Amid increasing global demand for agri-food industries to report sustainability practices and performance, Chile’s food and wine sectors are creating a revolutionary new tool that will do just that.
Chile is the first country to develop EcoBase, a database and calculator with manuals and tools to measure and improve the sustainability, environmental performance and competitiveness of several of the South American country’s export products.
The measurement tool is being created for 16 Chilean product categories using life cycle analysis, a method increasingly used by agri-food companies.
Also known as “cradle-to-grave” analysis, a life cycle investigation is a holistic technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product’s life, from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacturing and distribution, to use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling.
Life cycle assessments generally include compiling a list of relevant energy and material used and environmental releases, evaluating possible ecological impacts associated with these inputs and discharges, then interpreting the results.
The goal is to compare the full range of environmental effects attributable to products and services in order to improve processes, support policy and provide a sound basis for informed decisions. This enables companies to identify how resources are used, and track emissions of greenhouse gases, water and energy consumption associated with various products and services.
The project includes several trade associations as partners, with more than 3,000 companies and farmers behind these associations. Partners include Pro Chile, the ministries of environment and agriculture, “Salmon Chile,” Asoex, Wines of Chile, “Exporlac,” “FedeFruta,” Centro de Envases y Embalajes de Chile, Chilealimentos, a movement of Chilean independent wine producers, as well as Asociación Gremial de Mitilicultores de Chile.
The EcoBase project is aligned with The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), an international organization that includes companies, universities, NGOs, and government agencies working to improve sustainability products, services and consumption habits.
Ms. Senerman said one major challenge has been to get the export sector to share their knowledge of key production aspects, including which processes compose a product’s supply chain, how much energy is consumed in different stages, how much fertilizer is applied on the farm, how much feed an animal needs, the transport distance, and more.
“Sustainability evaluation at a product level and considering the whole supply chain needs to have a higher relevance in Chile so that we can actually understand what is behind the product we as consumers buy, and as producers produce,” said Ms. Senerman.
“That is the only way to make informed decisions and improve management; considering a broader picture.”
It will have taken more than two-and-a-half years from devising the concept to implementing EcoBase, said Michelle Senerman, project manager, Value Chain Sustainability, Energy and Climate Change at Fundación Chile. EcoBase is expected to be completed by July 2015.
The 16 applicable products include: fresh apples, dried apples, grapes, grape juice, avocado, fresh plums, blueberries, canned peaches, frozen raspberries, wine, chicken, pork, salmon, mussels, powdered milk, and Gouda cheese.
Each product will have specific environmental footprint calculators and a tailor-made life cycle calculator.
While no certification is involved, a certification scheme could be built from this database, using the information as a supportive measurement system to verify compliance.
“Fundación Chile has excelled in the leadership of this initiative, which is of great importance to the community as the project helps future competitiveness in the food industry,” said Félix De Vicente, minister of Economics.
“Consumers and international markets no longer evaluate only the cost of the tariff to import their products into our market, but now will greatly influence the sustainability seal and commitment to the community and environment in which we live.”
“All this implies a value generation for development and economic growth in the future, because a country grows mainly with innovation and productivity,” he added.
Chile also leads the industry as one of the first countries to report the flow of organic products it exports and imports. Chilean firms with organic and sustainable products will take part at the Fresh Ideas Marketplace at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, USA from March 6-9.