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Goal of the Study

The goal of this study is to develop and implement a Life Cycle Assessment for olive oil production in three Mediterranean regions: Voukolies region in Crete, Greece, Lythrodontas region in Cyprus and Navarra region in Spain, in order to provide a comprehensive and transparent environmental life cycle profile of olive oil by identifying the stages of the production cycle, which have significant environmental impacts and thus should be optimised. The aim is the utilization of the results of this study by all actors involved in the production of olive oil as an integrated Decision Support Tool (DST) for the selection of particular processes, such as adoption of proper olive tree cultivation processes, olive fruit transportation, olive oil milling process and olive oil mill waste management in order to improve the environmental profile of olive oil production.
The study will be based on the Life Cycle Assessment of the most characteristic production chain in each case study area. The selection of the characteristic olive oil selection cycle will be carried out early in the implementation stage and will be based on mass outputs. In each case study area the olive oil life cycle will be analysed and the steps that contribute most to the overall environmental load (“hot spots”) will be identified. Subsequently, for each case study, improvement opportunities will be identified and preventive management measures will be prescribed in order to minimise the impacts of those processes and of the production of olive oil as a whole.

Reasons for carrying out the Study

The European environmental policy is now partly changing towards a product-oriented attitude, with focus on the resource use and environmental impact per produced and consumed unit of different products. This so called Integrated Product Policy (IPP) is an approach seeking to reduce the life cycle environmental impacts of products from the mining of raw materials to production, distribution, use, and waste management. The driving idea is the belief that through the holistic approach of integrating environmental impacts at each stage of the life cycle of a product, more efficient environmental management can be achieved and reflected in the decisions of stakeholders.
The roots of Life Cycle Analysis extend back to 1974 when academics in Switzerland, Germany and the USA developed approaches to enable energetic and environmental calculations apart from the existing cost calculations in the product planning process. In the late 1980s, industry and governmental institutions increasingly recognised the benefits of a life cycle approach and in the early 1990s a wave of different research projects related to life cycle analysis of existing products began (PE Europe et al., 2004). However, the recognition of the LCA as an established environmental management tool was not until the late 1990s with the release of the ISO series of standards on LCA. As a recent Commission Communication (2003) recognises, the LCA is now an essential support tool for Integrated Product Policy and its application not only to industrial processes and products but also in agricultural systems is gaining ground (Bennett, 2004).
“LCA provides an understanding of environmental impacts across agricultural supply chains, and places the agro-ecological stage in context with the rest of the food supply chain. The future of food business lies in demonstrating life cycle accountability of agricultural products” (King, 2002)
The EU’s affirmed commitment to sustainable development, through the Treaty of Amsterdam has led to the development of a sustainable development strategy, focusing on improving the effectiveness of policy and ensuring that different policies reinforce one another rather than pulling in different directions (IEEP, 2002). Some elements of this commitment were utilised during the presidency conclusions of the Gothenburg Council in 2002. In particular, the Council agreed that amongst its other objectives, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should contribute to sustainable development by “increasing its emphasis on encouraging healthy, high quality products, environmentally sustainable production methods, including organic production, renewable raw materials and the protection of biodiversity” (EU, 2002).
However, a recent study (Beaufoy, 2001b) commissioned by the European Commission recognised that although “the requirement to integrate environmental concerns into Community policies, including CAP, is enshrined in the European Union Treaties” this integration was obstructed by a lack of information concerning the environmental affects of particular agricultural sectors and systems, and an absence of research into practical policy options. The same report pointed out “that these absences are particularly apparent in the case of certain farming systems characteristic of the Mediterranean region, such as olive production, whose environmental effects have been studied less than farming systems more characteristic of central and northern Europe” (Beaufoy, 2001b). Furthermore, although the environmental impacts from agriculture and the food chain has recently attracted some attention by policy makers and some consumer groups, regulations as those reviewed in the previous task, mostly focus on local effects, e.g. reduction in nitrate leaching per land unit, not taking into consideration the developments in food processing and consumer choices as well as more global environmental effects (Halberg, 2003).
Olive oil has always been a product directly associated with the Mediterranean Sea. Although, in recent years, other regions with similar climate such as California in the USA, South Africa, Argentina and Australia have adopted olive tree cultivation and olive oil production, the largest producers of olive oil in the world are still found around the Mediterranean sea with Greece and Spain being amongst the top three and together with Cyprus, which despite its small size is a significant olive oil producing country, they account for about 55 per cent of the global olive oil production (IOOC, 2005). Therefore, olive oil is a product of particular importance for Greece, Cyprus and Spain and especially for the regions of Voukolies, Lythrodontas and Navarra in particular. However, olive oil production, and specifically, the cultivation stage, has been recently identified as quite problematic in terms of sustainability (IEEP, 2002). One of the main causes identified was the previous regime of the Common Agricultural Policy in regards to olives. That system of support for olive oil production included payments made in direct relation to output of the farm; hence it provided an incentive to increase production capacity of the farms. The higher the profitability, the more motivated the farmers were to invest in intensive farming techniques, in order to secure long term profitability through cost reduction (IEEP, 2002). The resulting intensification of olive farming has been associated with many damaging environmental impacts. The Community support for olive oil production has been recently decoupled from output production (EU, 2004), therefore a great potential for the improvement of the environmental performance of its production now exists. Prior to this development, Beaufoy (2001a) reported that “olive farming could be a model for sustainable land-use in the Mediterranean region, producing highly valued foodstuffs and environmental benefits”. Now, it is the time to materialise this aspiration and this is the reason for carrying out this study.

Intended Application

The International Standard ISO 14040 (1997) does not specify any particular requirements on the applications for which a Life Cycle Assessment can be used. In practice LCAs can be carried out for a number of different reasons and can serve various purposes.
For example, an LCA study can be used to compare two or more existing materials or products in order to identify the ‘better’ one (Krozer, 1998) providing a valuable tool for marketing and environmental policies and is increasingly used in eco-labelling schemes (VROM, CML, 2001). In this case, the producer usually commissions the LCA, to prove that a product is environmentally superior from its competitors, or to select a product or material with the minimum environmental impacts from the available options.
Another potential application of an LCA study for products, is the design of environmentally friendly products, known as eco-design. In this case the LCA study results are used within the company rather than the marketplace to optimise environmentally a new product.
Furthermore an LCA may intend to assist in the selection of relevant indicators as well as measurement techniques of environmental performance for a product by identifying the most significant emissions and extractions to and from the environment respectively and associating those with environmental impacts.
Another popular application of an LCA is its use for the improvement of an existing product (Krozer, 1998). In this situation the LCA focuses on one single product chain, such as olive oil production in order to identify opportunities to improve the environmental aspects of the product by modifying/optimising processes at various points in its lifecycle. This is the application of this study.
Nevertheless, apart from the product development, optimisation and marketing, LCA studies can have a very constructive application in the formulation of environmentally efficient services. For example, an LCA for waste operations can assist local authorities in priority setting for improvement of the service and a comparative LCA for public modes of transport can provide national administrations with a valuable input during strategic planning.

Practitioner, Intended Audience and Interested Parties

The practitioner of this study is a research team consisting of three research groups, one from each case study country. The groups are: the Department of Production Engineering and Management of Technical University of Crete, the Environmental Engineering Laboratory of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Cyprus and the Technological Environmental and Agro Food Development Department, Fundaciün LEIA C.D.T in Spain. The structure of the practitioner team are shown in Figure 1. During the implementation of the study, the practitioner team will be assisted by the local authorities of Voukolia, Lythrodontas and Navarra.
The results and conclusions of this study will be communicated to all people involved in all stages of the olive oil life cycle in the case study regions, such as olive farmers, olive mill operators, retailers and consumers. They will also be communicated to the Environment Directorate General of the European Commission, which is partly financing this project through its Life-Environment programme and also to Agriculture Directorate General. Dissemination of the results will be undertaken through a variety of means such as conferences, workshops, the World Wide Web, printed material as well as interviews to the mass media.
According to ISO 14040 (1997), an interested party is “an individual or group concerned about or affected by the environmental performance of a product system or by the results of an LCA”. Moreover, an operational guide by VROM and CML (2001), while adopts this definition it employs a shorter synonym “stakeholder”. Therefore, the results of this study, apart from all those involved in the olive oil life cycle as described above, will be disseminated to all those stakeholders, which include national agricultural and environmental authorities, decision-makers, environmental groups and researchers.
  LIFE 04/ENV/GR/000110