Illustration of the NEC indicator in the food industry
Food is a pressing environmental issue. Agriculture and farming account for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of fresh water use. The sector also puts huge pressure on biodiversity.
The NEC classifies different types of products and services based on their environmental footprint. Taking the food sector as a specific example; the NEC indicator classes each type of food based on its impact on three criteria: climate, water and biodiversity, as well as its nutritional content - proteins, lipids and carbohydrates (calculated using official databases).
The resulting NEC ranges from the most environmentally-friendly food (+100% on the scale) to the most harmful to the natural world (-100%). The middle of the scale reprensents the average footprint.
For the climate or carbon criterion, the most environmentally-friendly food within each food category are pulses (proteins), nuts (lipids) and fruits (carbohydrates).
For the water criterion, the least harmful are pulses (proteins), soy oil (lipids) and root crops (carbohydrates).
For the biodiversity criterion, the most eco-friendly solution is to grow organic vegetables.
In addition, packaging can play a role in the NEC calculation.
The consolidated result of the three criteria is shown below for common food categories :
Position of traditional food products based on their environmental performance (Quantis 2017 and Sycomore AM calculations, sources: FODGES database from ADEME, Global Footprint Network, FAOSTAT database).
Companies in the food sector can therefore be positioned based on their NEC ranging from:
- a company selling meat originating from intensive farming: NEC close to -100%;
- to a company positioned in organic and plant-based food: NEC close to +100%.
The NEC marks a new stage in quantifying the environmental impact of companies and the ongoing search for sustainable performance levers