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HowGood’s Product Carbon Footprint vs LCAs
HowGood’s Product Carbon Footprint vs LCAs

Key differences between HowGood's Product Carbon Footprint and a traditional Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

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

HowGood is the only platform that can measure compliance-ready product carbon footprints (PCFs) at scale for the food industry. Our methodology has been third-party verified by Carbon Trust, the world's leading authority on carbon footprinting, is ISO 14067 Carbon Footprint compliant, and aligned with the GHG Protocol Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard (referred to as the Product Standard) guidance for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) measurement and reduction. It measures the carbon footprint of an individual product over its entire life cycle, from farm through processing, transport, manufacturing, product use and disposal (also known as cradle-to-grave).

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle analysis technique to assess the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life. While a traditional LCA can provide a comprehensive assessment of a product's GHG emissions, it may also just focus on one phase of the lifecycle. It also typically takes into account additional sustainability metrics, such as land use, water use and ocean acidification.

If you’re a food company interested in understanding your product’s GHG emissions, you may be wondering whether HowGood’s Product Carbon Footprint is right for you, or whether you should invest in an LCA. While both methods provide an assessment of your product’s GHG emissions, there are some key differences that should be taken into consideration:

1. Time

An LCA is a highly data-intensive and time-consuming project to undertake. LCA studies are commonly conducted according to the ISO 14040 standard (principles and framework for life cycle assessment), and so must follow four key stages in the assessment process. Depending on the goal and scope of the assessment, an LCA could take several months to complete. The results may then be outdated by the time the assessment is complete.

If you’re a food company looking to drastically improve your social and environmental impact to mitigate global warming and climate change, the best thing you can do is to take action now. However, LCAs tend to extend this timeline quite a bit. Waiting for an LCA to be completed inevitably delays any action.

HowGood’s Product Carbon Footprint gives food companies a dynamic and real-time understanding of GHG emissions across their product’s life cycle. More importantly, it enables brands to assess multiple products simultaneously. By uncovering sustainable formulation and sourcing opportunities across your entire product portfolio, you can get to work on creating greater and more immediate impact.

2. Cost

The primary and secondary research required to produce an LCA makes it a costly project to undertake. You’ll need to hire an environmental sustainability consultant with expertise in the crops and processes involved in your product’s ingredients and can expect to spend upwards of $50,000 per product. Your finished report will be relevant at the time it is completed. However, if you make changes to your sourcing portfolio, your LCA won’t provide you with an updated assessment of your GHG emissions. You’ll have to either commission a new LCA or pay to have your existing LCA updated whenever the needs of your business change.

HowGood has already conducted the research needed to uncover granular product and ingredient-level carbon emissions data. Our Product Carbon Footprint methodology is built on 17+ years of agricultural research, conducted on 2.2 million products to create a database of 90K+ emission factors in the food and beverage industry. In turn, product carbon footprinting in Latis not only gives you access to a breakdown of your product’s GHG emissions across individual stages within its lifecycle, it also offers insight into how changes to your product or sourcing will affect emissions.

3. Data Quality and Assumptions

One commonality between HowGood’s Product Carbon Footprint and an LCA, is that they are both built on assumptions. Even though an LCA follows an ISO-certified methodology, it is still based on assumptions, and its accuracy depends on the quality and availability of data. Many LCAs use datasets from proxy ingredients if there are no reliable datasets available, which outweighs the value of a costly investment in an LCA.

HowGood’s Product Carbon Footprint methodology is built using the average data method, one of four methods of Scope 3 emissions reporting defined by the GHG Protocol’s Technical Guidance for Calculating Scope 3 Emissions. HowGood’s database draws on more than 600 high quality data sources, including LCAs and peer-reviewed journal articles. With data on more than 90K emission factors, HowGood has the world’s largest product sustainability database, allowing for highly granular impact assessments.

What does this mean for food companies? Even if a company cannot source supplier-specific data (by employing the supplier-specific reporting method), this is a viable method of emissions measurement and reporting. It enables brands to attain a reliable understanding of product-level carbon footprints, with the data that they have available.

4. Actionability

HowGood’s Product Carbon Footprinting offers dynamic GHG emissions data in a format that is accessible to anyone in your organization. While an LCA isn’t adaptable to your dynamic supply system, HowGood's sustainability intelligence platform, Latis offers instant insights and can be updated whenever you have new information from suppliers to incorporate into the platform.

Examples of how food companies can use Product Carbon Footprinting to take action on climate change include:

  • Identifying emission-intensive stages within the product lifecycle

  • Recognizing product types/lines with the greatest carbon footprint

  • Modeling various scenarios to improve carbon footprint and dynamically seeing the impact

At HowGood, we believe that addressing climate change through carbon reduction is one of the most pressing issues of this era, and we’re excited to bring automated Product Carbon Footprinting to fast-moving, forward-thinking CPGs who want to take action and make a difference. Furthermore, the question of whether to invest in Latis or an LCA doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Latis gives companies a quick and reliable way to assess GHG emissions across their product portfolio. This can help you to identify high risk products or life cycle stages, which could be used to prioritize and determine where a dedicated LCA report may be useful for your organization.

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