Category Archives: New publication

New paper on the methodology behind the WWF-vegoguide

How can the environmental impact of plant based foods be evaluated and communicated to consumers?

In a new paper published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Hanna Potter Karlsson and Elin Röös describe the methodology behind the WWF-vegoguide presented in another blogpost. The guide was developed in cooperation between the researchers and WWF in a process described in the Fig. 1 below. WWF was the project owner and were responsible for the final design decisions regarding aspects such as which products to include, target audience for the guide, evaluation criteria and thresholds. The researchers were responsible for collecting footprint data, test the evaluation criteria, and provided feedback on the design to WWF. Views on the guide from external stakeholders like consumer and trade organizations were consulted in workshops.

Fig. 1
Fig.1. Process of developing the Vego-guide.
From Karlsson Potter and Röös (2020). J of Clean Prod.

The environmental impact categories to include in the evaluation of the foods were selected from the planetary boundaries framework (Steffen et al., 2015) and the mid-point categories of ReCiPe (Huijbregts et al., 2016) based on a set of criteria including their relevance for plant-based products, importance for guiding consumers, availability of scientifically accepted evaluation methods and data availability. Four indicators were finaly chosen: climate impact, biodiversity impact, water and pesticide use. Thresholds for rating the different product as green star, green, yellow and orange were designed to be aliged with the WWF Meat guide and to relate to the absolute food system boundaries as presented in the EAT-Lancet report (Willett et al. 2019). All products were compared on a per kg basis despite their different functions and nutrient content, which instead were considered by applying different thresholds for food groups, e.g. the protein group was allowed a larger share of emission space as these are more demanding to produce and more valuable in diets than carbohydrates.  

Read the full paper here:

“Less but better meat” – what does that mean?

Meat consumption in the Western world has to decrease and meat production practices have to improve. Eating “less but better meat” is a strategy put forward by a number of institutions and organizations as a strategy for increasing the sustainability of diets in high-income settings. But how much is “less” and what is “better”?

In a newly published comment in the Nature Food journal, Elin Röös together with researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC) call for greater clarity on these concepts as misuse could steer in an suboptimal direction.

The estimation of “less meat” could be guided by positive and negative health effect of eating meat as well as the amounts of different meats that could fit within climate boundaries or be produced from biomass not suited for human consumption. A first analysis shows that “less meat” would mean a reduction in meat consumption by at least 50% in the Western world regardless of perspective.

As for “better meat” a wide range of issues need to be considered (see figure below). A focus on just one or a few of these can lead to very varying conclusions of what constitutes better meat and risks overlooking important trade-offs. The authors conclude: “Scientific characterization of ‘less but better’ is crucial for enabling more informed discussionon value-laden decisions and to build consensus on the meaning of the concept, especially as it gains traction with civil society organizations and policy makers.

The study:

Sahlin, K.R., Röös, E., Gordon, L. 2020. ‘Less but better’ meat is a sustainability message in need of clarity. Nature Food 1, 520–522 (2020).

Research in this area continues in a project called “Less but better meat” – a joint project between SLU and the SRC.

Överskottsmat – till vilken nytta?

Att ta hand om överskottsmat från butiker och livsmedelsindustrin och donera överskottet till behövande är inte något nytt fenomen globalt, men att göra detta för att minska matsvinnet är tämligen nytt. Som ett resultat av detta så har det på senare tid kommit en rad aktörer som på olika sätt försöker hitta vägar för att ta hand om överskottsmaten till olika kundgrupper via olika distributionssätt. Frågan som kan ställas är vilken nytta som den levererade överskottsmaten ger och för vem? I den nya artikeln “Sustainability Assessment of Food Redistribution Initiatives in Sweden” undersöker vi en rad olika distributionssätt för överskottsmat och vilka sociala, miljömässiga och ekonomiska nyttor dessa skapar. Resultaten visar att använda sig av matkassar till socialt utsatta grupper genererar den största vinsten i termer av att minimera växthusgasutsläpp. Att använda sig av överskottsmat för att producera nya produkter visade sig skapa högst social nytta då det undersökta konceptet skapade flest arbetstillfällen (arbetade timmar per kg distribuerad mat). Problemet som samtliga iniativ har är att få ekonomin att gå ihop, då endast två av de undersökta fallen gick med vinst och inte var direkt beroende av extern finansiering.

Photograph by UNT

Food banks that redistribute surplus food from retailers and the food industry to people in need are not a new concept globally, but their connection to food waste prevention is new. As a result, new types of food redistribution units are emerging and diversifying to find new target groups and distribution methods. The aim of a new study “Sustainability Assessment of Food Redistribution Initiatives in Sweden” was to identify and study surplus food redistribution units in Sweden, and then to assess the impact on several sustainability indicators for selected redistribution units, in order to increase knowledge on the types of values these redistribution concepts generate. The methods used for analyzing the scenarios were Environmental Life Cycle Assessment, Life Cycle Costing and Social Life Cycle Assessment. The results showed that providing food bags to socially exposed people generated the largest reduction of greenhouse gas emissions per kg of redistributed food. Reprocessing surplus food to a high-quality end-product was attributed to a high social value, due to job creation effects in the high number of working hours required per kg of redistributed food. With regard to economic impacts, all but two scenarios studied had monthly financial losses and therefore needed other sources of financial support.

The article has been published open access in MDPI resources:
Bergström, P.; Malefors, C.; Strid, I.; Hanssen, O.J.; Eriksson, M. Sustainability Assessment of Food Redistribution Initiatives in Sweden. Resources 2020, 9, 27.

Reflective crops contribute to climate change mitigation

Albedo change can make an important contribution to the climate impact of cropping systems. Albedo is the share of solar radiation reflected back from the ground. It ranges between 5 and 30% for bare and vegetated agricultural land, and can reach up to 90% due to snow cover. The more reflective a surface, the higher its albedo and the greater the potential for radiative cooling and eventually temperature change.

Photograph by Sergio Lorenc

Albedo has increased globally due to agricultural expansion, converting forests to more reflective grass- and croplands. However, deforestation is associated with losses of crucial ecosystem functions including carbon storage and local surface cooling by evapotranspiration. Managing agricultural land to achieve higher reflectivity has the potential to mitigate local heat waves and global warming. Strategies to increase the albedo of croplands include selection of reflective species or varieties, introduction of cover crops, intercropping, residue retention, and delayed or no ploughing.

In a recently published article, we studied how cultivating abandoned land with short-rotation willow affects albedo and evaluated its potential as a climate change mitigation measure. We found that albedo increased from 16.5 to 21.5% on average when fallow land was cultivated with willow, based on three years of field-measured data. These data were subsequently combined with a time-dependent life cycle assessment (LCA) model of bioenergy produced from willow. Here, we included emissions from the production of inputs, field operations, soil, transport and energy conversion.

Simulating processes and emission along the life cycle and impacts on climate over time allowed us to compare the effect of albedo change (cooling) to that of greenhouse gas emissions (warming) and carbon sequestration in biomass and soil (cooling). In sum, the bioenergy system had a net cooling effect because albedo change and carbon sequestration outweighed emissions from the supply chain and soil. Our results over time showcase the different nature of albedo and long-lived greenhouse gases as climate forcers. Albedo change needs to be sustained for years in order to offset the temperature response to a one-off greenhouse gas emission.

The article has been published open access in GCB Bioenergy:
Sieber, P., Ericsson, N., Hammar, T., & Hansson, P.-A. Including albedo in time-dependent LCA of bioenergy. GCB Bioenergy, n/a(n/a). doi:10.1111/gcbb.12682

The environmental impacts from Swedish food consumption exceed the planetary boundaries for the food system

In a new study by researchers from the Food System Group together with the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the environmental impacts of the Swedish diet were benchmarked relative to global environmental boundaries suggested by the EAT-Lancet Commission. To identify local environmental concerns not captured by the global boundaries, relationships between the global EAT-Lancet variables and the national Swedish Environmental Objectives were analysed and additional indicators for missing aspects were identified.

The results showed that the environmental impacts caused by the average Swedish diet exceeded the global boundaries for greenhouse gas emissions, cropland use and application of nutrients by two- to more than four-fold when the boundaries were scaled to per capita level. With regard to biodiversity, the impacts caused by the Swedish diet transgressed the boundary by six-fold. For freshwater use, the diet performed well within the boundary.

Comparison of global and local indicators revealed that the EAT-Lancet variables covered many aspects included in the SEOs, but that these global indicators are not always of sufficiently fine resolution to capture local aspects of environmental sustainability, such as eutrophication impacts. To consider aspects and impact categories included in the SEO but not currently covered by the EAT-Lancet variables, such as chemical pollution and acidification, additional indicators and boundaries are needed. This requires better inventory data on e.g., pesticide use and improved traceability for imported foods.