Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 17, No. 4, October 9, 2012

Life Cycle Analysis, or LCA, is a science-based tool for quantifying the environmental impacts of a product or activity. Not nearly as well known in North America as it is in Europe, many users seek to apply LCA as a tool for comparing the environmental impacts of similar products. While not always as rigorous a technique as one might want, LCA nevertheless provides one of the best tools we have for comparing products and the results are often surprising.

In this issue of GallonLetter we provide an in-depth review of LCA but before we get to the detailed stuff we illustrate use of LCA with some recent and not so recent findings using LCA on food products. The results are at least interesting.

Our review of the LCA process may go into a little more detail than the typical GallonLetter analysis but we felt it important to spread the word about what LCA is, its strengths and weaknesses, and the mechanisms of its application. We still see too many environmental product claims which are not based on scientific principles. The US Federal Trade Commission has recently published a new guide for environmental product claims, essentially the rules that marketers must meet, and we like it. We see it as clearer and more relevant than the current Canadian Guide. If Canadian marketers meet the standard of the US Green Guides not only will they be able to export product with the same claims to the US but they will also most likely be meeting the Canadian requirements as well.

GallonLetter readers may be interested to know that GallonLetter's editor is presenting a paper at the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry North America Conference in Long Beach, CA, from 11th to 15th November 2012 on the subject Application of LCA to Consumer Product Environmental Claims.

As usual, this GallonLetter includes some articles on other business and environment topics. Dr. Dambisa Moyo has written a new book Winner Take All: China's Race for Resources and What it Means for the Rest of the World. Our review recommends it very highly as a useful contribution to this timely subject. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has published his 2012 Annual Report and he is criticizing the Government for numerous breaches of the Environmental Bill of Rights as well as other environmental indiscretions. We end this issue with a brief extract from a Senate of Canada debate from March of this year on the topic of food recalls. Apparently the Government House Leader in the Senate considered them to be hypothetical. We wonder what she thinks now?

Our next issue will have the theme Recycling and Waste Management in the United Kingdom. We are inclined to think that there is lots that Canada could learn from the UK. Meanwhile, we hope you find this issue interesting and useful and we invite your feedback and comments on any environment and business topic to We will publish a selection of letters received.

Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (Environmental Quality Through Science) SETAC. North America 33rd Annual Meeting. Catching the Next Wave: Advancing Science Through Innovation and Collaboration. Long Beach, California, USA, 11–15 November 2012 .



Even at home and in the office, an LCA approach can foster thinking about making better choices and the challenges involved in so doing. What is the best way to boil water was asked in a blog called Home Efficiency. The bloggers did their own data collection in an all electric home to see how much electricity was used by a microwave, stovetop and kettle to boil a certain number of cups of water. The bloggers carried out 13 tests on a typical microwave (1.3 kw), electric stove (1.5 kw element) and standard electric kettle (1.5 kw) using an increasing number of cups of water from 1 to 8. The conclusion they reached was that the electric kettle uses the least energy for all volumes up to 4 cups which is all it holds so the 8 cups have to be done in two loads at which point it might be better to use the 2nd best choice: the stovetop. The microwave was third in all cases with the microwave performance growing worse with greater volume of water. But in interpreting the results, the bloggers said that even the differences between the best and worst would only cost $4 a year if they boiled a quart of water every day. The blog generated quite a few comments such as:
Home Efficiency Blog: Best Way to Boil Water Best.


Prof Roland Clift of Surrey University in the UK, speaking at the University of Toronto in February 2012, highlighted the demand for land for agriculture. Brazil is the largest exporter of beef, mostly from established pastures in southern Brazil, with a carbon footprint of 25-30 kgs of carbon dioxide per kg of beef (compared to 20 kgs for European pasture-fed beef.) However, expansion of land in Brazil is in the Amazon region; producing pasture from rain forest raises the carbon footprint of beef to over 800 kgs of CO2 per kg of beef.

GallonLetter notes that his presentation illustrates the importance of including key environmental impacts in the life cycle assessment. Some of the issues like land use change are often seen as too difficult to address which means the environmental impact in the LCA may understate the actual impacts.

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At the Rio+20 sustainable development conference, governments agreed that agriculture needs to be more sustainable with a particular focus on livestock systems because these have significant environmental impacts. Meat consumption is expected to increase by nearly 73% by 2050 and dairy consumption by 58% compared to current levels.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has been collaborating with industry associations and governments in an initial three year project to harmonize life cycle analysis of livestock including feed crops starting with greenhouse gas emissions. Pierre Gerber, Livestock Policy Officer, Livestock Production and Health Division, FAO, said that GHG emissions are only one aspect of environmental sustainability; next steps are expected to include water and land use and some aspects of biodiversity. Harmonizing means that key elements in the LCAs such as system boundaries and functional units would be the same for different farms in different countries. The project does not include ethical issues such as welfare, and poverty reduction.

The FAO is planning for dairy to use the already existing LCA standards of the International Dairy Federation.

Data Standards

For LCA, there are three tiers of estimates for methane emission from enteric fermentation (the digestions process of livestock):
tier 1 is calculated using standard emission factors from literature
tier 2 is calculation based on detailed country specific data on gross energy intake and methane conversion factors for specific livestock categories
tier 3 is thought to be the most accurate and scientifically acceptable data from direct experimental measurements including diet composition in detail, concentration of products from ruminant fermentation, season variation in animal population or feed quality and availability and possible mitigation strategies.
Tier 2 is considered the minimum requirement for the FAO carbon footprint.

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The federal soon-to-be-unfunded National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy produced a report on the international importance of Life Cycle Approaches, which are identified as a global trend. The statement in the report that Canada used to be a leader on Life Cycle Approaches is an indicator that Canada has neglected this instrument which is seen to be important to developing public policies to promote economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.

Among the recommendations are the need to
Canadian companies are seen as potentially at a disadvantage because of "formal regulatory demands of importing countries for life cycle-based labelling or life cycle based product requirements. Canada is starting to encounter these risks with our largest trading partner, the United States (U.S.), and with European Union (EU) member states, in several sectors including oil and gas (e.g., fuel standards and directives), aerospace, electronics, and building and construction. Canada risks serious harm to its national economic interests by not proactively developing frameworks nor engaging in initiatives related to Life Cycle Approaches domestically and globally." Although Canada's return to leadership in using LCAs could be for economic benefits there will also be environmental benefits.

Mercury in Lighting

An example of how an LCA can inform policy is in the area of lightbulbs. Although the Canadian government abandoned another environmental commitment (so much for the stated "we don't promise if we aren't going to deliver"), this one a ban on incandescent lightbulbs, the Canadian Council of Ministers for the Environment had lightbulbs analysed for mercury emissions. Over their life cycle, incandescent bulbs resulted in more mercury emissions compared to CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) because incandescents are less energy efficient so draw on more electricity. Electricity from coal results in more mercury emissions. More extensive and proper recycling of used CFLs would also reduce mercury emissions from CFLs. The EU has begun a phaseout of general use incandescent bulbs and the United States introduced energy efficiency standards beginning January 2012, which means traditional inefficient incandescent bulbs are no longer available.

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Environmental concerns have fostered the development of methods for understanding how both the production and consumption of products impact the environment. One of those methods is life cycle assessment, among the more reputable being those meeting the ISO 14044 standard with the principles outlined by ISO 14040.

According to the standard, LCA assesses, in a systematic way, the environmental aspects and impacts of product systems, from raw material acquisition to final disposal. This is commonly called cradle to grave. In the standard, the use of the term product includes services.

There are four phases of an ISO 14044 LCA:

a) the goal and scope definition phase,
b) the inventory analysis phase,
c) the impact assessment phase, and
d) the interpretation phase.

Sometimes, the goal is satisfied by only an inventory analysis and interpretation which is called an LCI study rather than an LCA.

LCAs vary with different assumptions, depth and breadth, goals and contexts so the standard says that comparing the results of different LCA or LCI studies is only valid if certain requirements specified in the standard are met to ensure transparency. For this reason, an LCA that studies the impacts of domestic and imported (from New Zealand) apples in England might need review and adjustments before drawing conclusions about the impact of domestic and apple imports to Canada. Similarly, LCAs indicates that processes in the food system have different impacts e.g. the agricultural process may be the most significant for energy use for frozen peas but less so for carrots.

LCA, unlike some other sustainability tools, addresses only potential environmental aspects and not social or economic aspects.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Traditional life cycle assessment studies the elementary flows and potential environmental impacts of specific products which represents a kind of life history of the products. This is known as an attributional LCA or ALCA. Another approach was developed more recently to evaluate how changes in the product system relate to the environmental impacts of the different scenarios. There is much more uncertainty in this type of LCA which differs in some other ways from traditional LCA but it does help in consideration of the potential environmental consequences of possible future changes to product systems. This approach is called consequential LCA or CLCA.

Palm Oil

This type of LCA also allows for concepts such as substitution and avoided burden. For example, palm plantations for food oil (and biodiesel) have such high adverse publicity due to use of peatlands and conversion of tropical forests which provide habitat for orangutans that some bakers and retailers may phase out palm oil in favour of sunflower and canola or require only oil certified by Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil RSPO (established in 2004). Dr. Jannick Schmidt of Aalborg University, who has studied the LCA of palm oil plantations and other crops, suggests that various practices including not cultivating peat soils can mean using palm oil can avoid some of the burdens of other oil crops. The net effect of global demand for agricultural land is clearance of rainforest, whether the fields are planted with canola or with palms. If people begin to demand other-than palm oil, then all it means is that more of some other vegetable oil crop will be planted. Jannick says that consumers would do better to buy palm oil certified by RSPO which goes in the right direction even if there are needed improvements but certification requires the avoidance of peatlands and high conservation areas and more awareness of growers about eco-efficiency.

CLCA: Milk Production in the Netherlands

An example of a consequential life cycle study of dairy in the Netherlands explores a change in demand of milk such that not only more cows but another dairy farm is needed to meet demand. This might lead to a different fuel source such as natural gas for the power plant for the new farm than is currently installed or a change in feed e.g. more soybean meal to meet the need for increased protein for the cows producing more milk each. More cows means more calves and cows for meat probably substituting for other beef and pork. Considering these and other changes to the flows in the product system caused by a sizable upward demand, this study indicated that compared to the ALCA, the CLCA caused lower acidification, eutrophication and climate change per functional unit.

LCA: Measures by Unit Not Overall Impact

It should be noted that both types of LCAs indicate impact data based on functional unit. Some environmental impacts may be lower per unit due to changes in the system but overall even the reduced impacts could still be significant. This is most commonly known in the fossil fuel product system where even if production of fossil fuels uses less energy per unit (e.g. per barrel of crude oil produced), the overall greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuels if too many of the reserves are extracted will raise the average global temperature beyond the targeted 2 deg C. The LCAs don't indicate environmental threshold limits, safety margins reached or related risks overall although they could be used to support tools which do indicate these.

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Life cycle assessment can help to:
GallonLetter notes that while the government guides for ecolabels in both Canada and the US do not require full LCAs, they do require the marketer to consider the life cycle of a product or packaging when making claims e.g. if a food package is light weighted and the marketer claims that this is an environmental benefit there may be significant increases in environmental impacts due to increased energy use or due to different type of plastic before or after in the life cycle of the package. If so, the marketer should do an more comprehensive assessment of the life cycle to ensure that beneficial claim isn’t negated somewhere along the life cycle.

Specifically for agriculture and food, LCA can help to address:


Goal includes what is being measured including the functional unit, why, the intended audience and whether the results are to be used for public comparison. While the LCA approach used to focus on just a few products, there are now many LCA studies some of which have broad goals such as informing decisions about power plants and renewable energy options or global policy about water use or climate change.

The scope, including the system boundary and level of detail, of an LCA depends on the subject and the intended use of the study. The depth and the breadth of LCA can differ considerably depending on the goal of a particular LCA.

It is not allowed to change life cycle stages, input, outputs or processes in order to change the overall conclusions of the study, however, it is expected that, as more data is gathered, the structure of the LCA may change and even the goal could be adjusted. These changes due to the iterative nature of LCA should be documented.

To be a true LCA under the standard, the LCA must include all the parts from resource extraction to end of life disposal commonly called cradle to grave.

The LCA technique also applies to more limited studies such cradle to gate, gate to gate and specific parts of the life cycle such as waste management or components of products. Most of the standard applies except for all the requirements for the system boundary. GallonLetter notes that sometimes the system boundary goal is cradle to cradle which means there is little or no grave (disposal or end-of-life) but resources are continually reused; while most would laud that concept, an LCA can show whether the goal of reduced environmental impact is actually achieved.

There are many other terms used and the boundaries these terms cover need to be defined in the LCA study. For example, in one study processes for the cradle to factory gate are raw materials, milk production, and dairy processing. If only to the farm gate, only the first two processes would be included.

LCAs may exclude certain stages and processes related to the functional unit such as:
There is no single correct way of doing an LCA so transparency is considered to be essential. Cutoffs must be clearly stated.


The goal affects the functional unit. For example, a retailer benchmarking a product against a competitor might choose a unit commonly sold retail e.g. a kg of potatoes or a dozen eggs. Even when the unit is weight, the specifics may make it difficult to compare different studies later on. For example, one study might use a functional unit of so many grams of protein in a 100 g of pork while another uses 1 kg of boneless pork and still another 1 kg of carcass pork.

If wholesalers are involved, the product might be in tonnes of product.

In one study, the goal was to determine the contribution to climate change of food in the US. The functional unit for each food commodity was chosen to be the actual annual quantity consumed in the US as calculated by the US Department of Agriculture for the year 2009. Studies on environmental friendliness of tap versus bottled water might use a functional unit of 100 litres of drinking water (not refrigerated). There has been quite a bit of discussion about whether the functional unit chosen is the right one e.g. some foods are consumed by the each (eg tree fruits such as apples) while others are more likely to be consumed by portion size (meats, pineapples, etc.).

A 2006 UK study suggested that a functional unit for food over a whole year would more accurately show impacts such as those due to storage such as refrigeration and freezing as well as spoilage and waste. For example, people waste more fresh food than frozen and the longer food is kept frozen the more impact due to storage.

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This second phase of LCA is an inventory of input/output data of the system being studied. Inputs and outputs which don't change the conclusions significantly don't have to be considered.

Inputs and outputs may not be known particularly in inputs such as animal feed for which the feed producers choose not to reveal the ingredients due to proprietary information. In processed food, most if not all of the ingredients may be available but not the proportion. Many of the food processors are highly integrated so they control almost the entire chain so little information is publically available. Although at first, many thought that life cycle assessment would be used for marketing purposes, multinationals such as Unilever are applying LCA the details of which are not made available but are used for their own purposes.

Food is part of a complex and extensively broad system with large variations in practices and processes. For example, the culture of strawberries may vary with variety selection, weed control and mulching such as plastic or straw, frost control, winter protection, protected culture in tunnels or greenhouses, fertility type of and distance to market (pick-your-own, wholesale, farmers markets), labour, refrigeration and so on. This complexity means that some food LCAs are not necessarily reflective of an actual product but more a model of a "typical" product.

Assumptions are often stated to reduce the complexity and to assume conditions are average e.g. meat is boneless, a certain percentage of fish is wild and the rest is produced through aquaculture, distance travelled may be assumed to be all the same e.g. 2400 km within North America with 2240 km on semi-trailer trucks and 160 km in single unit trucks. Tropical fruit includes 5000 km ocean. Transport modes of specified items are assumed to require refrigeration or freezing. Food packaging is assumed to be typical materials. This means that some LCAs are more generic than others which use collected data relevant to the product being studied.

For another example, an LCA estimating whole-farm greenhouse gas emissions from beef production on a "typical" farm in Western Canada conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada created a simulated farm of 120 cows, 4 bulls and their progeny along with cropland and native prairie pasture for grazing and feed. Because commonly beef production is in two phases, the cow-calf operation and finishing on feedlot, the model included both phases on the same farm over an eight year period. Fertilizers, cleaning chemicals, feed, fuel and energy for transport, heating, cooling, refrigeration and others are inputs.

Outputs such as emissions to air, soil and water were estimated using Holos, a whole-farm model. While the model has limitations, it can identify areas which are significant for their environmental impact.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Because industrial processes commonly produce more than one product, the LCA study must consider how to allocate inputs and outputs to the different products. Usually a coproduct is something which reduces the impacts of the product e.g. dairy cows also provide meat and calves so that impacts are distributed between milk, meat and new cows. Similarly production of wheat includes straw used for animal bedding, and lamb provides wool. The coproducts may not actually be equal in demand making allocation problematic. For example, for some time in Canada, while there was a demand for lamb, the demand for wool almost collapsed.

Also if the process recycles already used material, an accounting of this takes place in the LCA, again usually reducing the environmental impact of the product. The concept of coproducts is an example of LCA usually not measuring risk. For example, when it was decided to use animal residues such as brain for feed for cattle that would have been calculated to reduce the environmental impact of raising the cattle. However, over time it was found that such material caused BSE leading to disturbing risks to animal and human health.


LCA studies commonly need to add many factors to compile the numbers used to describe the impacts. For example, there are factors for impacts related to climate change: e.g. Converting the methane cows generate in their gut to CO2 equivalent (CO2eq) and for sources of electricity which might be generated from oil, natural gas, hydro, renewables such as wind in different proportions in different countries or regions and impacts related to health e.g. damage to human health expressed in disability-adjusted life years.

The functional unit may also be converted by factors based on assumptions on how a product is packaged e.g. a functional unit of 1000 l of soft drink might be produced and distributed in some proportion between a number of different sizes of cans and bottles and/or reuse systems. There may be factors to account for how much of the functional unit of a particular fruit or vegetable is sold fresh, frozen, dried, or juiced.
Things become really complicated when processed foods consisting of multiple ingredients are involved.


Transparency requires that a third party practitioner can reproduce the results so some requirements include:
Data in complicated systems is often problematic. For example, data may be inadequate or of poor quality, it may not be known what all the significant inputs and outputs are e.g. a retailer may have so many suppliers that it is difficult to find an average for energy or material inputs. Data may be old or of unknown age or from a different geographic area. If data is used from another LCA it needs to be representative of the LCA being studied e.g. considerations might include if the data is from a modern farm operation or an older, more traditional one, large scale or small scale, specific to local conditions or to regional or other geography. A carbon footprint for food produced in Africa would not likely be representative of food production system in the US. LCAs tend to use averages and other ways of dealing with data gaps which may or may not be a reflection of practices on the ground.


This third phase of the LCA called LCIA, is intended to link the inventory data with environmental impacts. This turns out to be a challenge in some cases due to missing data, lack of factors which allow adding up different effects e.g. for hazardous chemicals, one chemical may be carcinogenic, another acutely poisonous.

Choice of the impact categories and evaluation is dependent on the goal and introduces a level of subjectivity to the LCA which requires that assumptions be clearly stated.

Examples of impact categories identified in some food studies include:
The ISO standard says it is not possible to add up the values of the different impacts selected to get a single number.

Some of the more difficult issues which are being included in some LCAs is impact on such issues as land use and biodiversity and long term impacts such as methane emissions from landfills over more than a hundred years.

Sometimes the scope is specific to only one impact such as climate change. In that case, the impact may conclude with total carbon dioxide equivalent for all the flows in the system for the functional unit. For example, in the beef production in Western Canada LCA mentioned in another article in this GallonLetter, the study estimated that GHG intensity of beef production in this system was 22 kg CO2 eq per kg. of beef carcass. Literature shows the range from 17 to 37 kg CO2eq per kg. of beef carcass.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Life cycle interpretation is the final phase of the LCA procedure where impacts are summarized and discussed as a basis for conclusions, recommendations and decision-making. This is linked to the goal and scope description.

In cases where the goal of the LCA is to identify "hotspots", with the most environmental impacts, the interpretation usually includes what processes are the most amenable to reducing environmental impacts. For example, for one milk LCA with a goal of identifying greenhouse gas emission reductions, the interpretation identified the farm rather than milk processing stage as the best source of reductions. Ruminant animals such as cattle produce the most methane of all farm animals due to their normal digestion in which microorganisms break down the grass and other feed in their stomachs. Selection of diet, energy recovery from anaerobic digestion of manure and precision farming to optimize the use of fertilizers are identified as the best potential areas for impact reduction.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


A database called ecoinvent, operated by the Swiss Centre for Life Cycle Inventories and said to be the largest in the world, is widely used for life cycle inventory and life cycle impact assessment. Workshops, reports and other presentations also provide guidance on implementation and methods for applying the data and significant problems e.g. landfills emit pollutants for the long term and it is thought that these ought to be included in the inventory. When food waste is discarded to landfill, the landfill may emit pollutants from 100 to 60,000 years after present so the Centre considers whether and if so, how to include factors for current emissions and long term ones. The ISO standard doesn't specify how to to deal with emissions from the past, present or future but ignoring future emissions might mean that only a small fraction of the total impact is identified.

There are 33 new horticultural products many of them different fruits and vegetables in the updated ecoinvent v3. The release of the update was scheduled for June 2012, delayed to September and was postponed on October 9 due to technical difficulties; expected release is "as soon as possible".

Food production and consumption is 10-30% of a person's environmental footprint so there is increasing attention to life cycle assessment of food. One presentation at a June 2012 forum illustrated the use of the updated database to evaluate the global warming potential of a range of fruits and vegetables grown in different countries on the ground and in greenhouses. Done for a Swiss retailer, the functional unit was 1 kg. of fruit or vegetable at the point of sale. The presentation concluded that the fruit and vegetable data in the database can be adapted to different countries by adjusting for different agricultural practices in those countries e.g. irrigation strategy..

3rd International ecoinvent Meeting
The ecoinvent Centre scheduled a meeting October 5, 2012 following the LCA Food 2012 conference held in St. Malo, France. The session was to inform participants about the release of ecoinvent database version 3.0, exchange information and discuss how to contribute to the database.

One of the presenters was Pascal Lesage speaking on the topic The Quebec LCI database - Feedback from a National Database initiative. Other agriculture and food and seafood databases were also to be presented. 
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The Quebec Government announced funding in 2010 of $1.5. million over three years for life cycle assessment for carbon footprinting of Quebec products. Quebec's electricity is mostly from hydroelectricity which is seen as giving an advantage to Quebec products due to lower environmental impact. CIRAIG (Interuniversity Research Center on Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services) at École Polytechnique de Montréal is the organization which is working on the project. It is basing its work on the ecoinvent database (see separate article) Collaboration is seen as the best way to achieve the most benefit e.g. using CIRAIG studies, data available through industry associations and potential future collaborators.
Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.
The idea of coproducts is an important one for food security and reducing the overall environmental impact of food by reducing food waste. A UK conference held in 2009 found that in some cases 65% of food grade material is discarded during processing and 222 million tonnes of food chain waste is created annually across all food processing sectors annually across the EU. Total Food began in 2004 by the Royal Society of Chemistry Food Group and the Institute of Food Research, Norwich to research exploiting the whole food crop rather than just a portion as is done today. The presenters at the conference discussed a wide range of possibilities such as:
LCA Needed for a System View of Coproducts
Ulf Sonesson of SIK, The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology which has an environmental group which has focussed for the last 15 years on life cycle assessment of food products and food production systems spoke on the use of LCA for coproduct exploitation at Total Food 2009 in the UK.
In his presentation, he suggested that if by-products are exploited, certain events might happen:
But the question is what will be the result on environmental performance.
Sonesson suggests that to answer that question requires a system approach and life cycle assessment at least from field to fork as the best approach taking a broad view:
He gave data for various ways of using red cabbage trimmings RCT: for cattle feed, compost and for value added products such as pectin and cabbage juice. CO2 eq per ton of Red Cabbage trimmings was lowest when the cabbage was liquified but eutrophication per ton of RCT was highest. He concluded "For co-Product exploitation – Environmental evaluation of impacts
must be done on systems level And LCA is a suitable tool
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In the editorial for a special issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology, Reif Lifset wrote of the efforts being made to combine and review the results of multiple life cycle studies. He wrote, "It is important to remember that harmonization and more elaborate forms of meta-analysis only address part of the challenge in making LCAs useful to decision makers. There remains, for example, the key challenge of solving the it depends problem, that is, the fact that the answer to the question what is the environmentally preferable choice is almost always it depends —on the framing of the question, the boundaries of the system investigated, and the options available.
Even with that caveat, I hope the work presented here will inspire further efforts to make use of and make usable the burgeoning LCA literature and to go further in adapting the techniques for meta-analysis developed elsewhere in the scientific literature."
Lifset, Reid. Toward Meta-Analysis in Life Cycle Assessment. Journal of Industrial Ecology. March 2012. [free access]
Like Canada's Competition Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission in the US is responsible for enforcing misleading advertising rules. For two decades FTC has published "Green Guides" to help advertisers and brandowners making environmental claims stay on the right side of the law. There is no certification under the Green Guides - they are simply a guidance document providing advice on environmental claims. Cross the line, however, and the unwary advertiser or brandowner might well find themselves facing a serious charge of misleading advertising, though prosecutions have certainly been few and far between.
The Green Guides has just been updated. Rather than focussing on the changes, this article aims to assist all industries making environmental claims and consumers interested in environmental products by summarizing the complete set of rules. Canada's rules now slightly lag those of the United States but are similar and may well be brought into line with the US model within the next few months. For a complete understanding of the rules, as well as other more general advertising and product claim rules which apply to environmental and other products, readers are referred to the FTC website
The full Green Guides document is available at
Dr. Dambisa Moyo is a PhD economist (Oxford University) who puts today's global economy is a social context. Her new book, Winner Take All: China's Race for Resources and What it Means for the Rest of the World, is a particularly useful and clearly written analysis in an environment where Canada's resources are clearly of great interest to Chinese, and Chinese government, investment.
Moyo notes that only one of the world's major economic powers, China, has focussed its economic and political strategy on anticipating the considerable challenges presented by a resource-scarce future. She notes, by no means the first to do so, that scarcity of food, water, minerals and oil could lead to outright war. Her in-depth analysis of China's economy and political system presents the country in a more positive light than many commentators but at the same time provides warning to Canada and other countries of our continued reliance on a get-rich quick resource exploiting economy.
The analysis is backed up with data but is primarily socio-economic. Moyo explains how China arrived at its plan to corner as many of the world's commodities as it can and she explains how the plan is being implemented in partnership with technologies and cultural, academic and infrastructure expertise from the rest of the world. This means that the book is not exclusively about China but is in fact an absorbing and interesting analysis of the global resource supply and demand situation.
One paragraph, on page 153, particularly drew GallonLetter's attention:
"Textbooks, at least at the introductory level, enshrine the free-market interplay of supply and demand, but today the truth is that immediate natural resource dynamics have more to do with politics and politicians than the economy or ideals. And China's strategy of befriending governments across the world shows just how this is done."
This is not an anti-China book. Moyo points out that the big problem is that the commodities outlook is fundamentally bleak. China is ahead of most of the developed world in looking to protect its population and its economy from the looming crises and its agenda may well have very great impacts on the agendas of the rest of the world. The world's resource challenges do not attract nearly as much attention from developed country governments as they should. Many of the solutions that Moyo proposes:
are solutions that many in the environmental community have been advancing for decades. Moyo presents them in a socio-economic context that may have more impact that a purely environmental context.
Moyo proposes more, not less, international economic cooperation, hopefully to be implemented before regional resource shortages get too much worse. There are no easy answers but reading this book may at least encourage sustainable development advocates to continue advancing an economically positive agenda, to ensure that investment from China is considered in a thoughtful and informed way, and to recognize that, with finite global resources, some will have to give up some of their profligate waste if those living in poverty and hunger are to achieve at least a modestly sustainable quality of life.
Moyo, D. Winner Takes All: China's Race for Resources and What it Means for the Rest of the World.Toronto, Ontario: Harper Collins, 2012. ISBN: 9781443407403 $24.99
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario expressed considerable criticism of the McGuinty Liberal Government for what one can only interpret as a deliberate flauting of the law as expressed by the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights. Ministries covered (prescribed) by the legislation get divided, renamed or both so that by the name change alone they no longer post full proposal notices on the Environmental Registry. The Government never gets around to listing the newly formed ministries so that they aren't required to post notices even though they are responsible for laws, regulations and other instruments with significant environmental effects. Despite requests by the ECO, the Ministry of Finance is not prescribed so the government makes changes to environmental laws in budget bills, requiring no notices on the EBR.
Or the government's agency just fails to post required notices and ignores the Commission. Examples include the Ministry of the Environment for failing to properly post Climate Ready: Ontario's Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan 2011-2014 and the Ministry of Energy, Two-Year Feed-in Tariff Review. On many occasions, the ministries fail to take any account of public input.
Even though, the Ministry of Natural Resources too is covered by the EBR, it gets a scathing review as a chronic offender with the ECO saying, "The Legislature should be offended by the ministry's conduct." The Minister of Natural Resources is Hon. Michael Gravelle who is from Thunder Bay.
The Commissioner is so concerned about all the lack of responses and action that he says the government has taken the civil out of the civil service. Many of the entries in the annual report contain language such as "No Chance to Comment:", "No Public Rights", "Failure to Meet Legal Timelines", "Denied all EBR Applications by the Public for the Last 18 Years.
Since this GallonLetter has a focus on food, we chose a couple of issues related to agri-food touched on in the ECO's annual report:
Sewage Sludge
Although The Nutrient Management Act, 2002, was prescribed after four years of effort by the ECO, the instruments weren't so there are few notices or opportunity to review on the Environmental Registry. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said everything was crystal clear in its regulations and that the farmers don't want to share proprietary information and that "public access to this information could cause business problems for these farmers." ECO disagrees and thinks that the public and municipalities have the right to know about such activities as applying sewage sludge on agricultural land.
GallonLetter thinks that the government may yet be found culpable for siding against the public interest with multinational water treatment companies who routinely claim they are complying with the legislation even when they are not.
As have many grassland birds, the population of the bobolink has been declining and in 2010, the Bobolink was classified as threatened under Ontario's Endangered Species Act. Under that act, harming or harassing threatened or endangered species or damaging or destroying their habitat is illegal. Bobolinks have been nesting in hayfields because there are fewer natural tallgrass prairies than in the past but farmers are cutting hay up to two weeks earlier in part due to climate change. Farmers complained that they couldn't delay the cutting because the hay declined in quality and were given three years exemption in 2011.
ECO accepted the farm only exemption as reasonable partly because farm hayfields are providing ecological services but was very critical of MNR when the exemption was extended in May 2012 without consulting under the EBR, to allow a fundamental shift by allowing both bobolink and eastern meadowlark, another threatened grassland bird, to be destroyed or harmed by residential development approved before November 1, 2014 (with some provision for replacement of habitat elsewhere).
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Losing Touch. Annual Report 2011/2012. Part 1 and Part 2 and Supplement. Toronto, Ontario: October 2012. [scroll to find all three reports]
Senator Mercer: ...Honourable senators, the answer that the leader gives does not make me feel any safer because we know the axe is about to fall and, when the axe falls, there will be fewer inspectors. No matter what they promised, at the end of the day there will be fewer people inspecting our food.
One of the things about this and many other issues is that many of the problems with food inspection are preventable. Responding to a crisis rather than preventing one seems to be how this government operates.
What happens when Canadians fall ill because of the government's neglect? So often the government forgets the human impact of the cuts it is making. Does the Leader of the Government agree that it is only safer and cheaper in the long run to prevent tragedies rather than to deal with the fallout from one?
Senator Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government):
Honourable senators, I do not answer hypothetical questions. There is no reason to believe the honourable senator's characterization of what may be coming down the road. ...
GallonLetter doesn't know if the current largest recall of food ever in Canada, beef from the XL plant in Alberta, fits Senator LeBreton's "characterization" or not. On one level, maybe not: a Government of Canada's website says that there are 11 million cases of food poisoning in Canada annually - that almost casually presented figure should raise some alarm bells. But as of October 6, 2012, there were only 10 cases associated with the XL Foods recall.
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