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A Comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Household Food Choices


  • Boehm, Rebecca
  • Wilde, Parke E.
  • Ver Ploeg, Michele
  • Costello, Christine
  • Cash, Sean B.


Changes in diet have been proposed as one way to reduce carbon emissions from the food system. But evidence on the implications of changing to low carbon food choices for both diet quality and food affordability are limited in the U.S. The objective of this study was to (a) estimate greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) from U.S. household food purchases; (b) examine the source of GHGEs across U.S. food production industries and stages of the supply chain; and (c) show the association between GHGEs and spending by food categories and household sociodemographics. GHGEs from food expenditures made by households participating in the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey were calculated using Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment. Results indicate that food purchases accounted for 16% of U.S. GHGEs in 2013 and average weekly household GHGEs were 71.8 kg carbon dioxide equivalents per standard adult. 68% of average weekly household GHGEs from food spending came from agriculture and food manufacturing stages of the food supply chain. Industries that produce animal proteins accounted for 30% of average weekly household GHGEs, the largest share of any food industry. Households generating the highest levels of GHGEs spent a significantly larger share of their food budget on protein foods compared to households generating lower levels of GHGEs. White households and those with higher education levels generated more GHGEs from food spending compared to non-white and less educated households. Overall these findings inform the ongoing debate about which diets or food spending patterns in the U.S. are best for mitigating GHGEs in the food system and if they are feasible for consumers to purchase.

Suggested Citation

  • Boehm, Rebecca & Wilde, Parke E. & Ver Ploeg, Michele & Costello, Christine & Cash, Sean B., 2018. "A Comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Household Food Choices," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 67-76.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:79:y:2018:i:c:p:67-76
    DOI: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2018.05.004

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Martin C. Heller & Gregory A. Keoleian, 2015. "Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimates of U.S. Dietary Choices and Food Loss," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 19(3), pages 391-401, June.
    2. Canning, Patrick & Rehkamp, Sarah & Waters, Arnold & Etemadnia, Hamideh, 2017. "The Role of Fossil Fuels in the U.S. Food System and the American Diet," Economic Research Report 262187, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    3. Canning, Patrick N. & Charles, Ainsley & Huang, Sonja & Polenske, Karen R. & Waters, Arnold, 2010. "Energy Use in the U.S. Food System," Economic Research Report 59381, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    4. Peter Scarborough & Paul Appleby & Anja Mizdrak & Adam Briggs & Ruth Travis & Kathryn Bradbury & Timothy Key, 2014. "Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 125(2), pages 179-192, July.
    5. Elinor Hallström & Quentin Gee & Peter Scarborough & David A. Cleveland, 2017. "A healthier US diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from both the food and health care systems," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 142(1), pages 199-212, May.
    6. Kim, Brent & Neff, Roni, 2009. "Measurement and communication of greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. food consumption via carbon calculators," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 186-196, November.
    7. Weisz, Helga & Duchin, Faye, 2006. "Physical and monetary input-output analysis: What makes the difference?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(3), pages 534-541, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rebecca Boehm & Hannah Kitchel & Selena Ahmed & Anaya Hall & Colin M. Orians & John Richard Stepp & Al Robbat, Jr. & Timothy S. Griffin & Sean B. Cash, 2019. "Is Agricultural Emissions Mitigation on the Menu for Tea Drinkers?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(18), pages 1-20, September.
    2. Hongwu Zhang & Lequan Zhang & Keying Wang & Xunpeng Shi, 2019. "Unveiling Key Drivers of Indirect Carbon Emissions of Chinese Older Households," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(20), pages 1-17, October.
    3. Wendy Wrieden & Joel Halligan & Louis Goffe & Karen Barton & Ilkka Leinonen, 2019. "Sustainable Diets in the UK—Developing a Systematic Framework to Assess the Environmental Impact, Cost and Nutritional Quality of Household Food Purchases," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(18), pages 1-14, September.


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