Life Cycle Assessment for Organic Swiss soft cheese imitation from cashew nut kernels

Schönberg, Sonja; Mühlebach, Gina; Beyli, Deborah; Wiezel, Karolin (14 November 2021). Life Cycle Assessment for Organic Swiss soft cheese imitation from cashew nut kernels Bern University of Applied Sciences

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Dairy products are increasingly recognized to dramatically account for CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, soil and water pollution, loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitats, nutrient cycles and land use change (Canellada et al. 2018; Horacio Aguirre-Villegas et al. 2011; Jungbluth et al. 2015; Clay et al. 2020; Milani et al. 2011). Switzerland has high rates of cheese consumption where adults eat on average 27g of hard cheese, 13g of soft cheese and 11g of cream cheese per day (Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office 2017). In 2018, from a total of 3.454.428 tons of marketed milk equivalents in Switzerland, 44% accounted for the cheese and curd production (Federal Office For Agriculture FOAG 2019). Environmental concerns lead to an increasing number of plants favoring diets within the Swiss population. 14% are vegetarian or vegan and around 17% are flexitarians (SwissVeg, 2017). There are global new product databases which show that a quarter of all existing vegan cheese alternatives was launched within the last year. This indicates important opportunities for non-dairy cheese products (Buech 2019). However, so far there is no scientific data about the ecological added value for cheese alternatives from plants compared to cow’s milk cheeses. This report aimed to explore the environmental impact on an example of an organic Swiss soft cheese imitation made from cashew nuts in comparison to an organic Swiss soft cheese from cow’s milk. A comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) according to the steps described in the ISO 14040 to 14044 standards was carried out, comparing the cheese imitation with a cow’s milk soft cheese. Modelling of the LCA was performed using the SimaPro8® Software which derives all data from the Swiss ecoinvent v3.0 database. The modelling was carried out as part of a student module project and was partly based on assumptions in the data basis. The LCA was performed from the sourcing of the raw material to the packaged end-product until it is ready to be sold in Bern. Three different evaluation methods were chosen to get a comprehensive understanding of the environmental impact of the cashew-based soft cheese alternative and the soft cheese from cow’s milk: CO2, Ecological Scarcity 2013 and ILCD Version 1.10 EU27 2010. The evaluation of the carbon footprint of the cashew-based soft cheese alternative and the soft cheese from cow’s milk inclusive packaging and transportation reveals that for the cow’s milk based soft cheese the CO2 emission are by far higher than for the cashew-based soft cheese. Same as for CO2-emissions, the overall environmental impact from the cow’s milk based soft cheese is much higher (3106 UBP) than for the cashew-based soft cheese alternative (464 UBP). The environmental impacts coming from cow’s milk cheese are higher than those from the cashew-based cheese imitation for all emissions and pollutants. The main impacts from the cheese from cow’s milk are global warming, followed by air and water pollutants. Further impacts are land use and heavy metals into air and water. The evaluation according to the ILCD method (1.10 EU27 2010, equal weighting) shows that three of the 16 categories are mainly responsible for the impact scores of the soft cheese based on cow’s milk. It refers to the categories of “human toxicity non cancer”, “human toxicity cancer effects” and “freshwater ecotoxicity”. This report offers an approach to the estimation of the ecological impacts of an organic Swiss cashew-based soft cheese alternative and an organic Swiss soft cheese from cow’s milk. It shows, that the environmental impact of the cashew-based soft cheese alternative is overall smaller than for the soft cheese from cow’s milk, no matter which method was chosen. Preliminary literature research and interviews with traders and producers were confirmed by the underlying analysis of this report, that the sourcing of the raw material which are cashew kernels and cow’s milk will account for the main systematic differences. The processing of the cow’s milk and the “cashew milk” to obtain the final cheese or cheese alternative product is very similar and do not discriminate for the outcome of the life cycle assessments. When looking at the overall factors contributing to the eco efficiency it is obvious that the choice of the packaging plays overall a negligible role. The results help to inform producers and consumers of the cashew-based cheese alternative about the potential added ecological value of the food product. However, as mentioned above, the results have limitations in the data basis. A professional adjustment of the calculations would relativise the result by making the cashew-based imitation less clearly superior to the cow's milk-based cheese. More information can be obtained from the authors. Whenever food production is addressed within the highly differentiated functioning of biophysical systems and processes which are precursory requirements for a stable earth system, the profound understanding and thus interpretation of interactions are limited. It is the inherent complexity of earth system dynamics which exceeds capacity to set clear ranges of quantitative targets for a sustainable food production (Willett et al. 2019). An LCA always remains a simplified model of this complex interplay which, as with all simplifications, distorts the reality. The present report however allows for general statements about the potential ecological superiority of the production of the cashew-based soft cheese alternative when compared to a cow’s milk-based soft cheese which might meet the wholesaler’s, retailer’s, and manufacturer’s interest. To produce very robust data and to address more challenging concerns with LCA, such as "hot spots" in the supply chain or for the implementation of professional eco-audit procedures, the analysis on which this report is based would need to be refined (Jungbluth 1999). Leading back to the introduction of this report, it has been explained, that environmental concerns are part of the reasons, why an increasing number of consumers prefer to eat plants favoring diets in Switzerland (SwissVeg, 2017). The present LCA case study indicates, that the cashew-based cheese alternative might have major advantages in terms of eco efficiency which are indeed an important opportunity for manufacturers of these products. Once again, however, a definitive statement on the superiority of the eco-efficiency of plant-based soft cheese imitations requires a thorough examination and use of existing data in the relevant LCA databases. The nutritional value of the cheese imitation and the dimensions of social and economical sustainability are out of the scope of this report. However, these aspects must be taken into account when aiming for a holistic assessment of the overall effects on sustainability and nutritional value and for informed decision whether to consume the cashew cheese on a regular basis or not

Item Type:

Working Paper


School of Health Professions


Schönberg, Sonja0000-0002-9820-5455;
Mühlebach, Gina;
Beyli, Deborah and
Wiezel, Karolin


Bern University of Applied Sciences




Sonja Schönberg

Date Deposited:

09 Feb 2022 14:19

Last Modified:

14 Sep 2022 08:28

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