The software is one of the outcomes of the LIFE ECOLAC project being coordinated by AZTI and whose partners are INGENET, the Federación Nacional de Industrias Lácteas (FENIL-National Federation of Dairy Industries) and the Central Lechera Asturiana (CAPSA-Milk Plant of Asturias). The aim of the project, funded by the European Commission, is to prevent and reduce the environmental impact associated with the production of dairy products by encouraging the ecodesign of foodstuffs through the use of software tools specifically adapted to the special characteristics of the sector. However, despite being initially geared towards the dairy sector, this tool is designed so that it can be used in other food sectors.
The new tool evaluates the environmental impact of dairy products through their Life Cycle Analysis, enabling the causes and origins of this impact to be identified throughout their life cycle, from the farms right up to the final sale of a carton of milk, yogurt or other product. Furthermore, this tool also allows new scenarios for improvement to be created for the purpose of reducing the environmental impact of the product, in other words, to promote the ecodesign of new products.
The tool functions by taking data directly from ERP management software and from the software of various pieces of measuring equipment that the dairy company has at its disposal, without any need for them to be inputted manually. The result obtained is the presentation of the product's environmental footprint, including its carbon footprint, water footprint or resource depletion, among other impacts; it offers the possibility of simulating the impact of new scenarios for improvement, as well as a simulation of the costs of energy, water and other materials associated with the manufacturing of the product. As a result, this tool enables environmental indicators to be built into the management of the company; this involves being able to monitor the evolution of the improvements and to set environmental aims for the future.
The software has been doubly validated. Firstly, a comparative analysis of the impacts generated by various dairy products was made using commercially available tools, such as SIMAPRO, and the ECOLAC tool. The second validation was made with the Central Lechera Asturiana (CAPSA), where the environmental variable was taken into consideration in the design of a new yogurt. The result was highly satisfactory in both cases, since the evaluation of the impacts made using a piece of commercially available software and ECOLAC is totally aligned; its pilot use in the dairy company has shown that it is a highly valid tool for calculating the environmental impacts and, in the end, for the development of more eco-efficient dairy products.
The tool was developed in accordance with the new recommendations emerging out of international standards, such as the European initiative "Single Market for Green Product", promoted by the General Directorate for the Environment, which has developed a new framework for evaluating the environmental footprint of products for all the EU's goods and services. This fact brings the dairy industry closer to the environmental communication and certification of the product or organisation.