Overview

The Alberta government is committed to ensuring that Alberta’s agricultural producers remain:

  • competitive
  • adaptive
  • responsive to the marketplace

Retailers and processors increasingly need information and documentation from producers and suppliers on their environmental sustainability. There is growing interest in developing and reporting sustainability measures. This can increase efficiencies and enables producers to better respond to the market.

To address these emerging needs, a tool called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was used. It helps to better understand and quantify the environmental impact of Alberta’s agri-food industry.

LCA work has been completed for 5 major Alberta agri-food commodities, providing a baseline assessment and cradle-to-farm-gate environmental footprint:

  • canola
  • chicken
  • egg
  • pea
  • potato

How the tool works

LCA is a globally recognized, systematic, quantitative assessment tool used in many industries to gauge environmental performance. The tool:

  • measures all inputs (for example, energy, raw materials) and emissions (for example, greenhouse gases) used in the production, use and disposal of a product
  • identifies environmental hot spots (areas of the life cycle with significant environmental impact)
  • detects trade-offs between potential actions and management practices
  • acts as a decision-making support tool for improving environmental performance and efficiency; it can be used to benchmark current practices and measure progress moving forward

Helping industry

Environmental footprinting, backed by ISO-standardized LCA, allows agri-food producers to collect information about management practices. This helps industry respond to increasing market demands for sustainability information.

LCA also assists producers in making more effective operational and environmental management decisions. This can lead to increased economic benefits and market access.

This work strengthens the industry’s knowledge of its own operations from an environmental perspective. This prepares Alberta producers and other stakeholders to engage in discussions related to:

  • forecasting and strategic capacity
  • environmental responsibility
  • product differentiation
  • branding

Data requirements

LCA requires the most accurate and up-to-date information available regarding farm practices and conditions.

LCA reports generated by LCA provide footprints at a provincial or regional scale. They do not have details about individual farm operations.

Global standard

LCA is the most widely accepted environmental assessment methodology used by business, governments and others. It is a scientifically validated system of analysis, framed by ISO standards (ISO 14040).

LCA is endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and by large retail initiatives such as The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). TSC members include Walmart, McDonald’s and PepsiCo. The clothing and apparels, electronics and pharmaceutical industries also use LCA.

In the United States and Canada, a major LCA initiative has led to the creation of the Fieldprint calculator. This is a footprinting tool developed by the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. It allows primary producers to determine how their operations affect the sustainability of their farms.

In Europe, LCA has guided the adoption of strict carbon-labelling standards at supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco. The Cool Farm Tool, developed in Europe, is also being adapted for use in Canada.

For more information, see the UNEP’s Life Cycle Initiative.

Literature review

Environmental Footprinting for Agriculture in Alberta: Literature Review and Analysis looks at the situation in Alberta, across Canada and internationally. The document provides useful information for understanding approaches that are being taken in developing environmental accounting frameworks and measurement indices.

The literature review examines the trends, drivers and studies relevant to the subject of environmental footprinting.

It draws from:

  • research
  • LCA studies
  • reports and briefs
  • industry reporting standards
  • expert interviews

LCA and sustainability in agriculture

With increasing attention to sustainability issues in the food sector has come a rising interest in metrics for measuring and reporting the environmental profiles of food production systems and food products. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry commissioned 2 reports to inform Alberta's agriculture industry on this topic:

  • Life Cycle Assessment in Agriculture: Potential Application, Social Licence and Market Access
    March 2014. N. Pelletier for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
    This report identifies options for using LCA for agriculture products and systems which could be adopted (or adapted for use) by industry and government. LCA is a formalized methodology that quantitatively helps to understand the distribution of resource demands and environmental impacts of agri-food products and supply chains.
  • Sustainability Indicators, Tools and Reporting Systems for Agri-Food Products
    March 2015. N. Pelletier for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
    This report analyzes 22 internationally recognized sustainability systems or tools in the context of application to Alberta’s agriculture and agri-food sector from 3 aspects: applicability, accessibility and reliability.

Contact

Please note: our phone lines are experiencing technical issues due to high traffic. If you are having problems getting through, contact us by email: aginfocentre@gov.ab.ca

Connect with the Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)
Phone: 403-742-7901 (outside Alberta)
Email: aginfocentre@gov.ab.ca