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Getting Started with Life Cycle Assessments: A Guide for Alt Protein Makers to Assess Sustainability Impact

Getting Started with Life Cycle Assessments: A Guide for Alt Protein Makers to Assess Sustainability Impact alt proteins, alternative protein, Manufacturers, meat, plant-based, precision fermentation, Proteins, Sustainability Food and Beverage Business

Most alternative protein companies in the food and beverage industry are faced with the challenge of lacking robust, standardized, and representative data to support their environmental claims, resulting in criticism of greenwashing. To address this issue, lifecycle assessment (LCA) has emerged as a widely used tool for quantifying and evaluating the environmental impact of producing goods and services, according to Tom Chapman, food systems impact advisor for GFI. Chapman discussed the importance of implementing LCAs to assess sustainability impact in a recent webinar.

When it comes to food and beverage manufacturing, an LCA study calculates the resources used in creating a product, including carbon, water, and other resources. The goal is to identify ways to reduce the environmental impact of these processes. According to Chapman, these inputs and outputs affect the planet, our economy, and societies as a whole.

For alt-protein manufacturers looking to conduct LCAs, Chapman advises being clear on the study’s intent, data collection methodology, target audience, the possibility of public disclosure, and the study’s boundaries. At the end of an LCA, manufacturers gain valuable insights and data that can be used for decision-making, reporting, and achieving business goals.

There are two main options for conducting LCAs: internal teams conducting the assessment themselves or working with LCA experts. A full-scale LCA is a comprehensive and bespoke assessment that measures the production process extensively. This option can cost between $50,000-$100,000. Alternatively, a limited-scope LCA focuses on specific parts of the production process or a reduced number of environmental issues being assessed. This option typically costs around $20,000.

Companies that are unable to conduct their own LCAs due to cost or logistical constraints can consider using LCA modeling software, which offers a low- or no-cost way to begin environmental assessments and inform sustainability projects. Foodsteps, in collaboration with GFI, is developing an LCA model tool that will be available in freemium and paid options. This tool allows alternative protein manufacturers to simulate their products and determine their environmental impacts, including a letter grade on sustainability.

This software tool offers the advantage of experimentation with different data inputs, which is particularly useful when making changes to processing facilities, ingredients, or suppliers during scaling operations. Unlike commissioned LCAs, the modeling software can provide regular updates to assessments, reflecting the latest available data and incorporating updated information on branded ingredients from suppliers.

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