USA, Michigan. Beyond Meat commissioned the Center for Sustainable Systems at University of Michigan to conduct a “cradle-to-distribution” life cycle assessment of the Beyond Burger, a plant-based patty designed to look, cook and taste like fresh ground beef.
The purpose of the study by Martin C. Heller and Gregory A. Keoleian is to compare environmental impacts – chosen here as greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative energy demand (energy use), water use, and land use – with those from typical beef production in the US.
A secondary purpose is to highlight opportunities for improvement in the environmental performance of the Beyond Burger product chain and provide Beyond Meat with a benchmark against which improvement efforts can be measured. The primary audiences are both internal stakeholders at Beyond Meat as well as external customers, consumers, and interested stakeholders.
The Beyond Burger is considered functionally and nutritionally similar to beef; therefore the chosen functional unit for comparison was defined as 4 oz. (quarter pound, 0.113 kg) uncooked burger patty delivered to retail outlets. This is the marketed patty size of the Beyond Burger and a standard consumer product size for beef patties.
System boundaries included upstream ingredient and raw material supply (including farm production of agricultural crops), processing and packaging operations, cold storage, distribution to point of sale, and disposal of packaging materials. Retail and consumer stages, including potential losses at those stages, were excluded, as they were considered equivalent in both product systems.
Beyond Meat provided specific information on production of the Beyond Burger, including directly measured processing electricity consumption. This was complemented with information from primary ingredient suppliers. Environmental impact of US beef production was drawn from an existing LCA study commissioned by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (Thoma et al., 2017). The Beyond Burger LCA was evaluated using the same impact assessment methods used in the US beef study.
Based on a comparative assessment of the current Beyond Burger production system with the 2017 beef LCA by Thoma et al, the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has >99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of US beef.
Production of the dominant ingredients – pea protein, canola oil, coconut oil – represent important contributions to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), energy use and land use.
Packaging also is an important contributor across all impact categories: the polypropylene tray is the largest contributor to packaging’s share of GHGE, energy use, and water use, whereas fiber production for cardboard and pallets make notable contributions to land use.
The researchers estimated that switching to a polypropylene tray made of 100% postconsumer recycled content could reduce the overall GHGE of the BB life cycle by 2% and reduce energy use by 10%.