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The criticality of conducting LCAs

October 26, 2023

Alternative proteins are increasingly included in discussions about how to most effectively address climate issues. This inclusion comes not a moment too soon, as the world will not get to net-zero emissions without addressing food and land. According to research from Boston Consulting Group, the food system accounts for 26% of current global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Animal agriculture, the largest GHG emitter within the food system, is responsible for 15% of global emissions, approximately equal to emissions from the transportation sector. Alternative proteins, on the other hand, can be produced with up to 92% fewer GHG emissions, up to 75% less land, and up to 87% less water than conventional meat. Yet the global demand for conventional meat is set to almost double by 2050.

With this in mind, alternative protein companies often leverage the positive environmental impact of their products and/or manufacturing processes in messaging to investors, consumers, and strategic partners. Without rigorous and standardized data to support these claims, however, they can be faced with accusations of greenwashing. This outcome hurts both the companies and the broader alternative proteins industry.

This is especially true now, when the industry is managing harsh macroeconomic conditions that have left many stakeholders wary of backing emerging companies and technologies. To raise capital, companies frequently must provide robust de-risking data that clearly demonstrates environmental benefit.

Currently, the best tool for quantifying and evaluating the environmental impact of producing goods and services is a life cycle assessment (LCA). Executed properly, LCAs can de-risk investment and guide operational decisions.

Performing an LCA, however, is a comprehensive process that requires considerable time, expense, and effort. This can be daunting for teams who are running lean and trying to meet ambitious milestones. Even so, for alternative protein companies – especially those working on precision fermentation and cultivated meat – the decision to commit to doing an LCA is not ‘if’ but ‘when’. And ‘when’ is earlier than most companies realize.

Given the wide variety of LCA methodologies – each of which has a slightly different focus – there is currently a lack of consistency in how LCAs are applied and limited customized guidance for how to conduct LCAs of alternative proteins

In a recent Business of Alt Protein Seminar presented by the Good Food Institute, panelists from FoodSteps provided guidance regarding LCAs. During the presentation, they outlined the most common obstacles in conducting LCAs. These include lack of a strong internal project lead, weak carbon literacy and environmental awareness within the business, complex supply chains and supplier networks, and difficulty collecting data. They also recommend treating the first LCA initiative as a pilot. Companies should start with a smaller scope and expand it once the process feels more comfortable. Expect surprises and lean into the learning process.

For the reasons outlined above, it often makes sense to engage third-party specialists, use LCA modeling software, or both.

As with any measurement tool, LCAs benefit from being conducted using a high-quality, consistent methodology to enable accurate assessments and cross-company – and product – comparability. However, given the wide variety of LCA methodologies – each of which has a slightly different focus – there is currently a lack of consistency in how LCAs are applied and limited customized guidance for how to conduct LCAs of alternative proteins.

To help fill the void, The Good Food Institute offers a free guide that provides insight into commissioning and overseeing the development of LCAs, as well as interpreting and leveraging their results. The guide educates companies and enables them to commission an expert LCA provider to design and conduct an effective LCA that helps them reach their objectives.

It’s never too early to strategize setting a company up for success. LCAs can be a game-changing component of that strategy for alternative protein ventures.

Laine Clark is the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Manager at The Good Food Institute, the international nonprofit working to shift the global food system to options that are better for the planet, people, and animals. This article was republished from the October/November 2023 edition of Protein Production Technology International, the industry's leading resource for alternative proteins. To subscribe to read future editions hot off the digital press, please click here

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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