Eutrophication Product Footprinting

Eutrophication indicators will help New Zealand agribusiness reduce environmental impacts and meet expected new European environmental standards

Project Details Ngā taipitopito

Project Status:
Challenge funding:
Research duration:
January 2017 – September 2019

Collaborators Ngā haumi

AgResearch | Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance Partnership | MPI | NIWA | Technical University of Denmark | UNEP Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Life Cycle Initiative Task Force

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What are we doing?E aha ana mātou?

In future, the European Commission may require all products supplied to Europe to have data on their environmental footprint. This would include a product’s contribution to ‘eutrophication’ – the environmental problems that can be caused by an excess of nutrients, such as nitrate and phosphate, entering bodies of water.

Current methods are insufficient to accurately calculate how a product, such as milk, contributes to eutrophication at all stages of its lifecycle, from pasture to consumer. As a result, it’s difficult to calculate the full environmental footprint of agricultural products.

Product Eutrophication Footprinting scientists worked with international researchers to develop eutrophication impact assessment models that can be applied in every country. These will allow the full environmental footprint of agricultural products to be calculated and compared, using methods set by the European Product Environmental Footprinting initiative.

This research will help producers lower the environmental footprint of products, and therefore raise their value, increase demand from customers, and provide opportunities to reach new markets.

How can the research be used? Ka pēhea e whai take ai te rangahau?

  • This project identified how New Zealand agribusinesses might be rewarded for high environmental quality, potentially qualifying them for market incentives such as tax credits or payments for ecosystem services.
  • Research in this project was linked with results from a meta-analysis of research that defined the likely premium for beef with low environmental emissions to Europe. This indicated that a price premium has potential to offset costs from constraints on farm systems to meet water quality limits.
  • New Zealand case studies of meat products exported to Europe, produced in major catchment areas such as Lake Taupō and the Waikato River, have helped Product Eutrophication Footprinting scientists understand the benefits and the opportunities of marketing New Zealand products internationally.
  • Farm system and environmental modelling of Taupō Beef through the life cycle to a European consumer has been carried out. Our model helps identify environmental hotspots and has been used to evaluate options for reducing environmental emissions.
  • Our researchers have been involved in testing the European Product Environmental Footprint of New Zealand dairy and red meat products.
  • Dr Sandra Payen, from the Product Eutrophication Footprinting team, was appointed co-chair of the United Nations Environmental Programme/Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (UNEP/SETAC) Life Cycle Initiative Task Force on Eutrophication in January 2018. Through this, the Product Eutrophication Footprinting project has contributed to the final recommendations for standards published by the UNEP in October 2019. This report is expected to influence market assurance schemes.

Participation & engagement Te hunga i whai wāhi mai

  • Liaison with members of the Secretariat of the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) partnership about implications of global application of eutrophication impact indicators in life cycle assessment of livestock supply chains from New Zealand to Europe, particularly the need to account for both nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Liaison with members of the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative Task Force about developing internationally-agreed indicator methods and increasing awareness of issues relevant for New Zealand.
  • Seminar with NIWA scientists to discuss methodological aspects and analysis using NZ catchment model CLUES.
  • Sandra Payen co-chaired the eutrophication/acidification task force at the Pellston workshop in Spain, organised by the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative.

Research team Te hunga i whai wāhi mai

Research Lead
Stewart Ledgard
Sandra Payen
Nuno Cosme
Danish University
Bill Carlson
Sandy Elliott

Tools & resources Ngā utauta me ngā rauemi


Consumers’ Willingness to Pay for Sustainability and Other Attributes

Evidence gathered by four separate Our Land and Water research programmes has found that food shoppers in New Zealand’s key export markets do value attributes…
View Summary

Global Guidance on Environmental Life Cycle Impact Assessment Indicators 2

The Global Guidance for Life Cycle Impact Assessment Indicators 2 is aimed at life cycle assessment practitioners and method developers. It identifies the current best…
View Guidance

Adaptation of water eutrophication indicators for EU environmental footprinting of NZ products

To address impacts on freshwater eutrophication, it is paramount that both N and P are accounted for. The current recommendation from the EC for Product…
View Presentation

Nitrogen and phosphorus modelled in freshwater eutrophication: The director’s cut

Most Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) methods to date estimate freshwater eutrophication impacts from phosphorus (P) only. There is a need to account for the…
View Summary

Academic outputs He whakaputanga ngaio

Journal Article

Eutrophication and climate change impacts of a case study of NZ beef to the European market

Beef production in the Lake Taupō region of New Zealand is regulated for nitrogen (N) leaching. The objectives of this study were to 1) evaluate…
View Journal Article
Technical Report

Modelling impacts of agriculture on freshwater

In the last decade, the UNEP-SETAC working group (WULCA) established a framework to assess water consumption in life-cycle analysis, which was largely adopted by the…
View Technical Report
Technical Report

Global Guidance on Environmental Life Cycle Impact Assessment Indicators – Volume 2

Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) approaches for the characterisation of acidification and eutrophication aim to trace the fate of an acidifying or eutrophying emission, the…
View Technical Report
Technical Report

Application of Eutrophication Potential Indicators in a Case Study Catchment in NZ

The objective of this work was to determine the effects and implications of Eutrophication Potential indicators in the lifecycle assessment of livestock farm systems using…
View Technical Report

In the media Mai i te ao pāpaho

Irrigation NZ News, Autumn 2019 (page 37)
"The meta-analysis showed that European customers were willing to pay an additional 30% or so for beef with the lowest environmental footprint.”
Stuff, 26 November 2018
“​Ledgard says as competition for water increases, water footprints could help guide debates about the best way to use the limited resource“

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