Life Cycle Assessment of Coffee: Enhancing Transparency in Life Cycle Inventory Models with Distributed Ledgers

Main Presenter: René Itten 

Co-Authors: Marleen Jattke Matthias Stucki

Session: Poster Session 2

Today’s food value chains are increasingly complex, especially for internationally traded products like coffee or cocoa. These complex value chains pose several challenges to quantify the environmental impacts associated with the corresponding products and the compilation of the underlying Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) models. Accordingly, new digitised approaches are needed to support sustainable supply chain management and procurement with accurate and reliable LCI models.
In collaboration with two stakeholders in the coffee supply chain, a coffee processor and a coffee trader, we collected data on key LCI parameters for the full supply chain starting on farm level in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Kenia and Uganda. The aim of this collaboration was to develop a comprehensive LCI modelling framework that allows a consistent comparison of different coffee supply chains.
To facilitate the management of the extensive LCI data required for a complex, cross-continental supply chain such as coffee, the necessary data for LCI modelling is stored in a private blockchain based database. The blockchain technology enables transparent data collection and management for all actors within the supply chain while simultaneously simplifying the data collection due to partial automation.
The results for a comprehensive set of Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) methods show that the environmental impacts of coffee cultivation show a high variation depending on the supply chain. This is due to considerable differences in regional farm management with the most important source of variation being the use of pesticides and fertilisers as well as land use change. The carbon footprint of a cup of black coffee ranges from 63.6 g CO2-eq to 96.0 g CO2-eq. The total environmental impact assessed with the Swiss Ecological Scarcity Method varies between 162 and 394 ecopoints per cup of coffee. The most significant hotspots in the life cycle of a prepared cup of coffee are cultivation and coffee preparation.
A shared database between all actors within the supply chain in combination with a flexible life cycle inventory modelling framework is a key innovation to enable individualised LCIA as well as transparent LCI data management.

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