A Common Carbon Footprint Approach for Dairy: The IDF Guide to Standard Lifecycle Assessment Methodology for the Dairy Sector

Our aim is to augment this initial set of FAQs with additional questions posed by users of the Guide together with answers from experts involved in the Guide’s development.

Why has the IDF developed this methodology?

The IDF developed this methodology to help the global dairy sector, from farming to processing, to have a robust benchmark for calculating carbon footprints for pre-competitive discussions and to make continued progress in both researching and applying new technologies in effectively reducing the sector’s GHG emissions.

As it states in the introduction to the document …

“In representing over 50 different member nations producing 86% of the world’s milk, it has become evident to the IDF’s Standing Committee on Environment (SCENV) that the wide range of figures resulting from the differing methodologies and data is leading to inconsistencies. This poses a very real danger of confusion and contradiction, which in turn could create an impression that the industry is failing to actively engage with the issue of climate change. Creating consistency and a clear message is important for the reputation of the industry as a global whole.”

Who from the IDF developed the methodology?

An action team of some 25 individuals ranging from global experts on LCA analysis (not just in dairy production), to industry experts, the FAO, Carbon Trust and industry practitioners/environmental experts collaborated for over 12 months to review, develop and agree this final methodology.

What does the IDF hope to achieve by developing this methodology?

It hopes to achieve a situation whereby both science and industry can compare and devise strategies for reducing emissions. Importantly, the use of a ‘common language’ when calculating the footprints will be maintained to ensure that like is compared with like.

Who has the IDF consulted during the development process?

The developmental process has been in-depth from both a scientific and sector perspective. The aim of the Guide was not to develop a new approach if existing methodologies that had been robustly tested through a peer-review process and served the needs of the dairy sector were available. Consultation also took place with other similar methodological developments, such as the FAO, Carbon Trust and WBCSD/WRI. The consultation served two purposes: the first understanding alternative approaches, and the second, continued dialogue regarding IDF’s approach.

The SAI Platform Dairy Working Group had already undertaken a review of dairy carbon footprinting methodologies which was made available to the IDF as a valuable starting point for the development of the LCA methodology.

Contact was also made with allied sectors such as the feed and meat sectors. The IDF felt this was crucial as decisions on the methodology taken in the dairy ‘approach’ also had implications for these sectors. The ultimate aims of the consultation were to understand existing developments as well as trying to seek alignment in approach across agricultural sectors prior to publication.

How does the IDF plan to ensure that this methodology is up to date?

The IDF Standing Committee on Environment (SCENV) has numerous specialists (both scientific and industrial) in this field. This Committee has agreed to establish a monitoring/advisory group for LCA developments. It is recognised that this is a rapidly evolving scientific discipline and the responsibility of this advisory group is to monitor developments in LCA methodology and to make recommendations to the full SCENV Committee when changes to the methodology should be considered.

Who is the Guide aimed at?

It is aimed at any public or private organisation (or individual) considering calculating the carbon footprint of milk and dairy products using an LCA approach. Dairy-sector organisations considering undertaking any environmental analysis of their business should be fully aware of these guidelines to ensure that, whatever activity they pursue, where feasible the outputs are aligned with this methodology.

Are any support materials available?

The IDF has established a dedicated website to support those using this methodology. The site will present worked examples of the methodology, updates on development and even podcasts featuring individuals or organisations who have implemented the strategy.

The website will be a valuable resource for the dairy sector, keeping it up to date with new LCA developments, methodological improvements and associated technologies.

Is the methodology applicable anywhere in the world?

The IDF operates globally, hence the development of this methodology has taken into account the fact that the agreed approach needs to be applicable for countries and organisations that are just embarking on carbon footprinting activities as well as those with considerable experience in this area.

Are there plans to widen the methodology into areas other than greenhouse gases?

The IDF Standing Committee on Environment (SCENV) recognised that Lifecycle Analysis is more than just calculating carbon footprint. When agreeing this approach, the demand coming from the membership was for a common methodology for calculating the carbon footprint. At the time of agreeing to pursue this goal, the Committee also agreed that other emerging challenges, such as biodiversity and water, would be future modules.

Why has the IDF not simply adopted the same methodology used by the FAO in their study?

Although the IDF has welcomed and fully acknowledged the FAO study, the goal and scope of that study had a very different purpose to this initiative. For example, one objective in the FAO study was to compare the carbon footprint of animal species on a global basis. The IDF methodology concentrates on helping producers of milk and dairy products to understand what the carbon footprints of their processes are and to identify key ‘hot spots’ within their milk production system.

What are the boundaries for this methodology – i.e. what does it cover?

The boundaries are the milk production process (including its inputs such as feed production) and the manufacturing plant gate where the manufactured products will be distributed.

Why is the allocation approach for the milk: meat different to that in the PAS 2050?

After a careful and time-consuming review of the PAS 2050 Guidelines, which recommend an economic allocation method over a physical approach, the action team of scientists and industry practitioners agreed that the most appropriate approach to use is a physical allocation method. This aligns with step 2 in ISO 14044 (2006) and reflects the underlying use of feed energy by the dairy animals and the physiological feed requirements of the animal to produce milk and meat. Animal feed consumption is also the main determinant of enteric methane emissions, and of nitrous oxide and methane emissions from animal excreta, which together can make up about 80% of total on-farm GHG emissions.

How does this methodology address the issue of land-use change?

The development of this methodology was always intended to review what approaches already existed and to explore their applicability to the dairy situation. It was never the intention of the IDF to develop a new methodology when existing and respected approaches were suitable. With this in mind, the approach the action team agreed to adopt was that applied by the PAS 2050.

To summarise, it states that GHG emissions arising from direct land-use change should be assessed for any input to the life cycle of a product originating from agricultural activities, and the GHG emissions arising from the direct land-use change should be included in the assessment of the product’s GHG emissions.

The guide recommends that emissions from LUC (i.e. biogenic carbon) should be reported separately so the total contribution from this component of the analysis is clear. This is important as there can be many uncertainties, and with no agreed methodology at present, the result can have a substantial effect on the final footprint result.

Why doesn’t the methodology take into account sequestration?

While it has to be kept in mind that soil carbon storage is the main potential mitigation option for agriculture, the current choice for standard footprinting methodology, and also for this IDF Guide, is not to take changes in soil organic matter (carbon) into account because of a lack of scientific data at the world level. This applies to grassland as well as crop cultivation and to both positive and negative changes. However, it does not prevent anyone from calculating carbon storage in the carbon footprint when data exist, as long as it is reported separately in the results.

Continuous monitoring of the scientific developments in this area will be maintained and where appropriate will be included in future revisions.

Why doesn’t the methodology take into account infrastructure and equipment?

A threshold of 1% has been established to ensure that very minor sources of life-cycle GHG emissions do not require the same treatment as more significant ones. It is estimated that for practical reasons, if any material or energy flow contributes less than 1% of the total emissions, then these can be excluded – provided the threshold of accounting for 95% of emissions is met.

In general, infrastructure and equipment fall into this 1% category.

It should be remembered that the purpose of this methodology it to identify the major areas of impact in order to develop mitigation strategies that reduce GHG emissions. It is not appropriate at this point in time to drill down into these minor areas of impact.

Is this another methodology or does it draw on existing examples and adopt what is appropriate for the dairy sector?

Other Lifecycle Analysis methodologies do exist. The global action team spent considerable time researching these and have selected proven robust and peer-reviewed approaches to develop the IDF standard methodology, the basis of which is the ISO standard.

Is the purpose of the methodology to obtain numbers to support eco-labelling?

The purpose of the IDF standard methodology is to generate a situation whereby both science and industry can compare and devise strategies for reducing emissions. The use of a ‘common language’ for calculating the footprints is fundamental to this development. By speaking this common language, the industry will be able to move forward in emissions reduction at a faster pace through the sharing of best practice and subsequent quantification of actions, on a standardised basis.

Has it been tested – i.e. how do we know it works?

The IDF methodology is an aggregation of existing peer-reviewed methodologies so the Federation is confident that the approach is robust.