Dairy butter carbon footprint is 3.5 times larger than plant-based spreads, says Upfield25 Apr 2022
Plant-based margarine manufacturer Upfield says its spreads have a 70% smaller carbon footprint, require half the amount of water and use two-thirds less land across the product cycle when compared to conventional butter, according to a life cycle assessment it conducted.
Overall, dairy butter has an environmental footprint that is 3.5 times larger than plant-based margarine, it says.
The largest portion of Upfield’s climate impact comes from growing crops, which accounted for over 75% of the total carbon footprint generated by its manufacturing. Additionally, 12% of the carbon footprint was due to transport, 8% to packaging, 2% to production and only 1% to the use of the product itself.
The company worked with Quantis, an international sustainability consultancy to conduct an assessment of 212 of its products sold in 21 different European and North American markets.
Methane emissions leave disproportionately large footprints
As part of its assessment, Upfield looked specifically at its methane emissions, which comprised around 7.5% of the company's overall greenhouse gas footprint.
Of these methane emissions, 63% are attributable to a small number of dairy ingredients — 1% of the total ingredients by volume — that the company uses. In order to reduce these emissions, Upfield is aiming to eliminate dairy from its supply chain entirely.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, methane has 80 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a 20-year period. Currently, greenhouse gasses account for 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times, and emissions of this gas are proliferating more quickly now than at any prior period.
Introducing labels for greater consumer transparency
In conjunction with eliminating dairy ingredients from its global supply chain, Upfield committed to putting carbon labels on its products to allow consumers to easily quantify the environmental impact of their purchase choices.
Consumers are increasingly interested in how food companies are supporting the environment and combating climate change.
However, it’s not just a company’s efforts to offset its environmental footprint that interest people. Many consumers now look to avoid leaving a large footprint in the first place by seeking out plant-based products, which often have inherently smaller carbon footprints when compared to animal products.
As more consumers look for plant-based options like Upfield's margarines, sales of plant-based retail products are posting double-digit growth. According to SPINS data released by the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), plant-based food grew 27% to reach $7 billion in 2020.
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