The Sustainability Footprint Of Chocolate

Each type of food we eat has it’s own sustainability footprint

In this guide, we’ve outlined the potential sustainability footprint of producing and eating chocolate.

 

Summary – Sustainability Footprint Of Chocolate

Types Of Chocolate

Different types of chocolate have different sustainability footprints, with milk chocolate and dark chocolate being two examples of this

Dairy vs non dairy chocolate may also have different sustainability footprints as another example

 

Carbon Footprint

When it comes to the carbon footprints of different foods, chocolate might fit somewhere in between vegetarian foods and animal meats (alongside other dairy products) in terms of it’s carbon footprint per unit of weight of chocolate produced

When including the sourcing of beans in the lifecycle assessment, milk chocolate may see it’s carbon footprint double, and dark chocolate see it triple (the extra cocoa in dark chocolate is usually the reason for this)

Additionally, when accounting for the land use change and deforestation involved with some brands of chocolate, the global warming potential can increase 3 to 4 times according to some sources

 

Water Footprint

When it comes to the water footprints of different foods, chocolate might be one of the most water intensive of all foods to produce on a per kg basis

But, per serving, it can drop down the list compared to other foods

 

Land Footprint

When it comes to the land footprints of different foods, it’s not clear what chocolate’s land footprint is exactly compared to other foods.

It might fit in the dairy category – which fits in about mid list under animal meats

Having said this, the land footprint of chocolate can be calculated by itself. 

The land footprint of chocolate depends on the number of cocoa trees being grown on an acre of land, the amount of chocolate the trees are producing (might be between half to two pounds of chocolate per year), and considering how old or young the tree is (older trees might produce less than younger trees)

 

Largest Producers Of Cocoa

The Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the two largest producers of cocoa

Favorable weather/climate and growing conditions are important to cocoa production

A changing climate could impact cocoa production in the future in West Africa

 

Environmental Issues Related To Cocoa Production

Majority of the world’s cocoa is grown in what could be considered an organic way, by small placeholders

But, clearing of forests for intensive cocoa production can be one problem

Intensive large scale cocoa production can also have a range of other environmental issues

Deforestation of forests (particularly tropical forests) is said to be one of the environmental issues in West Africa and Ivory Coast

 

Human Issues Related To Cocoa Production

The use of child labour might be an issue in West Africa for cocoa production

 

Economic Impact Of Cocoa Production & Chocolate Industry

The chocolate market is worth in the 100’s of billions of dollars, and cocoa production is the main source of income for millions of small scale farmers worldwide

 

Improving The Productivity Of Cocoa In The Future, & Improving Sustainability & Ethics

Different farming techniques and genome mapping of cocoa trees could boost cocoa production productivity.

Reducing child labour, replanting trees, using sustainable ingredients and improving income for cocoa farmers could help make cocoa and chocolate production more ethical and sustainable

 

Assessing Different Chocolate Brands & Products Separately

Overall, because different brands and products of chocolate have different ingredients and production processes, each brand/product should be assessed separately across it’s life cycle

Miscellaneous factors such as nutrition and health impact of different chocolates might also be considered

 

Carbon Footprint Of Chocolate

The factors that impact the carbon footprint of chocolate can include whether it’s milk chocolate or dark chocolate, whether sourcing of cocoa beans is included in the lifecycle assessment, and whether land use change and deforestation is also included.

 

The average 40-gram bar of milk chocolate will carry with it a carbon footprint of around 200 grams (or upwards of 5 kilograms per kilogram of chocolate).

This rises to nearer 300 grams for a bar of dark chocolate due to the extra cocoa it contains

– link.springer.com

 

Cadbury estimates that 169g (6 ounces) of carbon dioxide equivalent are emitted [for their average] 49g (1.7 ounce) Dairy Milk chocolate bar.

This calculation includes emissions from the production … and from packaging and distribution, but not from land-use change [the carbon footprint is larger when deforestation is accounted for]

[when all emissions from chocolate’s entire lifecycle are included in a calculation …]  sourcing beans from United Cacao would nearly double the carbon footprint of milk chocolate to 6.8g of carbon dioxide per gram [from 3.45g of CO2] and triple that of dark chocolate to 10.1g of carbon dioxide per gram …

– wri.org

 

Land use change increases the carbon footprint of chocolate:

Global warming potential (GWP) of chocolate ranges from 2.9–4.2 kg CO2 eq./kg.

Land-use change associated with cocoa production increases total GWP by 3–4 times.

– sciencedirect.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Produce Chocolate

In terms of the water footprint of chocolate:

It can take anywhere from 10,000 to around 24,000 litres of water to produce per 1kg chocolate, making it one of the most water intensive foods on a per unit of weight produced basis

In terms of water footprint per serving size, chocolate might drop further down the list

A chocolate bar might still be one of the more water intensive snacks you can eat, compared to fruit like bananas for example (on a per weight basis)

Cocoa plants are said to be the most water hungry part of the chocolate making process

 

How Much Land It Takes To Produce Chocolate

A cocoa tree might produce anywhere from half a pound to 2 pounds of chocolate per year

Yield per acre depends on how many trees are growing and producing on an acre of land

The age of the cocoa tree also matters – older trees generally produce less

 

Plantations in cocoa-producing countries typically have 1,000 to 1,200 cocoa trees growing per hectare [which works out to be] between 400 and 485 cocoa trees … per acre …

Each Cacao tree can produce approximately 2 pounds of chocolate a year

– amanochocolate.com, hersheystory.org

 

It can take an entire year for a cocoa tree to produce the cocoa in just half a pound of chocolate.

Older trees also yield less cocoa, and most of the world’s cocoa plantations are well past their peak production years.

– worldwildlife.org

 

Producers Of Cocoa

Ivory Coast and Ghana are the largest producers of cocoa.

Some of this has to do with the favorable weather and growing conditions in these countries.

Having said this, a changing climate in the future could impact cocoa production in these regions

 

70% of the world’s cocoa beans come from four West African countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.

The Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the two largest producers of cocoa: together they cultivate more than half of the world´s cocoa.

– makechocolatefair.org

 

Climate change is expected to boost temperatures and prolong dry spells [in places like West Africa in the future]

… local cocoa farmers [could suffer as a result as] cocoa trees are sensitive to heat and drought.

– worldwildlife.org

 

Other Environmental Issues Related To Chocolate Production

Majority of the world’s cocoa is grown in what could be considered an organic way, by small placeholders

But, clearing of forests for intensive cocoa production can be one problem

Intensive large scale cocoa production can also have a range of other environmental issues

Clearing of tropical forests (deforestation) can be heavily linked to cocoa production in West Africa and the Ivory Coast

 

An estimated 70% of world cocoa production is grown by smallholders, largely in low input, low intensity agricultural systems [that are essentially organic in fashion … and low prices and not being able to afford chemicals is in part responsible for this]

… intensive cocoa production on large plantations can result [clearing of forests]

Intensive large scale cocoa production can also result in reductions in biodiversity and soil fertility, soil erosion, stream sedimentation and health and environmental problems associated with agrochemical application and run-off.

– icco.org

 

On deforestation:

… tropical forests [can be cleared] to plant new cocoa trees rather than reusing the same land.

That practice has spurred massive deforestation in West Africa, particularly in Ivory Coast.

Experts estimate that 70% of the country’s illegal deforestation is related to cocoa farming.

– worldwildlife.org

 

Human Impact Of Chocolate Production

Child labor is one of the human issues to do with chocolate production.

 

[Child labor can be an issue with] West Africa’s cocoa farmers 

During the 2013-14 growing season, an estimated 2 million children were used for hazardous labor throughout Ghana and Ivory Coast.

– worldwildlife.org

 

The Value Of Chocolate & Cocoa To The Economy

The chocolate market is worth in the 100’s of billions of dollars, and cocoa production is the main source of income for millions of small scale farmers worldwide

 

Economic Value

The overall chocolate market rose 13 percent between 2010 and 2015 to hit $101 billion (cnbc.com)

 

Cocoa market and chocolate market:

The Cocoa Market is forecast to be worth $2.1 Billion & the Chocolate Market worth $131.7 Billion by 2019

– marketsandmarkets.com

 

Income

Cocoa is the main source of income for 5.5 million small-scale farmers, many of whom live on less than $1.25 per day (cnbc.com)

 

Potential To Improve The Sustainability & Ethics Of Cocoa/Chocolate Production

Different farming techniques and genome mapping of cocoa trees could boost cocoa production productivity.

Reducing child labour, replanting trees, using sustainable ingredients and improving income for cocoa farmers could help make cocoa and chocolate production more ethical and sustainable

 

[there are] farming techniques that could boost the productivity of existing cocoa farms …

Additionally, candy company Mars has mapped the cocoa genome, leading to trees that are three to four times more productive than varieties often used in West Africa; they can also be more climate resistant.

[there’s a range of sustainable and ethical goals chocolate companies could aim for in th future]

– worldwildlife.org

 

A Note About The Variability Of Agriculture In Different Parts Of The World

Agricultural production (livestock, dairy, crops etc.) differs between countries and states/provinces, and between agricultural producers – there’s many factors to consider with each set of agricultural data and between data. 

Some producers may put profit as their first and only priority, whilst other producers may consider the environment, sustainability, efficient resource usage, the health and well being of animals, and other factors.

These figures and this information is of a general nature and not reflective of all agricultural producers.

So, all chocolate products and brands need to be assessed individually.

 

Sources

1. https://www.selectscience.net/industry-news/is-your-easter-egg-bad-for-the-environment/?artID=46031

2. https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jan/10/how-much-water-food-production-waste

3. https://www.wri.org/blog/2015/08/how-much-rainforest-chocolate-bar

4. http://www.amanochocolate.com/faqs/how-many-cocoa-trees-grow-on-one-acre-of-land/

5. https://hersheystory.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ChocolateMath.pdf

6. https://makechocolatefair.org/issues/cocoa-production-nutshell

7. https://www.icco.org/faq/56-environment/120-what-are-the-effects-of-intensive-commercial-production-of-cocoa-on-the-environment.html

8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996918301273

9. https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/spring-2017/articles/bittersweet-chocolate-s-impact-on-the-environment

10. https://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html

11. https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/cocoa-chocolate.asp

12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_effects_of_cocoa_production

13. Reay D. (2019) Climate-Smart Chocolate. In: Climate-Smart Food. Palgrave Pivot, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-18206-9_6. Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-18206-9_6#:~:text=know%20and%20love.-,The%20average%2040%2Dgram%20bar%20of%20milk%20chocolate%20will%20carry,lovely%20but%20high%2Demission%20food.

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