Development of a streamlined life cycle assessment (LCA) tool for assessing the environmental benefits of progressive cane growing : SRDC final report UQ045
Development of a streamlined life cycle assessment (LCA) tool for assessing the environmental benefits of progressive cane growing : volume 1 (1.686Mb)
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The Australian sugar industry faces continuing expectations to demonstrate environmentally sustainable sugarcane growing practices. This has been driven by moves to protect water quality (through the Australian Government’s Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and the Queensland Government’s Reef Protection Legislation), requirements to develop best-practice guidelines, and also by opportunities to participate in greenhouse gas abatement through the Australian Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative.In response, the University of Queensland and BSES Limited, with funding from the Sugar Research and Development Corporation (SRDC), have developed a tool that calculates the environmental footprint of sugarcane production using environmental life cycle assessment (LCA). The tool, referred to as the CaneLCA Eco-efficiency Calculator, can support the adoption of sustainable sugarcane practices by enabling the environmental evaluation and comparison of different sugarcane growing practices. The information it generates can inform practice change decisions and validate environmental improvement efforts.The project brought together BSES’s capabilities in identifying and promoting progressive cane-growing practices, and UQ’s capabilities in modelling the environmental impacts of cane-growing systems. The project was also significantly informed of numerous industry stakeholders including industry associations, extension advisors, sugarcane farmers and researchers.The two aims of the project were 1) to develop a user-friendly, streamlined LCA tool customised for sugarcane growing in Australia, and 2) to use the tool to test the environmental benefits of progressive cane growing practices against conventional practices.The development of CaneLCA has made an otherwise complex LCA process more accessible to the sugar industry by making it available as an Excel-based application with user-friendly interfaces for entering data and interpreting results. It has been designed principally for use by extension advisors in conjunction with sugarcane farmers to understand the sources of environmental impacts over the life cycle of cane growing, rate the relative performance of a cane growing operation, and compare different combinations of practices. This is a novel development and one of the first attempts in Australia to tailor an LCA tool for use in an agricultural sector.Evaluations demonstrated that CaneLCA can be used by intended users to produce a rapid, accurate and meaningful environmental assessment of cane growing operations, and be applied to test the environmental benefits of transitions towards progressive growing practices.The tool was used to compare progressive practices against conventional practices for Wet Tropics, Central and Southern regions, using published descriptions of practice change. It was found that the progressive practices currently being promoted in the industry generally lead to improved environmental efficiency. However other types of practice changes can lead to mixed environmental outcomes, both positive and negative. The analysis demonstrated how CaneLCA can be used to understand the environmental benefits and trade-offs of different practices so that practice change can optimised to maximise the benefits and minimising trade-offs. This adds to the body of knowledge about how choice of agricultural practices influence environmental impacts, which has received little attention in the scientific literature to date.Use of CaneLCA will lead to the more informed and strategic identification and adoption of innovative practices at a time when the industry needs to respond to external drivers for change (climate change mitigation and adaption, reef protection, environmental certification schemes). It will also give tangible demonstration to the community that the industry is interested and has the tools to improve its environmental performance. This will help maintains the industry’s social licence to operate.