Product Climate Footprint explained
CO2e stands for carbon dioxide equivalents and is the sum of all the greenhouse gases emitted during the life cycle of something like a product, a flight, or a meal. We call this number our “Product Climate Footprint” and put it on our packaging and our product web pages. We do this to be transparent and help you make informed choices in the grocery store, and we have pretty strong opinions about how it should be mandatory for all companies to do so.
Why is it important to calculate CO2e?
Roughly one-third of global human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the food system, and animal-based diets are responsible for approximately 58% of all food GHG emissions. From our perspective, it seems obvious that we need to transform how we produce, distribute and consume food. We are constantly working to drive down the impact of our entire business and calculating the greenhouse gas emissions of each product helps us see where our climate-impact hotspots are so we can make changes where they are needed the most.
Consumer power on the packs
Once products are on the shelves, the power lands on you as a consumer to decide whether to buy them or not. We want to help you make this decision based not only on the usual stuff like tastiness, fat, sugar, or other nutritional values but also on climate footprint.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the whole food industry would calculate and publish their product climate footprint figures so it’s easy to compare. We think the answer’s yes, but not everyone’s on board yet. Until they are, we want to show it’s possible by declaring the product climate impact as kg CO2e per kg on the packaging and our website.
What is CO2e anyway?
So, a product’s climate footprint is intended to be the best estimate we can get of the climate impact of something, accounting for greenhouse gas emissions from the cultivation of the ingredients to when it reaches the store. The climate footprint of our products is expressed in kilograms of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per kilogram of packaged food product.
This unit of measurement considers the effect of different greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and so on. The calculation aggregates the emissions into a single unit, based on how much of each of those greenhouse gases is emitted and their global warming potential (GWP) over a 100-year period relative to carbon dioxide (CO2). Think of GWP as the exchange rate of other greenhouse gases in relation to our main currency, “carbon dioxide.” For example, 1kg of methane is “worth” about 30kg of carbon dioxide.
If you found this interesting and want to dive headfirst into all the science and learn more about how CO2e is calculated, you should probably come work for us or at least read what our friends at CarbonCloud have written about it here!
How we calculate our numbers
We use the LCA methodology to calculate our product climate footprints (more specifically CarbonCloud's technical reports are prepared in the format requested by ISO standard 14067 on Product Carbon Footprints). An LCA can measure the climate impact of a product or a service from one or more of its life-cycle stages. In our case, we measure the footprint of our products from cradle to gate, or as we like to call it, “grower to grocer.” The stages we include look something like this:
- Agriculture: Farming of oats, rapeseed, and other ingredients. This includes soil emissions, land use change emissions, use of farm equipment, energy for on-farm processing, and emissions from fertilizer and pesticide production and application.
- Transport: Transporting raw ingredients from farm to factory and between factories. Distributing the final product from factory to store, considering whether the product needs to be chilled or frozen in transit.
- Processing: Electricity and heat used during the manufacturing of dehulled and clean oats at our supplying mills and our finished products in the factories.
- Packaging: Manufacturing and transport of packaging materials.
- Uncategorized: There are other minor emissions during the life cycle of the product that don’t really fit into any of the above categories, but we still include them. For example, some ingredients where “agriculture” and “processing” are not easily distinguishable or due to a lack of information about the process.
What’s not included, and why?
The part after you leave the shop: We calculate from farm to store, which excludes the bit where you take the product from the store because we don’t know how far you travel to take it home, whether you travel by car, bike, foot, hot air balloon or space rocket. We also don’t know how the packaging is disposed of. This is where cities and governments can have an impact by making sure it’s easy to recycle and you can make a difference by sorting it correctly for recycling where available.
And some other parts: Emissions from the production of equipment/machines and buildings are not included in the calculations. Nor is our employees' travel to and from work or overall business activities like research, product development, sales, and marketing. This is because these greenhouse gas emissions are difficult to attribute to a single product and are estimated to be very small in relation to a product's total life cycle emissions. We also don’t account for product losses after filling and storage at the warehouses and stores.
Some parts of our calculations, like a teeny tiny ingredient in a recipe or a country with very small sales in a region, are approximated. This is an accepted approach within LCA methodology when the activities in question are small and are not expected to influence the final footprint significantly.
Who checks our numbers?
Of course, we couldn’t do all this super complicated stuff alone. To calculate our products’ climate footprints, we currently use a highly accomplished, climate intelligence platform called CarbonCloud. This service is dedicated to calculating climate footprints based on more than 20 years of scientific research. Once we model our products with our vetted data in CarbonCloud’s software, we run the analysis, and CarbonCloud double-checks them before they are published. Basically, all our work is checked by people who really know what they’re doing.
The actual numbers
Want to see the CO2e numbers for each of the products? Take a look here.
If you want to become an expert in what we do and the status of it all, we have a sustainability report presenting all the highlights, and the lowlights.
Why do you use climate footprint and not carbon footprint?
We choose to talk about climate footprint and not carbon footprint because while they mean the same thing, carbon footprint can be misleading since it gives the impression it's all about carbon. And as explained above, it's about all those other greenhouse gases too.
How do I know if the amount of CO2e is good or bad?
That’s the thing, the best way would be to compare it with another product, but we’re still waiting for more food producers to start calculating and sharing the climate footprint of their products. But, according to a recent study, Oatly Barista has a 44% to 76% lower climate impact than comparable cow’s milk in cases analyzed in Europe and the U.S (read more).
Another way to look at it is with WWF Sweden's One Planet Plate initiative guidance. They recommend that to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target, each meal we eat should not exceed 0.5 kg CO2e, or about 11kg CO2e per week.
How often do you update the climate footprint numbers?
To keep our product climate footprints up to date, we check and verify our data every 1-2 years. Because if, for example, there are significant changes in our supply chain (like a new factory or a switch in energy consumption/sources), the climate footprint could change.
We also keep a close eye on what the latest science says and update our calculations accordingly. For example, when the IPCC recently updated its recommendation for methane's global warming potential, that changed how we calculate our numbers.
Why are the numbers different on the pack and on Oatly.com?
Because we can update our website much faster than our packaging, sometimes the numbers on the packaging and website might be different. The web version is always the most up to date. We will gradually add the date of calculation to our packs so it’s easier to see when it was done.
Why are the product climate footprint numbers sometimes different for the same product in different countries, or sometimes the same?
If you go on holiday to another country and find your favorite Oatly product, you might find the climate footprint numbers are different to those at home. That's because we have factories in various parts of the world where we sell our products, which can mean different emissions levels and therefore a different number. Also, the transport options may differ from country to country, changing the numbers.
Or you might notice that the product climate footprint is sometimes the same for several countries. A reason for this could be that those countries use the same packaging, and so the number needs to be an average footprint. This is usually the case for neighboring countries or countries that have similarities (like language, legal requirements, etc.) so it makes sense to have the same packaging, for example in the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland).
Another reason why two countries have the same numbers, might of course just be that it’s a coincidence!
What is the difference between the climate footprint I'm looking at on an Oatly carton and other LCAs?
Each product's climate footprint calculation is based on an LCA approach. An LCA can be used to estimate many environmental indicators such as climate change (measured in CO2e), eutrophication, land use, water use, and more. Our numbers represent one of those indicators: climate change aka climate footprint. Also, system boundaries can differ depending on the goal and scope of each calculation. Oatly's climate footprint boundaries are "grower to grocer", as explained above. Other LCA boundaries can include more (or less!) stages. There could also be different sources of secondary data (e.g., emissions for growing 1 kg of oats) and variations in energy system emissions that depend on the methodology and assumptions of each LCA database provider. Allocations for emissions between products can also vary across LCAs.