Allocation is a standard method in life cycle assessment for dividing the environmental impact of a process among by-products. For example, a cow has X amount of emissions throughout her life until she is slaughtered. At this point, several products will reach or have reached the shelf from that cow: ribeye, filet mignon, mince or milk, cheese, yogurt. The allocation approach determines how this X amount of emissions will be distributed among all these products. There are 3 approaches to allocation: Biophysical allocation, physical allocation, and economic allocation.
Where does allocation fit in a life cycle assessment? Find out more here.
Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e)
Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e) is the unit of measurement for the warming effect of greenhouse gases. CO2e is the exchange rate of other greenhouse gases to carbon. The exchange rate expresses how many kg of carbon dioxide emissions warm the climate equally as 1 kg of another greenhouse gas, over a certain period of time (most often 100 years). CO2e translates the potency, how much infrared radiation a ton of each gas absorbs, and longevity, how long a ton of each gas radiates the heat back to the atmosphere, in relation to the emissions of a ton of carbon dioxide. CO2e allows us to compare and equate the effect of different greenhouse gases into a singular climate footprint.
Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide can be stored underground in what is called geologic sequestration for geologically significant periods of time. Carbon dioxide can also be stored on a shorter time scale by plants, water, and soil in a process called biogenic sequestration.
How we calculate biogenic carbon sequestration at CarbonCloud.
Climate footprint is the same calculation as carbon footprint. CarbonCloud uses the term climate footprint because it better encapsulates the effect of all greenhouse gases, including nitrous oxide, which is highly important in food production – even more so than the carbon-containing greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide.
Read more about why climate footprint is a more actionable term for the food industry.
Conference Of Parties (COP)
The Conference Of Parties (COP) is the yearly meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) to assess the global status of climate change. At the COP of 2015 the Paris Agreement was adopted, an international treaty on climate change. Each COP since then also serves as a meeting for the parties to the Paris agreement, to develop the rules of the agreement and monitor their implementation and results.
Cradle-to-grave is a scope definition of the stages considered in a product’s life cycle assessment, from the time the raw material is extracted through to the time it is disposed of by the consumer.
Cradle-to-shelf is a scope definition of the stages considered in a product’s life cycle assessment, from the time the raw material is extracted through to the time when the product reaches the store shelf.
Wondering which scope is ‘better’? It is a question of applicability rather than value and the answer depends on what the goal of your assessment is.
Deforestation is the land change practice of intendedly clearing areas of forest vegetation with the purpose of using the land and/or resources in a human activity. Deforestation has many negative effects on biodiversity, soil erosion, the water cycle, and a prominent one on the climate.
Direct N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions
Direct N2O emissions derive directly from the nitrogen that is present in the soil, originating from manure, fertilizers, and crop residues. N2O is formed by soil bacteria in the presence of oxygen.
Greenhouse gases (GHG)
As the Sun heats the Earth, the surface releases heat back to space as infrared radiation. Greenhouse gases absorb this radiation which in turn heats the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect. Since the industrial revolution, the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere has increased by human activity. A larger concentration of greenhouse gases means an overpowering of the greenhouse effect, which in turn means the planet is heated more.
Greenhouse gases, often abbreviated as GHG, either occur in the atmosphere naturally or are released from human activities. The most common are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). There are also synthetically produced greenhouse gases such as Fluorinated ethers, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs), Perfluoropolyethers, Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and other Perfluorinated compounds. The greenhouse effect of a specific gas depends on three factors: concentration, how much of it is present in the atmosphere, longevity, how long it stays in the atmosphere, and potency, how strongly it absorbs radiation and in turn impacts the atmosphere.
Greenhouse Gas Protocol
Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) is an organization that provides international standards for greenhouse gas emissions accounting and reporting. It spurred as a partnership between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and has since involved several high-level stakeholders in the formalization and refinement of the standard.
Global Warming Potential (GWP)
Global Warming Potential (GWP) is a common scale for the comparison of the warming impact of different greenhouse gases in the time span of most commonly 100 years, based on their potency and longevity. GWP is calculated in Carbon Dioxide Equivalents (CO2e) with carbon dioxide as the reference unit. For example, methane (CH4) absorbs more radiation per kilogram but stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time than CO2 (the reference unit) and its GWP is 28-34; nitrous oxide (N20) is more powerful and stays in the atmosphere longer than CO2 and its GWP is 265-298. GWP is updated regularly to reflect new research and the current concentration of gases.
Emission factors are the sum of greenhouse gas emissions generated per unit of activity. In life cycle assessment for the food industry, emissions factors are usually presented in kilograms of CO2e per reference flow (e.g. kg or kWh).
Indirect N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions
Indirect (‘off-site’) N2O emissions occur through two pathways: 1) Following volatilization of nitrogen from soils as ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), and 2) after leaching and runoff of nitrogen from soils. Indirect N2O emissions account for a third of the global agricultural N2O emissions.
Life cycle assessment (LCA)
Life cycle assessment or life cycle analysis (LCA) is the study of measuring the environmental impact of a product, process, or service throughout the different stages of its production and existence. LCAs are a useful tool to identify the origin of greenhouse gas emissions at any stage and understand the climate impact of a product.
Limestone is a soil conditioner with a high pH used in agriculture to reduce the acidity of the soil. Limestone also increases the concentration of calcium and magnesium, promoting plant growth and a greater yield. Limestone contains carbon and after decomposition, it is released in the form of carbon dioxide, increasing its concentration in the atmosphere.
Net-zero emissions refer to the balance of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions removed from the atmosphere, by either uptake or reduction of emissions elsewhere. The term net-zero has been popularized with ‘net-zero targets’, an increasingly popular corporate scheme for climate targets.
There’s something we need to tell you about net-zero…
Carbon offsetting is the practice of removing or reducing greenhouse gas emissions to compensate for generated emissions elsewhere. Offsets are usually measured in CO2e and are purchased after the assessment of the entity’s climate impact.
Offsetting sounds too good to be true because it is: Here’s the problem with offsets.
The Paris Agreement is an international treaty signed by 196 countries at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference with the goal of keeping the global temperature rise to well below 2 °C, preferably at 1.5 °C to pre-industrial levels. The global emissions targets set for this goal are a net-zero economy by 2050 and a 50% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Net-zero goals are derived as an entity pledge to achieve this goal.
Science Based Targets
Science Based Targets is a climate target-setting scheme developed by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), supporting companies in establishing emissions reductions targets in line with the Paris Agreement. SBTi is a collaboration between Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the World Resources Institute (WRI), the United Nations Global Compact, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and is often the verifier of corporate net-zero goals.
Scope 1, 2, 3
Greenhouse gas emissions of organizations are compartmentalized into Scope 1, 2, 3 by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an accounting tool. Scope 1 covers the direct emissions an organization controls, owns and produces. Scope 2 accounts for emissions from energy used in a company’s direct operations, such as purchased electricity, heating, or cooling. Scope 3 includes the emissions associated with a company’s operations and supply chain that are beyond its control, e.g. supplier emissions.
Sustainable development and sustainability
Sustainable development is most commonly defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs“. Sustainable development encompasses three dimensions with a high level of complexity within themselves and in the relationship among each other: Environmental, Social, and Economic. Sustainable development is closely related to Sustainability. One way to look at it is that sustainability is the long-term goal, while sustainable development refers to the many processes and pathways to achieve it.
Upstream and downstream is a way of categorizing Scope 3 emissions based on where in the value chain they occur. Upstream includes all emissions occurring prior to the production activities that are controlled by the organization, i.e., agriculture, refinement, packaging, etc. Downstream includes all emissions occurring after the products leave the organization’s control, i.e. distribution to retailers, consumer use, and waste.
Urea is a widely-used fertilizer with high nitrogen content, which promotes plant growth and bloom. After decomposition, the use of urea results in emissions of nitrous oxide and a higher concentration in the atmosphere.