The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method applied to environmental impact assessment

For the whole dairy sector, the phase related to the production of raw milk is the most relevant in determining the environmental profile of a specific supply chain.

In the context of the LIFE TTGG Project, it was therefore essential to understand the method to assess the types and extent of impacts arising from the farm phase, in order to reconstruct correctly the environmental performance of the entire production chain related to Grana Padano PDO cheese.

The method considered is the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), with reference to the respective rules of the dairy sector: it represents the methodology recommended by the European Commission for the evaluation and communication of the environmental performance of a product. In particular, the PEF method is based on the use of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), the currently most widespread approach to estimate the environmental impact of the livestock sector, which allows to analyze the entire life cycle of a system or a product – from the purchase of raw materials to the end of life – and to distinguish different types of environmental impacts.

How is an environmental impact study (LCA) conducted?
The first task is to define the boundaries of the study you want to conduct, and thus the beginning and end of the environmental assessment. In the case of the farm, the boundaries of the study are the operations of production and collection of raw milk, excluding milk transport to the dairy.

The second activity concerns the collection of primary data. This is of fundamental importance and consists in the characterization of a farm based on data obtained from a questionnaire submitted to each farmer, divided into sections. To facilitate the collection of information is useful to consult the documentation that accompanies the management activity of the farm, in order to obtain robust and representative data. In case it is complex finding them, it is possible to use secondary data, obtained from databases or from scientific literature.

The third activity is the choice of the functional unit, that is the reference to which allocate the results of environmental impact. In the case of dairy farm, the functional unit is a kg of FPCM (Fat and Protein Corrected Milk).

The fourth activity consists in the association of data collected by questionnaire and inventoried, to reference processes that allow calculating the impacts resulting from the entire farm activity.
In the fifth activity, finally, the impact results are analyzed and interpreted. In this way, the farmer is informed about the aspects on which to operate in order to achieve an environmental improvement of his product.

Source: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

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