The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that plant-based diets could free up several million square miles of land and reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to eight billion tonnes per year by 2050. There are, in fact, more immediate opportunities given the rapid market acceptance of plant-based meats. Hungry Planet, a producer of chef-crafted plant-based meats, and CleanMetrics teamed up to quantify this potential.
It is well known that plant-based foods have a much smaller environmental footprint than conventional meats. However, most of these comparisons (including past studies conducted by CleanMetrics) have involved plant foods that are not direct substitutes for animal proteins. Because Hungry Planet® meats are an authentic one-to-one match for conventional meats in taste, texture, and use, the comparisons presented in this study are more relevant to the question of how food production can be made more sustainable and climate friendly without compromising taste or nutrition.
CleanMetrics used standards-based life-cycle assessments (LCAs) to evaluate eight product SKUs offered by Hungry Planet. The results showed that substituting Hungry Planet® meats for conventional meats could yield significant savings in cradle-to-gate GHG emissions, water use and land use:
Hungry Planet® meats generate 42 to 89% lower GHG emissions than conventional meats.
Hungry Planet® meats require 52 to 79% less agricultural land than conventional meats.
Putting it in context
To put this in context, the table below shows hypothetical savings in GHG emissions, water use and land use that could be achieved in the US by switching to plant-based meats like Hungry Planet’s wide range of products. The total potential savings add up to as much as 25% of all US agricultural GHG emissions and water use. Moving away from conventional meats would also free up over 35 million acres of land occupied by agriculture.
There are also indirect climate benefits from switching to a plant-based diet. Wasted animal foods have 3.5 times the climate impact of plant-based foods on average due to the vast differences in the GHG emissions from production. So, switching to a plant-based diet can mitigate some of the worst climate impacts of food waste.
The choice of protein is one of the most powerful tools that we can deploy to meet climate goals and sustainability targets both at personal and corporate levels. It is also one of the easiest to act on given the wide availability of plant-based meats.
The idea of a circular economy and closing the materials loop has been an aspirational goal for decades. But circularity as an afterthought has never really worked. We are finally starting to see products that are designed from the ground up to utilize materials that are already circulating in the economy while producing zero additional waste in the manufacturing process. An intriguing example of a circular product is the Circular Memory Jacket from Dhana, made with used clothing materials. Our life-cycle assessments (LCAs) show that these circular jackets have just 1/3 of the carbon footprint of a similar non-circular jacket and negligible water footprint – all from using 100% repurposed materials.
Systems modeled in this study
The system boundary for the LCAs is cradle to retail, starting from resource extraction and ending with the delivery of the jackets to customers. We use LCAs to compare the environmental impacts of a conventional non-circular jacket with a circular jacket from Dhana.
The functional unit for the LCAs is one circular or non-circular jacket. The LCAs consider three life-cycle impact categories:
Carbon/GHG Emissions (climate change), kg CO2e/garment: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – includes CO2, methane and nitrous oxide.
Energy, MJ/garment: Primary energy use – includes combusted and feedstock energy.
Water, L/garment: Water consumption – includes surface and groundwater used.
LCA tools and methodology
We used our carbon modeling tool, CarbonScope, to conduct the LCAs in this study. The life-cycle inventory database underlying the analysis is CarbonScopeData. The analysis was done using our Rapid Carbon Footprinting (RCF) methodology. An important part of this study is the modeling of recycled/repurposed materials in LCAs, which was done using the using the “recycled content” method.
Results and conclusion
The life cycle impact assessment results below show thatthe circular jacket generates less than a third of the GHG emissions that a generic, non-circular jacket would generate from the production and transport. The emissions are dominated by the materials used to make the jackets, including cotton and polyester. Final processing (i.e., garment manufacture) and transport (both incoming and outgoing) are minor contributors.
The water footprint of a circular jacket is negligible compared to the substantial water consumption in the life cycle of a non-circular jacket, largely due to the water required to produce the virgin cotton used in the non-circular jacket.
The results clearly show the significant environmental advantages that can be achieved by reusing materials that are already circulating in the economy as opposed to using virgin materials. We have seen similar results in the case of other LCAs of outerwear. The economics and logistics of recycling may be challenging in general, but the clothing sector is one where circular production looks like a practical solution that can dramatically lower environmental footprints.
The customer featured in this case study, Dhana Inc., is headquartered in Sausalito, California. Dhana is a certified B Corp and a pioneer in circular fashion whose mission is to connect people and planet through the medium of fashion.