Navigating the Stormy Seas of Sustainability...

This piece authored y Dr Brett Glencross was published in the April 2024 edition of International Aquafeed

There has been much development in sustainability reporting and targeting setting of late. Notably, each of the big salmon feed companies have issued some target toward reducing their carbon footprint by 2030. However, to deliver on such target setting there needs to be some form of metric, a means by which we measure something. After all, as it is often said, “you cannot manage something, if you cannot measure it”. The chosen tool-of-trade being used by most organisations these days for such sustainability reporting is the use of lifecycle assessment (LCA). LCA works a bit like an environmental accounting system; with various processes used to define how far upstream and downstream of a product or process is considered, and then other processes used to work out all the inputs and outputs associated with the process or product. The inputs and outputs are then converted into standardised units and the further environmental impacts of all those outputs are then converted to standardised (equivalent) output units. Ultimately you end up with tallies of all those various standardised equivalent outputs for various categories, and so you end up with a nice clear quantitative outcome. The sort of thing that can be quite useful in comparing different options.

A problem arises though, in that HOW you undertake an LCA analysis can have a BIG impact on that outcome. And in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of LCA studies reported on… well everything really. This plethora of LCA studies out there, and the associated green claims being made against them has led to the European Commission tabling new regulations called the “Greenwashing Directive” (EC 2023/0085). In essence, the EC has begun to call out those organisations gaming the LCA system to unfairly represent their products and/or services.  Indeed, it was noted some time ago that to for such studies to be useful there needed to be some standards set, so the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) set up the ISO 14040 series of standards, which provide some overarching framework on how LCA studies should be undertaken. Recognising that these did not really cover the level of detail required for certain sectors, the Europeans established the Product Environment Footprint Categorisation Rules (PEFCR) approach, and these standards exist for a variety of sectors, including the animal feed sector. Following on from the PEFCR initiative, a collaborative effort between the North Americans and the Europeans resulted in the formation of the Global Feed Lifecyle Assessment Institute (GFLI), which was established as a centralised database on the global feed ingredient sector. Notably the GFLI set further rules and guidelines for a raft of different LCA processes and criteria, but to date it still represents the best and largest pool of LCA data on around 1500 ingredients from around the world. However, the GFLI dataset remains far from perfect. Much of the data is derived from what we call secondary sources (scientific papers and company reports), usually where someone external to the sector has undertaken an assessment using what data they can find. The problem with this is that not only are most of those sources out-of-date, but often key bits of information are missing. To fix this, what we need is referred to as “primary” data. Data direct from the sector involved, and data that is up to date and representative of what is actually happening on the ground or out at sea. But navigating the system to collect, collate and interpret this data is far from straightforward. Although like all navigation exercises, if we know where we are now, and we can see where we have come from, then it’s a matter of staying our course as we chart our way through the stormy seas of sustainability. After all sustainability is a journey, not a destination.