What does it take to improve the impact of beef on environment, society and economy? Multifaceted topics need a multidimensional approach. This is where our applied sustainability team comes in: the approach investigates consumer perceptions as well as product sustainability performance. This helps the US beef industry realize future opportunities.
A juicy, nutritious steak is an integral part of a typical western human diet. At the same time, concern is growing about the social, environmental, and economic impacts of worldwide beef production. The latest announcement by McDonald’s that the company aims to begin purchasing verified sustainable beef in 2016 illustrates the increasing questions the industry faces. But how can you prove that goods are produced in a more sustainable way?
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program) commissioned BASF and its applied sustainability team to perform a comprehensive sustainability analysis. The overall goal of the entire project is to take the beef industry on a journey towards continuous improvement for creating more sustainable beef.
In the first phase, consumers, merchants, nongovernmental organizations, scientists, producers, and other stakeholders indicated in a survey the most relevant sustainability topics from their points of view along the entire value chain for beef in North America, and where they felt improvements are necessary. For this purpose, the respondents cited the most urgent environmental, social, and economic topics related to beef production and consumption. This “outside-inview” is crucial to gaining additional market understanding.
“Consumers are beginning to ask questions about how their food is produced,” explains Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, Ph.D., Director of Sustainability Research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “This work presented an opportunity to tell the story of responsible beef production and document that story with facts that are based on science. At the same time it allows the beef producers who funded the work to continue to find new ways to improve their sustainability.”
In the second phase, together with support from Espaço ECO Foundation, a Center for Excellence in Education and Management for Sustainability in Brazil, the SET – applied sustainability™ team investigated the sustainability of the US beef value chain comparing 2005 to 2011 and how various measures impacted ecological, social, and economic factors. The experts applied scientific methodologies and analyzed the value chain life cycle of the US beef industry – from feed production to animal husbandry all the way to beef consumption over time.
This quantitative analysis creates a scientific basis for sound decision making when it comes to enhancing the sustainability of manufactured goods and designing an end-to-end strategy that fosters greater sustainability. BASF has extensive expertise based on 18 years experience in measuring sustainability with more than 500 Life Cycle Assessments, i.e. Eco-Efficiency Analyses, and a solid unique primary data base consisting of several thousand Life Cycle Inventories (Eco Profiles).
The beef sustainability report was validated by NSF International, an independent third-party certification body, located in Michigan, U.S.A. The results show that the beef industry has reduced total environmental and social impacts by seven percent, including reduced emissions to soil, lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduced emissions to water. Other factors comprise reductions of land use, saved water consumption, lower non-renewable resource consumption and reduced energy consumption. Occupational accidents and illnesses were also reduced.
BASF helped us complete the first comprehensive life cycle assessment of the US beef industry. This was a unique project that provides the science-based evidence necessary to lead conversations about the sustainability of beef.”
All factors combined, including costs, resulted in an overall improvement of eco-efficiency by five percent. “The assessment took into account every aspect of beef production from the growth of feed to the disposal of packaging by the final consumer,” explains Tom Battagliese, Sustainability Metrics Manager applied sustainability at BASF Corporation, North America. Roberto Araujo, head of Espaço ECO Foundation, a non-profit institution established by BASF, adds: “This was the first project we ever did outside Latin America, as we collaborated and shared our regional competence with the US team. These synergies created an additional strategic value for us and also for our customer.”
Improvements in technology and crop yields, better irrigation, innovations in the packaging sector, and better animal performance have all played a role in advancing industry sustainability. Working groups have been established along the value chain to address sustainability opportunities.
The baseline data from the analyses will be used to evaluate and establish a direction for improving the sustainability attributes of the beef industry. When the project as a whole is completed, the beef producers will receive a web-based tool that will help them continuously optimize their operations.