Today, the agri-food sector is the main cause of climate change, accounting for 28%¹ of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, 70%² of drinking water consumption and the majority of packaging waste. The occupation of 1/3 of the world's land by agriculture also makes it one of the main drivers of deforestation. But things can still be changed. It is possible to significantly reduce this impact by consuming differently. It is from this observation that the Eco-Score was born, initiated by a collective of 10 actors committed to better food. But then, what is the Eco-Score? What is it used for? How is it calculated? Which actors are concerned? Here is an overview.
What is the Eco-Score?
The Eco-Score is an indicator representing the environmental impact of food products. It is based on a model similar to the Nutri-Score: it is a grade from A to E that summarizes 15 environmental impacts. The Eco-Score is materialized by a colored logo in the shape of a leaf with a letter from A (Low environmental impact) to E (Very high environmental impact).
The starting point of this approach is to have clear information on the environmental impacts of the food products consumed. The ambition of the Eco-score is to be a decision-making tool to guide food choices towards a more sustainable consumption pattern. By encouraging more virtuous agricultural practices and choosing a food that preserves the environment, it is possible to actively contribute to preserving resources, containing global warming and preserving life for future generations.
Why an Eco-Score?
Over the years, consumers have become increasingly concerned about the impact of their food on their health. Recently, they are also concerned about the impact of their food consumption on the planet. If the implementation of the Nutri-Score allows them to take into account the nutritional quality of the products they buy, and this, in a much more fluid and easy way, it remains difficult to compare their environmental footprint. The implementation of a rating system allowing consumers to have clear information on this environmental footprint, easily usable and understandable to be used in the comparison of several products, then appeared as a necessity.
The objective of this environmental rating system is to reduce the impact on the planet by helping to consume differently. Indeed, the Eco-Score aims to inform consumers about the environmental impact of food products, in order to guide them towards a more sustainable diet by encouraging those who want to consume better. For example, by consuming less meat but of better quality, by consuming more organic products and with quality labels, by favoring local and seasonal products, with little packaging or by limiting products containing risky ingredients (endangered fish, non-sustainable palm oil).
How is the Eco-Score calculated?
The calculation of the Eco-Score takes into account all the criteria affecting the environmental impact of a product. The reference score is based on the life cycle analysis (LCA) with data from the Agribalyse database.
Life cycle analysis
The Eco-Score is calculated from public data produced by ADEME (French Agency for Ecological Transition) and INRAE within the framework of the Agribase project. This database offers a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that evaluates the average environmental impact of 2500 product categories.
LCA is a standardized evaluation method that allows for a multi-stage and multi-criteria environmental assessment according to 6 production stages: agriculture, processing, packaging, transportation, distribution and consumption, according to 14 environmental impact indicators: climate change, carbon footprint, ozone depletion, ionizing radiation, land, water and energy use, air and marine pollution and freshwater pollution (particulate matter, acidification, eutrophication), and resource depletion.
The calculation of the Eco-Score is completed by a bonus/malus system integrating data not taken into account in the LCA (recyclability of packaging, labels, country of origin of ingredients, etc.) in order to refine the score for each product. Indeed, in order to take into account certain environmental impacts that are poorly covered by the life cycle analysis (such as biodiversity) and the specificities of each product within the same category, the reference score is modulated with bonuses and malus:
- Production method: A bonus is awarded to products that have an official sign, label or certification that guarantees environmental benefits (organic, fair trade, HVE, Label Rouge, Bleu Blanc Coeur, MSC/ASC).
- Origin of ingredients: A bonus is awarded based on the origin of the ingredients. This bonus takes into account the impact on transport and also the environmental policy of each producing country.
- Endangered species: A malus is attributed to products that contain ingredients that have significant negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, such as palm oil whose production is responsible for massive deforestation.
- Packaging: A malus is calculated to take into account the circularity of packaging (use of recycled raw materials and recyclability) and over-packaging.
Who are the actors involved?
The Eco-score is an independent initiative carried out jointly by a group of 10 actors committed to better food, who share the common ambition of setting up a simple tool to reduce the impact of food on the planet.
If this indicator has for first vocation to allow the consumers to consume better and to move towards a more sustainable food, the objective is also to push manufacturer to propose better products more respectful of the environment.
First retailer to display the Eco-Score on its products, the organic e-retailer La Fourche, has also conducted a study to assess the results of this experiment and to analyze how consumers take this indication into account. According to this survey, 70%3 of consumers say they easily recognize the Eco-Score and understand how it works, and nearly 62% believe that the presence of this logo is an important purchasing criterion. In addition, La Fourche has seen an increase in sales of its products with an excellent Eco-Score. In fact, a few months after its implementation, A-rated products represent 23.3% of sales compared to 20.8% before the experiment. There is no doubt that the Eco-Score will become a key purchasing tool.
And you, what are you waiting for to switch to the Eco-Score?
¹Institute for Climate Economics (2019). Estimating greenhouse Gas emissions from food consumption
²OCDE (2020). Agriculture and water policy changes
3 La Fourche survey, conducted from August 25 to 26, 2021, among 956 people representative of La Fourche members