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Comparing Carbon and Water Footprints for Beef Cattle Production in Southern Australia

Author(s): Bradley G. Ridoutt | Peerasak Sanguansri | Gregory S. Harper

Journal: Sustainability
ISSN 2071-1050

Volume: 3;
Issue: 12;
Start page: 2443;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: water use | greenhouse gas emissions | life cycle assessment | agriculture | livestock | environmental labeling

Stand-alone environmental indicators based on life cycle assessment (LCA), such as the carbon footprint and water footprint, are becoming increasingly popular as a means of directing sustainable production and consumption. However, individually, these metrics violate the principle of LCA known as comprehensiveness and do not necessarily provide an indication of overall environmental impact. In this study, the carbon footprints for six diverse beef cattle production systems in southern Australia were calculated and found to range from 10.1 to 12.7 kg CO2e kg−1 live weight (cradle to farm gate). This compared to water footprints, which ranged from 3.3 to 221 L H2Oe kg−1 live weight. For these systems, the life cycle impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water use were subsequently modelled using endpoint indicators and aggregated to enable comparison. In all cases, impacts from GHG emissions were most important, representing 93 to 99% of the combined scores. As such, the industry’s existing priority of GHG emissions reduction is affirmed. In an attempt to balance the demands of comprehensiveness and simplicity, to achieve reliable public reporting of the environmental impacts of a large number of products across the economy, a multi-indicator approach based on combined midpoint and endpoint life cycle impact assessment modelling is proposed. For agri-food products, impacts from land use should also be included as tradeoffs between GHG emissions, water use and land use are common.
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