Sustainable development according to Grana Padano

According to the definition put forward in the report “Our Common Future” published in 1987 by United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainable development is development that is ensured to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

In 1972 the Stockholm Declaration (the UN’s first world conference regarding environmental issues has been the reference point until the Rio Declaration of 1992) had already sanctioned the duty of anyone who pollutes to take economic responsibility, and the need to evaluate the environmental impact of every work or project, with the proposed objective of stabilising the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in order to reverse the global warming trend.

The European Commission addressing the subject with a document in 1997 states how the term SUSTAINABILITY is the keyword of the ‘90s.

Thus the concept of sustainability is connected to the compatibility between development of economic activities and safeguarding the environment. The possibility, therefore, to ensure that basic needs are met also involves creating an economic development whose main purpose is to respect the environment, but that at the same time sees the wealthiest countries adopting manufacturing processes and lifestyles compatible with the biosphere’s ability to absorb the effects of human activity and developing countries growing demographically and economically at a pace compatible with the ecosystem.

In fact, when we talk about “environment”, we are also referring to a particular relationship, the relationship between nature and the society that inhabits it. The reasons why a place becomes polluted require an analysis of society’s function, its economy and its behaviour.

As is written in the encyclical “Laudato Sì – On Care for Our Common Home” by the Holy Father Pope Francis, economic growth tends to produce automations in order to simplify processes and reduce costs. For this reason an economic ecology is necessary, one which can lead us to consider reality in a broader way. The same document states that “the protection of the environment is in fact an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it”.

Today the analysis of environmental problems is inseparable from the analysis of human, family, work, urban and economic contexts.

It is also our job to remember that international economic crises have harshly demonstrated the toxic effects on the environment and nature. The same encyclical says that “the environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”. The Holy Father urges us, therefore, to ask ourselves, “What kind of world do we want to pass on to those who come after us, to our growing children?”

The Grana Padano Protection Consortium, following the principles of its statute, is sensitive to the subject of environmental sustainability and for this reason it has been dealing with this subject for some time through different studies with approaches and methodologies aimed at assessing the environmental impact of the entire production chain.

The Consortium was officially established with the statute drafted and registered in Lodi on 18 June 1954.

For over sixty years, it has united producers, maturing companies and distributors of our cheese, guaranteeing compliance with the traditional recipe and high quality in every single cheese wheel produced.

On 24 April 2002, a decree by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry recognised the Consortium’s role in the protection, promotion, development, consumer information and overall care of interests related to Grana Padano PDO, that is, a product with a Protected Designation of Origin status.

Belonging to the Consortium are 129 producers, 153 maturing companies and 160 packagers and graters geographically spread through the regions of Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Trentino Alto Adige and Piedmont.

In 2017, production numbered 4,942,054 wheels (+1.70% vs 2016), equal to 190,352.582 tonnes (+2,40%), obtained by transforming approximately 23% of national milk produced by approximately 4,300 milk producers belonging to the production chain. The entire system involves more than 40,000 workers.

The Grana Padano Protection Consortium therefore stems from our passion for a territory we have always inhabited, our desire to safeguard skills and experience passed down for generations, and our clear intention to enhance this rich fabric of knowledge and know-how which makes our product unique.

The Consortium, commissioning research on the subject of sustainability, wanted to focus attention on the production area of the most highly consumed PDO cheese in the world. The quality of Grana Padano PDO is the result of a symbiosis between natural factors, such as climate and territory, and human factors, such as the fair and constant practices, technological choices and research. Over the years, the need to protect this technical and cultural heritage has given rise to different activities, as a starting point for a plan to improve environmental balance.
The first study entitled “Life cycle of 1 kg of Grana Padano PDO” was done in 2007 in collaboration with the CSQA certification company.

The results of the analyses highlighted how the production processes that create Grana Padano PDO, based on old, established methods, did not require the introduction of technologies that would be harmful to the environment regarding acidification, photo smog, eutrophication and destruction of the ozone layer. Analysis was done on every single process in the “life cycle” (LCA – Life Cycle Assessment) of a kg of product, from the raw materials, to the use of energy resources, to the production of waste and pollutant emissions.
In 2014 we conducted a second study “LCA of Grana Padano” in collaboration with Prof. Trevisan, currently Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural Science at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, defined by the international standards ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006. Compliance with these standards was verified through the authorisation of a third party, performed by the CSQA certification company.

The study’s general objective was to test the methodology’s applicability to our cheese’s production chain in order to gain awareness on the main critical environmental issues in the production process and to identify potential best practices and actions to improve the product’s environmental performance.

The study was done using an approach from cradle to gate, that is, including all the processes from the milk production stage, transport to the cheese factory, Grana Padano production and the maturing process where those involved in the production chain were: dairy farms, cheese factories and maturing warehouses.

The choice of cheese factories involved in the project was based on the following criteria:
  • Cattle feed (forage/concentrates ratio): the cattle feed is connected to the dairy farm’s geographic location;
  • Farm size (small, large);
  • Management procedures in reference to milk production;
The results obtained, based on the life cycle analysis of Grana Padano, highlighted that milk production is the process which most strongly contributes to the overall impact of Grana Padano, in reference to the impact categories considered.
The analysis of the results highlighted several aspects:
  • Greenhouse gas emissions of Grana Padano produced in the factories looked at in the study fluctuate between 10.6kgCO2eq/kgGP and 14.4kgCO2eq/kgGP;
  • The factors which most affect the impact categories considered are the factors of allocation (distribution), animal waste management procedures, feed composition and per-capita milk production;
  • The presence of an anaerobic or litter digester makes it possible to reduce methane emissions from waste management, with benefits for the impact of one kg of Grana Padano on global warming. However, it is important to keep in mind that the use of large quantities of straw could offset the benefits associated with lower emissions tied to manure management;
  • Of all the feeds considered, of equal mass, soya has a greater impact on all the impact categories considered;
  • Optimising per capita milk production is advantageous from an environmental point of view because, despite the fact that to produce a greater quantity of milk greater inputs are required, the impacts allocated to one kg of milk are less;
  • The choice of milk and cheese allocation factors significantly influence the results of the study. In particular, the economic allocation applied to the cattle farm involves a significant decline in the cheese’s environmental performance with respect to the physical allocation. Furthermore, the study revealed that the fat and protein content and the mass of the animals at the end influences the physical allocation factors.
The Consortium’s commitment on this front continues to this day with its participation in an important European research project entitled “The Tough Get Going – I duri cominciano a giocare”. The project intends to promote the use of the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology developed by the European Commission in semi-hard and hard PDO cheeses. This project is based on a multi-criteria approach to assess a product’s environmental performance during its life cycle.

The project will involve important research institutes:
  • The Department of Energy and the Department of Design at the Politecnico di Milano (which is the LEADER) with Prof. Motta (Energy) and Prof. Bucchetti (Design)
  • The Univ. Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Piacenza with Prof. Trevisan and Prof. Masoero
  • OriGin NGO for the protection of Geographical Indications (Switzerland)
  • Enersem (Spin off of the Politecnico di Milano)
  • Qualivita - Foundation for the protection and enhancement of quality food and agricultural products
  • CNIEL - Centre national Interprofessionnel de l’Economie Laitière (Paris - France).
  • Participating for the Protection Consortium will be 19 cheese factories, packagers and maturing companies and 68 farms contributing to the Grana Padano production chain.
The goal of the project is to assess and reduce environmental impact through:
  • The development of a specific tool (software) which will be made available to consortium producers/packagers to reduce time and resources in the life cycle assessment (LCA) of products with an approach to assess the entire production chain. The model will be tested on several Grana Padano factories.
  • Environmental impact reduction strategies assessed using the same software. The tool will be integrated with an eco-design approach and will cover the products’ entire life cycle (farm phase, transformation phase, production phase and final packaging, etc.) in order to reduce the environmental impact;
  • Implementation of an integrated packaging system to inform the final consumer about the product’s environmental performance;
  • Sensitising campaigns aimed at the final consumer on several important environmental issues (e.g., how to reduce food waste),
  • Transfer of the results to a French PDO consortium (through the CNIEL, a project partner),
  • Dissemination of the results at a national and European level.
In general, the final result will therefore be:
  • A fair and comparable report on the environmental impact created by PDO cheeses;
A comparison between products from the same category, as the methodology includes general rules for cheeses that are soft, semi-hard, hard, aged, fresh, etc., so you cannot, for example, compare meat and cheese.

This study could provide a product certification with environmental labelling.
To date, the project has started and seen a strong interest in participation by the companies involved. The project is set to end in 2021.
To conclude with a few words inspired by the Holy Father who reminds us that “the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities”.
The Consortium will therefore continue on the road towards improvement to reduce the environmental impact with the concrete activity of our companies and by believing that “it is essential to give researchers their due role, to facilitate their interaction, and to ensure broad academic freedom”.