Environmental transparency: a life cycle analysis of Sprÿng’s product line

November 16, 2023

In the context of the global environmental condition, it is the responsibility of any company to examine the environmental impact of their products and services. At Sprÿng—the pet food arm of Ÿnsect—we have performed a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for our range of pet food ingredients. Here, we share the methodology, and what it shows us about our current performance as well as directions for future product development.

An LCA is a systematic analysis of potential environmental impacts of products during their entire life cycle. All stages of product development are implicated, and the “potential impacts” cover both inputs (such as use of water, land, and fossil and non-fossil resources) and outputs (emissions into air, water and soil, including GHG emissions, pollutants, pesticides and plastics). An LCA is often referred to as a “cradle to grave” analysis; or, in the case of BtoB brands such as Sprÿng, a “cradle to farm gate” analysis: our products are not an end in themselves but an input to the pet food manufacturing process, and as such the LCA of our ingredients will be used by those pet food manufacturers to calculate the LCA of their products.

An LCA provides the consumer with a degree of transparency, and a means by which to compare the environmental credentials of ingredients within a given sector. For the companies themselves, the LCA identifies areas where there is room for improvement—so-called “environmental hotspots”— and hence informs product development.

Guidelines for carrying out an LCA are outlined in ISO standard 14044:2006; however, practitioners have the flexibility to interpret the guidelines as they deem most appropriate for their study. A more structured framework for the guidelines is currently being piloted: called PEF (Product Environmental Footprint), its aim is to improve comparability of results, particularly between similar products. Although not mandatory, we, at Sprÿng, have carried out the LCA of our products in adherence to this particular PEF framework. We have also had our analyses peer-reviewed by an external company, which has verified our methodology and calculations.

Breakdown of the LCA methodology

The production process for Sprÿng products is illustrated in Figure 1, which is based on our vertical mealworm farm at Amiens, France. The first stage is rearing the mealworms: our LCA must account for not only everything that occurs during this stage — principally consumption of electricity and gas — but also everything that occurs upstream of this stage. This means accounting for the environmental history of each ingredient (mostly agricultural byproducts) of our feedstock up to the point at which it left its supplier’s gate. For this information, we require access to an LCA for each ingredient: in some cases, this may be provided by the supplier directly; otherwise, we draw the information from recognized databases dedicated to compiling such data. For feedstock ingredients, we use the French database Agribalyse, which is a comprehensive and respected public database of environmental indicators for food products, and contains specific data for our raw ingredients, sourced in France. The impacts (petrol/diesel consumption, GHG emissions etc) associated with transporting the feedstock to our farm are also accounted for, using data available in the Ecoinvent database. For each environmental impact category, we then add together the contributions from each input, based on our farm functioning at full capacity, to arrive at a total for this phase of the life cycle.

Figure 1 Elements of the LCA

Economic allocation

At the end of the rearing phase, there are two outputs: the larvae themselves, which are both a product in their own right and also become the raw ingredients of several different protein and oil products in the Sprÿng range; and frass (excreted matter) which is our fertiliser product YnFrass. An important question at this point is: what proportion of the environmental burden associated with the rearing process should be attributed to the larvae, and what proportion to the frass? Since the larvae and frass are used in completely different ways, for different purposes, there is no relevant physical parameter by which to determine this allocation; so we use economic allocation: that is, the proportions are determined by the economic value of the final products . This method affords us consistency with other ingredients in the pet food sector, such as co-products from meat slaughtering; and it is also the method used by our feedstock suppliers.

Similar accounting then occurs for the production phase, again drawing on Ecoinvent to determine impacts of energy consumption and chemicals introduced in this stage. Products made from processing the larvae include Protein70 (our protein meal) and Hydrolysates, both of which have associated co-products Pep9 and Oil6-9; and WetPro15 (our protein ingredient for wet pet food). Economic allocation is again employed to determine the proportion of each environmental impact that should be attributed to each of these final products. Once this has been done, our LCA is complete, and we have a measurement of each environmental impact of each of our products, to the point at which it leaves our farm gate.

Comparison to other products within the pet food market

Armed with the data from our LCA, we are now able to compare the environmental “pawprint” of Sprÿng products to similar products in the same sector, which has revealed that our products have comparatively low impact. Taking the example of our dry pet food ingredient, Protein70, our LCA has measured its GHG impact to be 3.20 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of the ingredient. As reported previously, this is considerably lower than other high-quality dry pet food ingredients, such as lamb (at 5.51 kg CO2-eq) and soy protein concentrate (6.25 kg CO2-eq). Similarly, Sprÿng’s WetPro15 has a carbon footprint of only 0.80 kg CO2-eq, which is much lower than ingredients made from beef offal (14 times higher) or lamb (nearly 26 times higher).

Knowledge is power: our commitment to continual improvement

Even more importantly, the LCA also gives us clear directives for how we can continue to improve the environmental footprint of our product range. For example, if we “zoom in” on our Protein70, we can identify which part of the production process has the greatest environmental impact: as illustrated in Figure 2, the upstream feedstock has a much greater impact than the energy used in the rearing process itself. In response to this insight, we are currently researching new feedstock recipes that use less impactful ingredients; we have launched the Terrha project (in collaboration with Noriap, a cooperative that federates 6,500 farmers located near our farm) to improve the ecological footprint of these upstream agricultural activities; and we have a genetics research project investigating ways to further enhance the efficiency of our mealworm rearing.

Figure 2 Protein70 climate change breakdown

The LCA analysis shows that Sprÿng’s product range is already performing well by environmental standards, which is a validation of our production model – the eco-design of our vertical farm, and our use of mealworms, whose low feed conversion ratio (FCR) means they convert low-protein ingredients to high-protein ingredients very efficiently. Through an ongoing process of evaluation, reflection, innovation and re-evaluation, Sprÿng is committed to continual product refinements that minimize our environmental footprint even further.

Mealworm ingredients improve the nutritional sustainability of pet food
Mealworm ingredients improve the nutritional sustainability of pet food
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