Life Cycle Assessment of milk production in the Western Cape



WWF-SA and Woolworths

Problem Statement:

To gain an understanding of the impacts of dairy products and to identify key points of intervention for improvement.

The Green House approach:

The first step was to thoroughly scope the study and identify partners along the product value chain. Through discussions with the WWF team, the study was limited to the production and supply of fresh milk to the consumer, with the milk produced in the Western Cape and sold within the greater Cape Town area. Five farms were located that were willing to participate in the study, that covered different Western Cape regions (Greater Cape Town, the Overberg and the Garden Route) and different dairy farming approaches (intensive stall-based and pasture). An in-kind donation to the WWF was negotiated with TetraPak and the large commercial dairy company that provided input into a TetraPak study on milk packaging [possibly a link to that case study], to allow data from that study to be applied in the WWF study. Finally, Woolworths were approached to partner on the retail and distribution end. Woolworths also made available their considerable consumer database, enabling a consumer survey to provide data on the final value chain stage (milk consumption and packaging end of life).

Data collection site visits were undertaken to the farms, dairy processing facilities, distribution centre and retail store. This primary site-specific data was combined with South African agricultural statistics and The Green House’s proprietary LCI database to build a life cycle model of milk production.

An important part of the life cycle model is the sustainability metrics against which the product is assessed. WWF wished to particularly focus on climate, water and biodiversity impacts. The latter two are dependent on the region in which the activity occurs, and thus were found not be adequately assessed by available life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods (which are mostly developed by European researchers). A particular component of the study was thus to develop water and biodiversity life cycle indicators relevant to the South African context.


The outcome of the study was summary report and a technical report, which detailed the emissions and environmental impacts along the milk supply chain in the Western Cape, whilst placing the results in the international context. Various stakeholder engagements formed part of the deliverables of the study, including feedback sessions to the data providers of the study, as well as a public workshop: Understanding the Applications of Life Cycle Assessment to the Food Industry, held at the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation.

A summary of the findings can be found in the article published in the South African Food Science and Technology magazine.
The study provided some powerful insights into the milk supply chain that have been taken up by Woolworths and their suppliers. The experiences of WWF-SA, Woolworths and The Rhodes Food Group with the study can be heard on the 50/50 feature (