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SDG 13: Climate action

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In conversation with… Hans Blonk, Managing Director at Blonk Consultants

During the twenty-first climate conference (COP21) of the United Nations in Paris, at the end of 2015, almost 200 participating countries reached agreement about a binding climate agreement. The aim of this was to ensure that emissions of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, are reduced and global warming is limited to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius, with 1.5 degrees Celsius as the target. The agreements from the Paris Agreement of the UN entered into force in 2020. Although the primary responsibility appears to lie with the countries, the business sector in Europe, including the VanDrie Group, set to work on adequately implementing the agreements,. In 2021, the company started mapping out the environmental effects of its business activities and products even better on the basis of a so-called ‘Life Cycle Analysis’ (LCA). In addition, the Van Drie Group wants to gain a grip on its Organisational Environmental Footprint (OEF), in which the environmental impact of the entire company is calculated. It enlisted the help of Blonk Consultants, which specialises in this. Managing Director Hans Blonk observes that the importance of ‘footprinting’ has grown rapidly in recent years and that companies are being helped to reduce their environmental impact by standardising the data – a short conversation.

There’s skill involved in calculating your sustainability position. Can you explain what a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is?

‘When carrying out an LCA, you calculate the effect that making products or supplying services has on the environment. It’s about the entire life cycle, therefore from the extraction of raw materials and production and (re)use up to and including the waste processing. An LCA lists all those impacts of all those links in the chain and adds them all together. We can therefore think of it as a calculation from ‘the cradle to the grave’.’ 

What does an LCA for the VanDrie Group look like?

‘In the case of the VanDrie Group, we started by drawing up the methodology for the production of veal and calf skins. If we look at veal, the LCA begins with the veal farmer. He or she feeds the animals, deploys production capital, uses energy and water, and so on and so forth. Subsequently, the calf is transported to the meat processing companies. People work there, energy is consumed and cleaning agents and packaging materials are used. In short, everything that is necessary for the production process. Finally, a piece of packaged veal rolls off the conveyor belt. Or in the case of calf skins, a skin goes to the tanner. We calculate the environmental effects of all these links and activities. You then have an overview of the footprint of a product at the point of sale, or in the cold storage.’

However, you can also look a step further with an LCA and continue the calculation until the veal is on your plate. In that case, you have to include the retail phase and what happens in the consumer’s home, before and during the preparation. And in the case of calf skins, you look at the processing that takes place at the leather processor for the production of shoes, clothing and a host of other applications.’

Which calculation methods do you use?

Hans Blonk

‘We apply the scientifically accepted methods of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations and the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) of the European Commission. In the case of the LCA for the VanDrie Group, we list which gases are released during the production of veal and their relative contribution to the greenhouse effect. Examples of this include, in particular, methane, CO2 and nitrous oxide. We subsequently calculate how long a gas will remain in the air. We call that ‘radiative forcing’, a complex method for determining the impacts of environmental degradation. After these two steps, namely the greenhouse gas effect and degradation, we determine how many times a gas counts. We subsequently apply such a method to determine other environmental impacts too.

In the case of eutrophication, we count, for example, phosphate, ammonia and nitrate emissions. After this, we can assign values on the basis of external factors, such as where the emissions occur. Is that in the city or, for example, next to a nature conservation area? This final step is carried out by means of additional research.’

The VanDrie Group wants to make the climate impact of the organisation transparent. How does this work?

‘We help the VanDrie Group calculate its Organisational Environmental Footprint (OEF) and also look at all their business activities. In doing that, we differentiate between three scopes or areas of application. Scope 1 consists of the company’s own business activities and maps out the impact of the direct CO2 emissions caused by the organisation’s own sources. In Scope 2, you are already looking further; you also calculate the indirect effect of electricity consumption and heat production. Scope 3 maps out the impact of activities that are not under the ownership of the VanDrie Group and that are also not managed by the organisation. In the case of scope 3, we help the VanDrie Group, as much as possible, to calculate the environmental impact of its suppliers. The VanDrie Group asks its suppliers for that information itself. We supply reference values about production from our databases and literature.’

Why is important for the VanDrie Group to makes its impact transparent?

‘The VanDrie Group is very quality-oriented and intrinsically motivated to reduce its environmental impact. The data collected enables it to gain an insight into how it is performing as a company and where further improvements can be made. It can also demonstrate its relevance to its own employees and its stakeholders. Moreover, a need also arises within the market. Customers increasingly want to know what the footprint is of the products to be processed and sold by them in order to demonstrate their own achievements. An increasing number of supermarkets are approaching Blonk in order to arrange this in their supply chain. It’s all about organising information in a way that allows you to provide transparency.

The VanDrie Group is very quality-oriented and intrinsically motivated to reduce its environmental impact. The data collected enables it to gain an insight into how it is performing as a company and where further improvements can be made. 

Hans Blonk

And then there are the demands from within society at a higher system level. Is the calf husbandry sector working smartly in terms of its environmental footprint? I can be clear about that; it is pretty smart. The dairy farming sector has a surplus of calves. By rearing the animals, you avoid part of the beef production that is more intensive from an environmental point of view. Therefore, as long as people continue consuming dairy, calf husbandry forms a good link in the agricultural production system.’

What challenges do companies experience with their calculations?

‘The challenges lie in the things you don’t know and in most cases, this involves the information that is located outside your own sphere of influence. It does need to be included though, in order to make the complete footprint complete. In the case of the veal sector, this mainly relates to the raw feed materials. Fortunately, more and more information is becoming available and that will only improve in the future. The task is to work towards an integrated dashboard as part of the annual report cycle, so that the VanDrie Group can determine and manage the footprint in all locations and for all its company activities.’