Central Brazil savannas soybean producing areas

Trase and AdAstra: Powering action on carbon emissions from land conversion

Trase data enables organisations to map supply chains, understand risks and opportunities, inform decision making and communicate progress towards sustainability goals.

2 May 2024

James Richens

Photo credit: Coordenação-Geral de Observação da Terra/INPE

Trase teamed up with sustainability consultancy AdAstra to help a leading food manufacturer understand how soy in animal feed changes the carbon footprint of its chicken products. Using data from Trase, AdAstra identified the origins of the soy and calculated corresponding land conversion emission factors at subnational level with their data solution Orbae. The insights generated by the solution enable companies to take action on their land conversion hotspots with high-accuracy data, regardless of their traceability knowledge.

The expansion of soy production is one of the main drivers of deforestation and land conversion, which damages biodiversity and releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. To limit the increase in global warming to 1.5°C, it is widely accepted that deforestation must stop by 2030.

Soy is one of the main ingredients in chicken feed and is grown in countries such as Brazil and imported into Europe. The EU imports 40 million tonnes of soy per year where it is used largely for animal feed.

Companies in the food sector are increasingly aware of the need to disclose greenhouse gas emissions from land conversion linked to soy and other agricultural commodities used in their product supply chains. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the internationally recognised carbon accounting standard, is developing guidance for greenhouse gas emissions from land conversion. In addition, guidance from the Science Based Targets initiative requires companies in land-intensive sectors to consider emissions from forest, land and agriculture.

Sustainability consultancy AdAstra partnered with Trase to support its Orbae carbon footprinting technology, which builds data that helps companies understand their greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural land conversion at any level of traceability. The value of Orbae is shown by recent work with a leading food manufacturer committed to doing its part to address the climate impacts of its supply chain.

Understanding land conversion emissions from soy in chicken production

The company knew that soy used in feed for chicken production in the EU was likely to be a carbon ‘hotspot’ in their supply chain, as some 40–70% of the climate impacts of poultry come from land conversion from animal feed ingredients. However, to guide effective action, the company needed more detailed information about the environmental impacts of the soy used in chicken feed. To do so, they first needed to determine the origins of the soy imported to the EU.

AdAstra used global trade data to identify the major exporters of soy imported into the EU. Most comes from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and the US. For each of these countries except for the US, AdAstra used Trase’s subnational data for soy production to quantify the land conversion emissions associated with each location, in line with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This showed that the emissions vary widely. In Brazil for example, the variance was from less than 0.1 kilogramme of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilo of soy to 18 kg CO2e/kg soy depending on the sourcing area.

Carbon emissions from land conversion vary widely across Brazil. Using data from Trase, Orbae shows that the carbon footprint of soy ranges from <0.1 to 18 kg CO2e/kg depending on the area of Brazil that it is grown (Source: AdAstra).

“Our work with AdAstra demonstrates how Trase data can be embedded into third-party products, multiplying its impact by reaching hundreds of companies who need to address their scope 3 emissions from land conversion, demonstrating the contribution they are making to ending deforestation and reducing the impacts of climate change.”

Dr Michael Lathuillière, Supply chain lead, Trase

The updated land conversion emission factors greatly improved the accuracy of the carbon footprint of the chicken produced in the EU. It showed that the footprint was actually 35% lower than expected had the carbon emissions been calculated using country-level data typically found elsewhere.

It also showed that the carbon footprint varied by EU country, as each imports soy from a different mix of producing regions. For example, soy imported into Spain had a larger footprint (0.62 kg CO2e/kg) compared to France (0.54 kg CO2e/kg), and larger still than Germany (0.41 kg CO2e/kg).

EU countries’ carbon footprints reflect different sourcing patterns, CO₂-equivalent emissions per kilogram of soy imported. The mixed sourcing patterns of soy imported by EU countries gives each a different carbon footprint (Source: AdAstra).

The results also showed that the conversion of non-forest vegetation to soy plantations, such as in parts of Brazil’s Cerrado, made up about one-third of the carbon footprint of soy production. Including conversion of non-forest vegetation is critical for companies disclosing their emissions as it is required by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

“Tapping into Trase data takes our own data to the next level. By revealing the origins of soy subnationally and combining it with our land conversion data in Orbae, we’re able to sufficiently overcome our clients’ lack of traceability to push their understanding of their land conversion risk closer to the reality on the ground. The project on soy offers a blueprint for other commodities such as corn, rice and palm oil used in animal feed, and paves the way for the consideration of additional important metrics such as land occupation, biodiversity loss and water stress.”

Dr Jürgen Reinhard, Co-founder, AdAstra Sustainability

Supporting effective decision making and carbon management

Using the insights provided by AdAstra and Trase, the company now has the information it needs to inform more effective decision making over how to address the climate impacts associated with the soy in the chicken feed used in its supply chain. By providing greater accuracy on where their commodity supplies are linked to the greatest environmental impacts, the company can target engagement with stakeholders in those locations and encourage improvements at the landscape level.

For further information contact Dr Carina Mueller, researcher, carina.mueller@sei.org

Download this case study as a PDF.

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