17 Nov 2022

Making Life Cycle Assessment knowledge actionable

Insights on the evolving cooperation with IDH

Over the past 3 years Blonk has been working with IDH. IDH is a foundation that works with businesses, financiers, governments, and civil society to transform markets for more sustainable and equitable trade in global value chains. IDH works in multiple sectors and countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Our cooperation started in the fruits and vegetables sector, later expanding into the flowers and plants, spices, juice, and aquaculture sectors. Together we explored the opportunities of environmental assessments and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for the global value chains IDH is involved in to improve their environmental sustainability. In this article, we will share some insights into our evolving cooperation.

Setting up a measurement framework for environmental footprinting in Fruits and Vegetables

IDH is one of the initiators in the Sustainability Initiative Fruit and Vegetables (SIFAV), which aims to actively contribute to more sustainable fresh fruit and vegetable supply chains globally, with regards to economic, environmental, and social aspects. Its purpose is to create impact at scale by aligning policies, targets, and collaborative action within the fresh fruit and vegetable sector. At first, SIFAV was mainly focused on social sustainability within the supply chains. But environmental sustainability was defined as one of the pillars of the 2025 program. In this context, Blonk supported IDH by setting up a measurement framework for environmental footprinting. The first step was to raise awareness and create a common understanding of environmental sustainability among the various stakeholders. Furthermore, relevant indicators for environmental sustainability were identified, including climate change, water use and food losses. After a mutual understanding on these topics and the indicators was established, the different environmental indicators were tested, and impact was measured in several pilots with SIFAV member companies.

Development of an environmental footprint tool

Based on these steps and experiences, Blonk developed an environmental footprint-tool which enables SIFAV members to get insights into the environmental impacts of their products. The tool also identifies the hotspots in the supply chain, or the factors which contribute most to the environmental footprint. This enables members to set up reduction strategies and targets, which can also be tracked within the tool.  

The environmental footprint tool is built in Excel which means it doesn’t require any LCA-specific software or previous knowledge to use, making it very accessible. Various environmental impact categories are considered including climate change, water scarcity, eutrophication, and food losses. The tool is specified to the sector’s characteristics and is consistent with existing LCA standards and methodologies, such as ISO 14040/14044, Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), Flori-PEF (draft, not published yet) and the EU Horti-footprint Category Rules. Primary data is collected for every step of the supply chain, from cultivation up to retail.

Expansion to other sectors: Flowers and Plants, Spices, and Aquaculture

After the start in the Fruits & Vegetables sector, IDH also showed interest to develop environmental measurement frameworks and tools for other sectors. Therefore, we started similar processes for the following sectors:

Eventually the environmental footprint tool for each sector was specified further, considering sector-specific supply chain characteristics. For example, the spices tool includes additional drying and processing steps.

For the tropical aquaculture sector no harmonized LCA methodology was yet available, so we developed the methodology at the start of the project.

The implementation of such tools is a learning process for all stakeholders, which means that the tools are being updated continuously.

Lessons learned from the tool development process

The process of identifying key environmental pressures together with IDH and its members gave us very interesting insights. For example, one of the key indicators identified was biodiversity. However, biodiversity is currently not adequately covered by the LCA methodology (though several developments are ongoing to better represent this in impact assessment methodologies). The same applies to soil quality. Therefore, we looked outside the borders of LCA and worked with other partners to develop appropriate indicators in order to cover these aspects. In this way we were able to develop a tool that builds on key LCA principles yet also integrates other important environmental aspects.

Even though it is a big step that companies can start to measure their footprint themselves using their own (primary) data, the data collection itself can still be a challenge. Through carrying out pilots we realized that there are differences in the level of data collection experience by the users of the tool. For example, bigger companies often already have a data collection system in place, whereas smallholder farmers hardly collect any data. Such companies require more support, such as through setting up a sampling strategy and implementing a tailored environmental footprint measurement system.

Make LCA knowledge actionable

The cooperation with IDH really shows how to make LCA knowledge actionable. Instead of using LCA as a one-off method to determine the environmental impact of a product at a certain moment in time, these tools make LCA knowledge accessible and actionable, and serve as a driver of change towards more sustainable food systems. By creating accessible tools many stakeholders can get engaged and start measuring the footprint of their products. The mentioned initiatives hosted by IDH will use the tools to set reduction targets, monitor progress towards those targets, and stimulate companies to reduce their environmental impact.

More information

Get in touch

Caroline te Pas
Team Manager

Do you have questions about this project? Or do you also want a specific LCA-tool for your sector? Please get in touch with Caroline.