The Carbon Footprint of the Food Supply Chain
Which Foods Have the Greatest Environmental Impact?
The quantity of greenhouse gases (GHGs) generated by our food can vary considerably across the global food supply chain.
In fact, the difference between specific food types can vary by orders of magnitude, meaning what we eat could be a significant factor impacting GHG emissions on the environment.
Today’s modified chart from Our World in Data relies on data from the largest meta-analysis of food systems in history. The study, published in Science was led by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek to highlight the carbon footprint across different food types across the world.
The Foods With the Highest Carbon Footprint
Worldwide, there are approximately 13.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) emitted through the food supply chain per year.
Across a database extending through 119 countries and 38,000 commercial farms, the study found that, unsurprisingly, beef and other animal products have an outsize effect on emissions.
For example, one kilogram (kg) of beef results in 60 kg of GHG emissions—nearly 2.5x the closest food type, lamb and mutton. In contrast, the same weight of apples produce less than one kilogram of GHG emissions.
|Food Type||GHG Emissions per 1 kg Produced|
|Beef (beef herd)||60 kgCO2e|
|Lamb & Mutton||24 kgCO2e|
|Beef (dairy herd)||21 kgCO2e|
|Prawns (farmed)||12 kgCO2e|
|Palm Oil||8 kgCO2e|
|Pig Meat||7 kgCO2e|
|Poultry Meat||6 kgCO2e|
|Olive Oil||6 kgCO2e|
|Fish (farmed)||5 kgCO2e|
|Fish (wild catch)||3 kgCO2e|
|Cane Sugar||3 kgCO2e|
|Wheat & Rye||1.4 kgCO2e|
|Maize (Corn)||1.0 kgCO2e|
|Root Vegetables||0.4 kgCO2e|
|Citrus Fruits||0.3 kgCO2e|
When it comes to plant-based foods, chocolate is among the highest GHG emitters. One kilogram of chocolate produces 19 kg of GHGs. On average, emissions from plant-based foods are 10 to 50 times lower than animal-based types.
Bottom line, it is clear that the spectrum of emissions differs significantly across each food type.
Food Supply Chain Stages
The food supply chain is complex and nuanced as it moves across each stage of the cycle.
Although the steps behind the supply chain for individual foods can vary considerably, each typically has seven stages:
- Land Use Change
- Animal Feed
Across all foods, the land use and farm stages of the supply chain account for 80% of GHG emissions. In beef production, for example, there are three key contributing factors to the carbon footprint at these stages: animal feed, land conversion, and methane production from cows. In the U.S., beef production accounts for 40% of total livestock-related land use domestically.
On the other end of the spectrum is transportation. This stage of the supply chain makes up 10% of total GHG emissions on average. When it comes to beef, the proportion of GHGs that transportation emits is even smaller, at just 0.5% of total emissions.
Contrary to popular belief, sourcing food locally may not help GHG emissions in a very significant way, especially in the case of foods with a large carbon footprint.
The Rise of Plant-Based Alternatives
Amid a growing market share of plant-based alternatives in markets around the world, the future of the food supply chain could undergo a significant transition.
For investors, this shift is already evident. Beyond Meat, a leading provider of meat substitutes, was one of the best performing stocks of 2019—gaining 202% after its IPO in May 2019.
As rising awareness about the environment becomes more prevalent, is it possible that growing meat consumption could be a thing of the past?
The Carbon Emissions of Gold Mining
Gold has a long history as a precious metal, but just how many carbon emissions does mining it contribute to?
The Carbon Emissions of Gold Mining
As companies progress towards net-zero goals, decarbonizing all sectors, including mining, has become a vital need.
Gold has a long history as a valuable metal due to its rarity, durability, and universal acceptance as a store of value. However, traditional gold mining is a process that is taxing on the environment and a major contributor to the increasing carbon emissions in our atmosphere.
The above infographic from our sponsor Nature’s Vault provides an overview of the global carbon footprint of gold mining.
The Price of Gold
To understand more about the carbon emissions that gold mining contributes to, we need to understand the different scopes that all emissions fall under.
In the mining industry, these are divided into three scopes.
- Scope 1: These include direct emissions from operations.
- Scope 2: These are indirect emissions from power generation.
- Scope 3: These cover all other indirect emissions.
With this in mind, let’s break down annual emissions in CO2e tonnes using data from the World Gold Council as of 2019. Note that total emissions are rounded to the nearest 1,000.
|1||Mining, milling, concentrating and smelting||45,490,000|
|3||Suppliers, goods, and services||25,118,000|
Total annual emissions reach around 126,359,000 CO2e tonnes. To put this in perspective, that means that one year’s worth of gold mining is equivalent to burning nearly 300 million barrels of oil.
Gold in Nature’s Vault
A significant portion of gold’s downstream use is either for private investment or placed in banks. In other words, a large amount of gold is mined, milled, smelted, and transported only to be locked away again in a vault.
Nature’s Vault is decarbonizing the gold mining sector for both gold and impact investors by eliminating the most emission-intensive part of the mining process—mining itself.
By creating digital assets like the NaturesGold Token and the Pistol Lake NFT that monetize the preservation of gold in the ground, emissions and the environmental damage associated with gold mining are avoided.
How Does it Work?
Through the same forms of validation used in traditional mining by Canada’s National Instrument NI 43-101 and Australia’s Joint Ore Reserve Committee (JORC), Nature’s Vault first determines that there is gold in an ore body.
Then, using blockchain and asset fractionalization, the mineral rights and quantified in-ground gold associated with these mineral rights are tokenized.
This way, gold for investment can still be used without the emission-intensive process that goes into mining it. Therefore, these digital assets are an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional gold investments.
Click here to learn more about gold in Nature’s Vault.
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