LCA Guidelines overview

[Cover]About the Guide

The IDF’s ‘A Common Carbon Footprint Approach for Dairy: The IDF Guide to Standard Lifecycle Assessment Methodology for the Dairy Sector’ introduces a common methodology for assessing carbon footprint across the global dairy industry sector. The dairy industry is the first sector in the agricultural world to realise the need for such a coordinated global approach to this important issue.

And it is the first to co-operate with the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to achieve a globally applicable methodology.

The approach

The Guide was achieved through a collaborative approach facilitated by an IDF Action Team who brought together organizations and stakeholders throughout the dairy sector value chain and science experts. It includes input from many organisations, such as the FAO, the Global Dairy Platform (GDP) and Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI), among others.

Following a review of existing carbon footprint projects in the dairy sector, the Action Team found a large number of LCA initiatives. However, these studies used a variety of methodologies that led to a confusion of data which was not comparable between studies.

The methodology set out in the Guide is designed to set the basis for rigorous LCA studies that are both globally comparable and consistent.

Guide overview

The IDF Guide:

  • Identifies key areas where there is a need to provide an unambiguous, consistent approach;
  • Identifies such a global approach that addresses common LCA challenges, including co-products, land-use change and carbon sequestration issues; and
  • Recommends a practical scientific approach that can be adopted within existing or developing methodologies around the globe – in both the developed and the developing world.


The Guide does not try to recreate knowledge. Where the science is available, that knowledge has been used; where a suitable model already exists, that model has been incorporated.

It builds on the best current scientific knowledge. A priority to standardize LCA methodology was recognised from the start and collaboration with existing international organizations working in the area proved important. These organizations included:

  • The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) whose ISO14040, 14044 and 14067 are the original standards for carbon footprint assessment;
  • The British Standards Institute (BSI) working with the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Carbon Trust which produced their Publicly Available Specification 2050 (PAS2050) for the LCA of greenhouse gas emission of goods and services;
  • The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) that is developing a greenhouse gas protocol with the World Resource Institute (WRI);
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO); and
  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).


However, the Guide is not set in stone. This is an evolving area of research and as the science develops the Guide will also evolve to remain consistent with the latest knowledge and best practice.

How to use the Guide

It currently covers milk production from cattle, although work to extend the methodology to other species is pending.

The methodology in the Guide allows users to:

  • Compare greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between dairy products in the same group (e.g. ‘cheese’ or ‘liquid milk’);
  • Identify GHG emissions from ‘cradle’ (such as inputs like feed, forage, power, etc.) to the factory gate (not including transport from the factory gate and retailer or consumer impacts);
  • Identify GHG emission hot spots and highlight the potential for reducing these.


The Guide covers three areas: raw material, milk production and processing. It describes:

  • The basics of LCA and carbon footprint evaluation;
  • The steps involved in an LCA;
  • How to map the processes in your operation, whether on-farm or during processing;
  • Setting the appropriate scope and boundaries of your process;
  • Collecting data and calculating the carbon footprint; and
  • Evaluation and reporting.


Using the Guide, stakeholders throughout the dairy sector should be able to calculate their impact on the environment in terms of GHG on a consistent basis – and proactively work to reduce that impact.

The Guide can support the evolution of efficient and sustainable businesses that are continually reducing GHG emissions, and show that the dairy sector is committed to addressing environmental concerns.

Perspectives on the Guide

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