How to account for LUC-free certifications?
Land Use Change (LUC) is driven by the worldwide expansion of agricultural land to produce products like beef, soy, and palm oil. Halting these forms of deforestation and land conversion is essential for the protection of ecosystems, mitigation of climate change, and preservation of biodiversity. There is a need for sustainable land-use practices and policies. Certification schemes for LUC free products can help to promote sustainable sourcing practices. However, within LUC accounting guidance, there is currently no established international guidance on how to handle products with a LUC-free certification. Recognizing this gap, our LUC expert team has drafted guidelines for LUC-free certifications to set internal standards for the Blonk team. However, we believe this approach could be of significant interest to the wider LUC community and therefore we’d like to share our recommendations.
At Blonk we conduct Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) studies according to the latest guidelines and international standards available. We strongly believe in a systematic and transparent approach, advancing sustainability in the agri-food value chain. However, sometimes there is no guidance in place or guidelines are still under development. In such cases, we draft specific guidelines to set internal (interim) standards for our team.
Currently, the GHG Protocol Land Sector and Removals Guidance (GHG LSRG) is still under development and was released in “draft” status. This means that there is currently no guidance or standard on how to account for LUC-free certified commodities. However, we want to encourage engagement in the supply chain regarding LUC, as we believe this is an effective way to halt deforestation and land conversion and to promote sustainable agricultural and sourcing practices. Therefore, at Blonk we generally are in favor of recognizing and rewarding LUC-free certified commodities in our LCA studies and GHG assessments. After the GHG LSRG has been published we will implement the guidance described in the protocol.
Offsetting or primary data use?
International LCA standards, such as the ISO14040, ISO14044 and Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) guidance, do not allow for emission offsetting in LCA and greenhouse gas accounting (ISO, 2005, 2006; Zampori & Pant, 2019). The offsetting of emissions obscures information on emissions intensity of products and services and is therefore not in line with our mission of providing transparent and actionable insights. As offsetting offers an easy method to lower total emissions, it does not incentivize effective emission mitigation strategies. Therefore, it is not in line with Blonk’s mission to support organizations to contribute to a truly sustainable food system. LCA standards generally favor the use of supply-chain specific (primary) or ‘improved’ data, as opposed to data based on statistics, literature or existing LCI databases.
Using information from LUC-free certifications to adjust LUC emissions in LCA can be perceived as use of primary data or as offsetting of emissions. The difference lies in the physical traceability of the certified volume to the land management unit (LMU) throughout the chain of custody.
The GHG protocol suggests a comprehensive classification of LUC certificates: “The identity preserved, segregated, and controlled blending models provide the highest integrity methods for traceability to certified suppliers by either physically separating materials or tracking the mixing process to ensure a known quantity of purchased materials can be directly related to certified sources. As described in the ISEAL Chain of Custody guidance, only these three models guarantee physical traceability.” (WRI-WBCSD, 2022)
Following this definition and classification, certificates based on a mass balance or book and claim credit system do not guarantee physical traceability throughout the chain of custody.
At Blonk, we underpin the importance of differentiating between LUC certificates which enable traceability to the LMU, and certificates which are not able to do so. We advocate for the use of the first type (identity preserved) of certificate in direct LUC (dLUC) calculations, as it provides more accurate information compared to statistical LUC (sLUC) calculations and as it incentives an actionable way for companies to guarantee a conversion-free supply chain. To avoid offsetting, we would argue against using other types of certificates in dLUC calculation.
Accounting for cut-off date
The draft GHGP LSRG guidance provides guidance on integrating LUC-free certification into LUC emissions accounting. Where the cutoff date for the LUC-free certificate is less than 20 years prior to the reporting year, the company must evaluate dLUC emissions occurring on those lands to ensure LUC did not occur prior to the cutoff date during the 20-year assessment period. Additional clarity and an example can be found in the guidance WRI co-authored with AFI on deforestation-free supply chains and land use change emissions (see pg. 17-18) (AFi et al., 2022).
Information for dLUC should cover the full responsibility window of 20 years. If certificates do not cover the full 20 years, then primary data for the specific land management units should be gathered through other means, such as satellite images.
Blonk’s recommendations at a glance
Identity preserved, segregated, and controlled blending models for LUC-free certification guarantee physical traceability throughout the chain of custody and may therefore be used as information for dLUC calculations.
Accounting for cut-off date
Information for dLUC should cover the full responsibility window of 20 years. If certificates do not cover the full 20 years, then primary data for the specific land management units should be gathered through other means, such as satellite images or contracts.
LUC based on primary vs secondary data
LUC shall be either fully based on primary data (dLUC) or fully based on secondary data (sLUC) in the context of accounting and reporting.
Claims and verifications
To support external communication and claims, you should work with professional partners to obtain and interpret satellite images as input for the land use change calculation.
The certificate should cover all land conversions, not just deforestation. If this is not the case, primary data from other sources shall be gathered to proof.
Get in touch
Lisanne de Weert
Do you have questions about Land Use Change, and how Blonk accounts for LUC-free certifications in LCA and GHG assessments? Get in touch with Lisanne.