The environmental impact of a product or a service

Impacto ambiental

Everything we do has an impact on the environment, also the products and services that we consume, whose impact is not only associated with the moment that they are used by us, but with their entire life process: before, during, and after.

We could draw a parallel between a product or service and living beings: we are both born, we grow and we die. This process is known as the life cycle and in all its stages it has an impact on our environment. Depending on the product or service it will do so in a different way.

What is the environmental impact of a product or service? Let’s follow by taking the example of a nice and yummy tomato.

1.Raw materials. A product or a service requires raw materials, whose production and extraction impacts on the environment. Our tomato needs an irrigation system that consumes water and energy for its flow. It will also require fertilizers and pesticides, which can cause contamination of groundwater when they end being filtered into the soil.

2.Production and processing. Once our tomatoes have grown to optimal conditions for consumption, the farmer will use a tractor to harvest them. Once extracted, they have to be processed again and again to adapt them to the type of product they want to produce: sometimes packed in nice cardboard or plastic wrappings, and other times crushed, fried, or converted into ketchup.  We include here the classification, manufacture, packaging… giving rise to more processes with a repeated environmental impact associated with the energy used or the waste generated.

3.Logistics. There is a chain of steps until the product reaches us, consumers, that include: transport, storage, quality check… In the case of a food product, sometimes it comes from far away and there is considerable use of fossil fuels associated with its transport, or for example, on the use of cold storages, using significant amounts of electricity. As you can see, it is important to know where our tomatoes come from!

4.Distribution. Finally, someone puts the tomato on the shelf of a store for several days: taking it from the wholesale market to the store, keeping it in a cold room, keeping the supermarket at a constant temperature all year round, ventilating, and lighting it.

5.Waste collection. At some point, the products cease to be useful, or part of them is no longer usable and we end up getting rid of them. Someone will collect that waste and process it to a greater or lesser extent. All these are also activities with a certain impact. Think of the garbage truck which will collect the waste and the garbage plant that will process it later. Both consume fossil fuels or electrical energy and have other “footprints” associated with CO2 emissions when our discarded tomatoes end up in the landfill. And yes, the decomposition of an organic matter emits also greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) or CO2.

As you can see,  all activities involved in the production of a product or service affects the environment. This impact will be bigger or smaller depending on its nature and how it is produced. 

In the case of our tomate, the production of one kilogram of this product emits a total of 1,4 kg CO2. Which one of the steps on the lyfe cycle has the most environmental impact?

  • Land use: 0,4 kg CO2.
  • Farm: 0,7 kg CO2.
  • Transport: 0,2 kg CO2.
  • Packging: 0,1 kg CO2.

Without a doubt, in the case of tomatoes, all of these are necessary for them to reach our plates. It is up to you to choose a tomato with less impact and encourage responsible consumption!