Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of RSPO-certified and Non-certified Palm Oil

Summary

The consequential LCIA results show that RSPO certified palm oil reduces GHG emission by 35% compared to non-certified, i.e. 3.41 (2.61-4.48) kg CO2 eq./kg for certified vs 5.34 (3.34-8.16) kg CO2 eq./kg for non-certified. Similar results are found in attributional modelling.  Certified production achieves the largest GHG emissions reduction because of higher yields, i.e. less land use per unit of product, less oil palm cultivated on peat soil and higher share of palm oil mill effluents treated with biogas capture technologies. We also found that nature occupation is reduced by 20% in certified production while the impact category ‘respiratory inorganics’ is slightly higher (3%) in certified production, due to the larger use of fertilisers.  The LCA study has undergone ISO peer review.  

Background

This crowdfunded project was initiated by LCA 2.0 Consultants (Dr. Jannick Schmidt) in 2017, and ERASM participated as one of the project members. 

The RSPO study quantifies the environmental impacts of RSPO certified and non-certified palm oil through a detailed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of 1 kg of RBD palm oil to factory gate, produced in Indonesia and Malaysia in 2016, to identify potential benefits and trade-offs of RSPO certification. The ISO 14040/14044 compliant LCA is carried out following both a consequential and an attributional LCA approach. The inventory model presents a high level of detail. Primary inventory data describing the certified production system are obtained from RSPO assessment reports, covering 73% (634 estates) of the certified estate, including 111 smallholders, and 58% (165 oil mills) of the certified mills. Data for the total industrial production are drawn from national statistics and scientific literature. The non-certified flows are derived by subtracting the certified flows from the total industry flows.

Outcome of Research

The study shows a 35% relative benefit for RSPO palm oil in terms of GHG emissions.  Absolute GHG estimates are also provided for both categories of palm oil.  The results presented are complementary to the data obtained in the earlier ERASM SLE (Surfactant Life Cycle and Ecofootprint) project.  

A second phase of the RSPO project was initiated in 2021 and will further refine and expand the study reported above. ERASM is again a sponsor of this work.

For more information on the study data and LCIs please contact Dr. Jannick Schmidt, LCA 2.0 Consultants, Aalborg, Denmark (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).