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Sustainability 2011, 3(12), 2443-2455; doi:10.3390/su3122443
Article

Comparing Carbon and Water Footprints for Beef Cattle Production in Southern Australia

1,* , 2
 and 3
1 Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Sustainable Agriculture National Research Flagship, Bayview Avenue (Private Bag10), Clayton, Victoria 3169, Australia 2 CSIRO Food and Nutritional Sciences, 671 Sneydes Road, Werribee, Victoria 3030, Australia 3 CSIRO Livestock Industries, Queensland Bioscience Precinct, 306 Carmody Road, St. Lucia, Queensland 4067, Australia
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 22 September 2011 / Revised: 18 November 2011 / Accepted: 6 December 2011 / Published: 13 December 2011
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Abstract

Stand-alone environmental indicators based on life cycle assessment (LCA), such as the carbon footprint and water footprint, are becoming increasingly popular as a means of directing sustainable production and consumption. However, individually, these metrics violate the principle of LCA known as comprehensiveness and do not necessarily provide an indication of overall environmental impact. In this study, the carbon footprints for six diverse beef cattle production systems in southern Australia were calculated and found to range from 10.1 to 12.7 kg CO2e kg−1 live weight (cradle to farm gate). This compared to water footprints, which ranged from 3.3 to 221 L H2Oe kg−1 live weight. For these systems, the life cycle impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water use were subsequently modelled using endpoint indicators and aggregated to enable comparison. In all cases, impacts from GHG emissions were most important, representing 93 to 99% of the combined scores. As such, the industry’s existing priority of GHG emissions reduction is affirmed. In an attempt to balance the demands of comprehensiveness and simplicity, to achieve reliable public reporting of the environmental impacts of a large number of products across the economy, a multi-indicator approach based on combined midpoint and endpoint life cycle impact assessment modelling is proposed. For agri-food products, impacts from land use should also be included as tradeoffs between GHG emissions, water use and land use are common.
Keywords: water use; greenhouse gas emissions; life cycle assessment; agriculture; livestock; environmental labeling water use; greenhouse gas emissions; life cycle assessment; agriculture; livestock; environmental labeling
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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MDPI and ACS Style

Ridoutt, B.G.; Sanguansri, P.; Harper, G.S. Comparing Carbon and Water Footprints for Beef Cattle Production in Southern Australia. Sustainability 2011, 3, 2443-2455.

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