American markets. We also use LCAs on an ongoing basis to help inform the development of recipes, packaging choices and product innovation.
From the research we know that the biggest impact in our own footprint comes from growing crops, which accounts for over 75% of our total carbon footprint. That is why we take action to ensure responsible and sustainable sourcing of our natural ingredients. See here for more details. We’re also tracking our other impacts including packaging. See here for our policy on packaging solutions.
Comparing Key Environmental Performance Indicators
Beyond our own footprint we also want to help people to embrace more sustainable food choices. One of the most important ways we can do that is by sharing what we are learning about the environmental impacts of different foods.
When Quantis completed their assessment they also analysed the impact of dairy butters across the same countries so that we can compare the impact of our products with dairy counterparts. We have learnt that across Europe and North America, our plant-based margarines and spreads have on average a 70% lower climate impact, occupy two-thirds less land and use less than half the water when compared with the same amount of dairy butter.
Compared with 1kg of dairy butter, the same amount of our plant-based margarines and spreads are responsible for 9kg less carbon dioxide equivalents or greenhouse gases, occupy 8m2 less land per year, and use 100 litres less water.
Background on the Study
An LCA is a systematic evaluation of environmental impacts resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, use of water, energy and land. It calculates the environmental impacts over the life cycle of a product, from raw materials to the product’s end-of-life.
Quantis follows a recognised methodology for their LCA’s that conforms to the ISO 14040 and 14044 standards for public disclosure of results. The LCA Study was peer reviewed by an independent panel of three experts in topics such as LCA, agronomy and dairy production and has been published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.
A technical summary of the Study including details of the basis of our comparative claims can be found at this link.
Being transparent about our methane
We know that methane reduction is an urgent issue – the United Nations Environment Programme warned of the high global warming potential of methane (methane has more than 80x the global warming potential of CO2 over a 20 year period), meaning that reducing methane emissions now can lead to impactful change in the coming decade to the climate. It also revealed that the food and agriculture sector is the highest contributor to anthropogenic methane emissions.
But to reduce methane emissions we first need to measure them. And to hold ourselves accountable for our methane emissions, we need to own up to them – through public disclosure. Reporting on methane is not a new concept – it already happens in the energy sector. The food sector is behind, and needs to catch up.
That’s why we chose to publish our methane emissions, and that’s why we’re calling on the rest of the food and agriculture sector to do it too.
So, how did we do it?
We worked with Sustainability experts Anthesis and Quantis to gather data and create a methodology to measure and share our methane emissions. You can read the methodology here. We also talked through our plans to disclose our methane emissions with stakeholders to gather feedback on our approach. Our methodology is a first step, and we welcome any feedback on how to improve it. Get in touch with email@example.com if you want to offer feedback.
What were the results?
Well, we found that methane emissions make up around 7.5% of our entire greenhouse gas footprint, which is no small amount.
And what can we do about our methane footprint?
We wanted to know what was causing our methane footprint, so we looked at the drivers of our footprint. This showed that our tiny proportion of dairy ingredients (1% of our total ingredients) was responsible for most of our methane emissions. Other drivers of our methane footprint include our plant oils, packaging and use of fossil fuels.
Given the disproportionate impact that dairy has on our methane emissions (63% of our total) and on our overall greenhouse gas emissions (8% of our total), we know that our commitment to eliminate dairy from all our products in the coming years will help to reduce both our methane footprint and our overall greenhouse gas footprint.
Progressive moves often attract criticism
And we expect criticism from the livestock industry about our methane disclosure. As a plant-based company, we know that methane makes up a lower proportion of our greenhouse gas footprint than meat and dairy companies. We may be criticized for our methodology, or for shining a spotlight on methane at all. But we are confident that this is the right thing to do, and that food companies becoming transparent about their methane emissions will help us to push for the swift global methane reduction that is needed.
We welcome any feedback on how to push for methane accountability in the food system, and how to finetune our methodology to ensure we give the most accurate and useful disclosure we can.
The Upside is a term we use to describe our estimated ‘avoided emissions’ or ‘emission savings’ as a result of Upfield customers and chefs choosing to eat one of our plant-based butters, margarines and spreads instead of dairy butter. The Upside in emissions savings achieved is largely due to the use of plant-based ingredients in our products instead of animal products. Making dairy butter results in substantially damaging methane emissions from cows, in addition to growing crops for cattle feed. In contrast, plant-based production relies only on the growing of crops. In fact, the average plant-based butter, margarine and spread product is responsible for 70% lower emissions than dairy butter. You can read more about our LCA study above.
How did you measure it?
The Upside was measured based on Upfield data and product sales over the calendar year of 2020 and has enabled consumers and chefs to avoid double the emissions that Upfield is responsible for in the production of its products. You can read more information on the methodology in this report by Anthesis, a leading global sustainability consultancy. Using their “Portfolio Footprinting Methodology”, they have taken our detailed peer reviewed and published LCA data (which measures the total environmental impact of a product, including agricultural inputs, ingredient production, manufacture, packaging, transport and usage) and scaled it up to a portfolio level based on sales data and the theoretical assumption that consumers and chefs bought plant-based butters, margarines and spreads instead of dairy butter.
What does it mean?
Put simply, it means that if you were to choose one of Upfield’s plant-based butters, margarines or spreads instead of a dairy equivalent product, you could avoid or save carbon emissions – ultimately lowering your carbon footprint.
In 2020 Upfield consumers avoided estimated emissions of up to 6 million metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent by choosing plant-based butters, margarines and spreads instead of an equivalent dairy-based product. This is the same amount of emissions as they would have avoided by growing 100 million tree seedlings over the period of ten years.
People generally tend to underestimate the carbon impact of the foods they eat. We believe that informing and inspiring them to choose foods that are not only healthier, but more sustainable, is a crucial step in the transition towards a more sustainable food system.
We have committed to introduce carbon labelling to 500 million packs of our plant-based spreads, margarines, plant-based butters, and plant-based creams by the end of 2025. The goal is to help consumers make informed decisions about the environmental impact of the foods they choose.
Read more about our Carbon labelling policy here.
Find out more about how we calculate the carbon labels on our packs here.