Life cycle-carbon footprints for environmental labeling of food products: Analyses of complementary functional units and hotspots


The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un said:

"Environmental and nature conservation is an important and responsible undertaking to make the mountains and rivers of the country more beautiful, conserve and increase natural resources, protect people's health and provide them with a better living environment."

Climate change has already become the biggest significant challenge. Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for majority of the global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, which is regarded to be a key factor in accelerating climate change, followed by methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), respectively.

Food industry has considerable impacts on climate change. Achieving a sustainable food industry is the global consensus. Nowadays governments and scientific communities in the world tend to apply Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to a sustainable production chain and it has become a key element in the environmental policy and/or in voluntary actions.

This present study aims to take account of life cycle-carbon footprints for the environmental labeling of 20 food products and to give lessons for the rest consumer products. This study conducts analyses of Functional Units (FUs) and hotspots with a couple of questions of how much life cycle-carbon footprints per FU of the food products investigated from the company are and what the key hotspots (primary, secondary, and tertiary) connected to the life cycle phases are. This study applies both MFUdry (on dry basis) and EFUpri (on price basis) to food LCAs, while comparing to LCAs by MFUtotal (on total basis).

Based on taking account of life cycle-carbon footprints for the environmental labeling of 20 food products, the main conclusions were drawn as follows.

(i) The carbon footprints of food products vary in a range of 2,050-5,080 g CO2eq., depending on the defined FUs. The carbon footprint orderings by MFUtotal significantly differed from those by MFUdry and EFUpri, which revealed that FUs could definitely affect LCAs of food products and proper environmental benchmarking/labeling. Therefore, the emissions reduction is strongly recommended by cleaner production in the factory, while applying appropriate FUs to comparative LCAs of consumer products.

(ii) A number of subsystems in the food product systems were identified as hotspot: mainly the flour subsystem, the washing & wastewater subsystem, and the electricity subsystem. The flour subsystems (i.e., wheat cultivation) substantially contributed to the primary hotspots in 13 food product systems. A large amount of CO2 was emitted by composting of by-products from agricultural activities. Therefore, the traditional composting should be improved by an advanced technology. The washing and wastewater subsystems were evaluated to be the secondary hotspots in 12 food product systems. For environmental performance of the subsystems, combined options to decrease water & energy consumption and wastewater production should be suggested by optimization, which needs to introduce a methodology to optimize proper water usage during washing. In addition, the subsystems identified as tertiary hotspot were the electricity, which is expressed as indirect GHG emissions. Access to clean fuels and technologies could reduce GHG emissions, especially coal consumption. Thus, the power stations need to be switched to systems with higher efficiency and larger electricity mix from renewable energy resources.

The findings could encourage LCA practitioners and commissioners to implement a sustainable policy for environmental labeling of crop-based food products and give lessons for the rest consumer products.

The results were published in the journal "International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology", under the title of "Life cycle‑carbon footprints for environmental performance/labeling of crop‑based food products: analyses of complementary functional units and hotspots" (