Is your pet a climate problem?

January 31, 2018 by Jannick H. Schmidt

The dog is said to be man’s best friend, but is it a climate enemy?

Dogs and cats are as fond of meat as are their owners. And therefore their CO2 emissions make up a substantial part of their owners emission totals. In fact, our calculation shows that a 10 kilo dog like the ones below on average emits up to 1.1 tonnes of CO2 annually, mainly through their meat consumption.

Last week I was called in as an expert for a radio programme: P1 – ‘Your dog, the climate enemy’. This segment is part of a series, ‘The climate testament’, that addresses climate issues and what each of us can do to alleviate some of the problems we face today.

The largest and most obvious problem with cats and dog lies with their meat consumption. As meat is produced, we see both land use effects and various greenhouse gas emissions, since the conversion from plant to animal protein is very inefficient, esp. for the bigger animals like pigs and cows.

For the radio programme, I had calculated emissions for three different dog sizes and I compared these to driving a car, where the emissions from small dog is equivalent to driving up to 1000 km in a average Danish car, while the big dog equals up to 5200 km driven, provided the dogs eat meat. I based these rough and average calculations on the current dietary recommendations for each of the weight classes given by professor Charlotte Bjørnvad. Bjørnvad is a professor in Internal Medicine at Department of Veterinary Clinical and Animal Sciences, University of Copenhagen.

Luckily for the environmentally conscious pet owner, Bjørnvad explained that a conversion to a more climate neutral diet is possible.

Dogs have had a long co-evolution with humans, eating the leftovers from our table. So in spite of their wolf ancestry, they can now thrive on a vegetarian diet. This is also a consequence of breeding, with all the genetic changes that this entails. Charlotte Bjørnvad explained how we could give them a protein base from e.g. beans combined with eggs, but let their main energy come from carbohydrates. In fact, a dog’s digestive system can handle carbohydrates and fibres from vegetables, provided they are heat-treated, just as is the case for humans.

So there is now enough knowledge to suggest it is safe to switch to a vegetarian diet for our canine friends. For cats, it remains a bit more tricky – a suggestion in the programme was to include insects as a source of animal protein for the cats, since they need a wider range of animal proteins in their diet, compared to both humans and dogs.

So starting from a rather polemic initial question; we arrived safely at the end of the radio programme at a solution that can be directly implemented in your dogs food bowl – next step is to push the pet food market in the right direction.


For those of you that understand Danish the podcast and Danish article is here.

The clock is ticking for PEF

December 11, 2017 by Bo Weidema

Last week I attended a meeting on the EU commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) arranged by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. The PEF initiative was presented as providing a level playing field for competition on environmental claims, countering the current situation that many (allegedly 95% of all environmental claims) are misleading.

The PEF pilot phase is now coming to and end, and the Commission representative presented the result as a success story: “We now have a machine that works!” although it was acknowledged that the data to drive the system is still insufficient. The PEF “machine” was likened to a watch that shows the time in simple terms, while the (LCA) clockwork inside is intricate and complex.

In spite of the attempt to present the PEF as a success story, there was much criticism from the more than 100 representatives from Danish industries and NGOs that were present. Some were concerned about the increased costs, pointing out that the money would be better spent on making improvements than on documenting status quo to the consumers. Others questioned whether LCA is at all relevant for consumer information, and it was suggested that new technology is now making LCA information for this purpose out-dated (see also my blog-post on distributed ledger technology).

The PEF system relies on the development of a “Product Category Rule” (PCR) for each product group. These PCRs are developed on a voluntary basis, paid by the majority of the industries that produce the products in each product group, providing a golden business for consultants. During the pilot phase it has turned out that this results in different rules for different products, so that only products within the same product group can be compared (as with the existing eco-labels).

An example from the audience was raised, about the gifts that a speaker often receive as thanks for giving an otherwise unpaid talk: Would a bottle of French wine or a box of locally produced chocolate (with cocoa beans from Africa) be the best choice? Since these two products belong to different product groups, they will have different rules for their PEFs and should therefore not be compared.

This simple example illustrates one of the largest problems of the idea of Product Category Rules, namely that they do not further improvements in environmental performance across product categories. NGOs and scientific advisors have pointed out that even within product categories it is now questionable if the PEF LCA calculation rules further environmental improvements. We have lobbied for constraining the industry consensus on the PCRs to the original Commission Guideline (see also my interpretation guide to this) and the requirements of the ISO LCA standards that focus on environmental improvements, but are now mocked with not understanding that compromise on scientific validity is necessary to reach industry consensus.

Personally, I concluded that if the concern is unfair competition, PEF is not the answer, but rather a part of the problem. A more simple solution would be to enforce the existing legislation on misleading claims, a solution that has worked well in Denmark so far.

In my view, there is not much point in having an expensive watch – even with the simplest user interface – if it shows the wrong time.


October 30, 2017 by Bo Weidema

Since the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were published 2 years ago, much has been said on the difficulty in implementing them into business practice. Part of the difficulty comes from the wordings, which often appear better suited for governmental use than specifically for use in a business context. But the main difficulty comes from the sheer number of goals (17) and accompanying targets (169) and indicators (so far 230). While this should provide something for everyone, it also implies an obvious risk of cherry-picking and sub-optimised decision-making. These problems have been pointed out very eloquently by other bloggers, e.g. Nienke Palstra & Ruth Fuller from Bond.

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission have done a great job in pointing out the positive market opportunities that the SDGs open up for first-movers, and the UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) have teamed up in an action platform to provide best practices for corporate reporting on the SDGs, with a first analysis report published last month and a “Practical Guide for Defining Priorities and Reporting” announced for January 2018.

So what can we add from an LCA perspective that has not already been said and is not already being done? Well, what is missing in the approaches mentioned above, and which LCA has always been focused on providing, is an overall framework can avoid shifting of responsibilities and avoid sub-optimised decision-making.

Therefore, we now launch the SDG club, a new crowd-funded project to place each of the indicators for 169 targets of the 17 SDGs into a comprehensive, quantified and operational impact pathway framework, linking forward to sustainable wellbeing (utility) as a comprehensive summary (endpoint) indicator for all social, ecosystem and economic impacts. At the same time, we will link each of the indicators for 169 targets back to company specific activities and product life cycles, using a global multi-regional input-output database with environmental and socio-economic extensions. Due to the use of a single endpoint, this framework will allow to differentiate major from minor impact pathways, to quantify trade-offs and synergies, and to compare business decisions, performance and improvement options, also across industry sectors. With this project, we wish to provide an actionable and rational method for businesses and governments to integrate the SDGs into decision making and monitoring.

This new project builds on and extends the impact assessment method developed by 2.-0 LCA consultants for social footprinting, which has been successfully tested for feasibility in global supply chain contexts. For example, a recent whitepaper from Nestlé appraised our method with these words:

The great benefit of the Social Footprint method lies in the use of widely available background information from databases to assess social impacts top-down. As opposed to many other approaches, this means that some initial data is available for practically any specific case study, drastically reducing the overall cost

We invite everyone to join the SDG club and thereby contribute to streamline and coordinate action and increase efficiency in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Photo credits: UN Photo/Cia Pak, 22 September 2015, United Nations, New York, Photo # 643590, licence creative commons 2.0.

See also a previous blogpost on sustainability indicators.

10 years with iLUC research

September 30, 2017 by Jannick H. Schmidt

This year we celebrate more than 10 years of focussed research on Land Use Change (LUC) and indirect Land Use Change (iLUC). We do this with a free webinar on iLUC modelling for up to 100 people on November 15th.

Our first publications that included land use effect were about rapeseed and palm oil, and were part of my Ph.D. thesis: Life cycle assessment of rapeseed oil and palm oil from 2007. Ten years later, we are still developing the models and improving the framework for modelling indirect land use changes in life cycle assessment (eg. Schmidt et al. 2015; De Rosa et al. 2017).

Our own efforts have been largely channelled through the iLUC initiative, aka the iLUC Club. We began this project in 2011 and today the iLUC initiative has more than 20 universities and companies as members. We are grateful for their continued support to this important work on towards consistent methodology and modelling of iLUC in life cycle assessment.

We still have a few places for the webinar if you are interested:


De Rosa M, Odgaard M V, Staunstrup J K, Knudsen M T, Hermansen J E (2017). Identifying Land Use and Land-Use Changes (LULUC): A Global LULUC Matrix. Environ. Sci. Technol. 51(14):7954–7962

Schmidt J H, Weidema B P, Brandão M (2015). A framework for modelling indirect land use changes in life cycle assessment. Journal of Cleaner Production 99:230‑238