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On-Farm Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs)
On-Farm Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs)

What is the carbon footprint of growing this ingredient?

Jemima Snow avatar
Written by Jemima Snow
Updated over a week ago

What are Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Greenhouse Gas Emissions are a measure of the on-farm emissions (farm-to-farm gate) associated with the production of a given ingredient.

Greenhouse gases are naturally occurring gases - namely carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide - that trap heat in the atmosphere. Although these gases have existed on Earth for billions of years, only in the last few centuries have their concentration in the atmosphere begun to cause the planet’s temperature to rapidly rise and remain high. This dangerous temperature increase is a result of human activities like the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and carbon-intensive agricultural practices.

How do GHGs relate to agriculture, product development, and the food system?

Agriculture and food production are responsible for a significant percentage of global emissions, so choosing better ingredients can have a direct impact on slowing climate change. HowGood's GHG Emissions metric assesses the carbon equivalent released into the atmosphere as a result of growing a given ingredient.

What are the biggest contributors?

The global contributors with the highest GHG impact are:

  1. Animal-based agriculture, the highest being ruminant meat production

  2. Dairy

  3. Non-ruminant meat production

  4. Annual crops

  5. Perennial crops

Industrial ruminant-based meat production usually has a very high GHG impact due to the combination of methane naturally released by grazing animals in addition to the likelihood that habitats were cleared to make room for pasture.

Nearly equal to enteric fermentation emissions, (the digestive process that produces methane), are emissions related to feed production. Livestock feed contributes 41% of animal agriculture’s total emissions as a result of nitrogen dense fertilizers, transportation, processing, and the destruction of ecosystems to make way for agricultural production.

By contrast, a crop — especially perennials grown alongside livestock — produced employing low/no-till methods, cover crops, crop rotation, synthetic fertilizer minimization, and other location-appropriate methods will not only reduce GHGs, it can actually sequester carbon in the soil.

How do we measure the impact of GHGs?

The impact of GHGs is calculated as kilograms of CO2 equivalent per kilogram of the primary commodity ingredient before any factory or processing emissions (Farm-to-Farm Gate). On-farm processing, cooling or fermentation, and off-farm cleaning and sorting are included.

GHGs are measured farm to farm gate, which includes all on-farm processes including primary inputs like fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and farm machinery fuel needs.

Measurements are directly sourced from location and crop-specific Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) from all over the world.

GHG Emissions Threshold Distribution Values:

Ingredients Along the GHG Emissions Impact Spectrum:

Key Data Sources

HowGood draws on a diverse collection of data sources, including peer reviewed journal articles to calculate the CO2e values for ingredients. For crops and locations where no current data exists, HowGood uses supplementary studies and relevant LCAs from proxy locations where environmental conditions and farming methods are deemed as similar.

How does my ingredient portfolio compare to others in the industry when it comes to GHGs?

To see how your GHG Emissions stack up against the industry average, you can benchmark your portfolio score and metric averages here.

What is the relationship to the HowGood Impact Score?

GHG Emissions is one of the eight core metrics that make up the HowGood Impact Score. To learn more about the HowGood Impact Score and how GHGs influences it, click here.

How can I improve impact as a product developer?

GHGs are primarily reduced through ingredient changes and changes in agricultural practices.

  1. For an animal-based ingredient like beef, selecting standards such as Land to Market can reduce GHGs due to its minimal use of fossil fuels, tillage, and synthetic fertilizers. For vegetables, looking for high carbon compost or organic mulch application makes a big difference. While grains have relatively low GHGs to begin with, currently organic practices do help a little bit, and in the future, as regenerative practices become available, they should help more.

  2. If the ingredient is not an animal product, the best way to significantly improve the GHG Emission score is often to select a different ingredient or to identify a specialized supplier with improved practices and site-specific data. Rice paddies, for example, emit a large amount of methane whether or not they’re grown organically, as much as 5kg CO2e per kg of rice produced. When appropriate, one might consider an alternative - like fonio - that is less carbon-intensive and has the added benefit of increasing biodiversity.


Does the organic certification contribute to lower on-farm GHG emissions?

HowGood does not make adjustments to on-farm GHG emissions for ingredients with the Organic Certification because reductions associated with the organic certification have not yet been proven. Multiple studies have been published in recent years, showing findings that have varying results. The conflicting findings are due to the complexity of on-farm management practices.

On-farm practices, including those related to organic growing, differ by farm and crop, leading to varying impact on GHG emissions. For example, decreased herbicide applications (which yields lower emissions) can require greater mechanical weed control (which increases emissions). Ultimately, the cost-benefit of the practices required for growing organically is not always net positive. The benefits and reductions from one practice can be outweighed by the implications of other practices, which could mean that the conventionally grown-equivalent may have similar or even lower emissions.

Another consideration is that emissions factors are measured in emissions per unit of yield, and organic production often results in lower yields due to variability.

How can I communicate the GHG Emissions of my products?

The GHG Emissions metric is used to assess a product’s carbon footprint and determine its eligibility for the Climate Friendly attribute. Products that receive the Climate Friendly attribute have GHG emissions that are lower than 70% of all products assessed.

Click here to read more about the Climate Friendly attribute.

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