2024 Life Cycle Assessment: Calculating the Emissions of our Products

2024 Life Cycle Assessment: Calculating the Emissions of our Products

Introduction

We're on a mission to help gardeners nurture soil, plant, and planet health. We work to make sustainable gardening as easy as possible by offering win-wins: eco-friendly choices that don't sacrifice performance. Our products celebrate the joy of growing plants without harming nature because we believe that gardening shouldn’t come at the expense of the Earth. To accomplish this, we’ve tested and optimized new soil options that have been proven to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. 

Soil has an amazing ability to store atmospheric carbon. In fact, the Earth’s soil holds four times more carbon than its plants. However, as lifelong gardeners, we were frustrated and disappointed to realize that most mainstream soil products, especially ones made with peat, have a significant environmental footprint. We knew there had to be a better way. So, we've specifically designed our products from the ground up to be better for your plants and better for the planet.

To accomplish our mission, we’ve committed to making the highest quality soils with the lowest possible environmental footprint. Our goal is to minimize our carbon footprint from the get-go, and lay a climate centered foundation to keep us poised for smart growth as we scale. Before we can work to reduce our impact, we have to fully understand what that impact is, and identify opportunities to reduce emissions or waste throughout our supply chain. Measurement is always our first step in a continuous effort to improve and minimize our environmental impact.  

This is why we’ve taken the time to conduct a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of our products:

  • Houseplant
  • Cactus & Succulent
  • Seedling
  • Plant Food

A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a comprehensive assessment of the emissions generated when manufacturing a single unit of a product. We evaluate the carbon impact produced at each stage of the product's "life cycle." The life cycle commences when the product's raw materials are produced, covers every phase of its production and distribution across the supply chain, and concludes when our customers use and eventually discard the item.

In accordance with standard LCA methodology, we’ve measured the net emissions created across the following 5 key stages in the product life cycle: 

For our LCA, we measured impact in terms of carbon emissions because this best describes the total amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emitted throughout our product’s life cycle. You will see this listed as “CO2 eq,” or the equivalent emissions in kilograms of CO2

Data 

To measure the carbon impact of our ingredients’ production, the impact of their transportation, as well as the impacts of packaging and waste disposal, we collected data from multiple sources. 

In most cases, this meant working with our ingredient suppliers to understand their production processes, and applying those insights to EcoInvent, a globally trusted carbon impact measurement database. We used the same accredited databases to measure the impact of transportation throughout each product’s lifecycle. 

When we considered the impacts of our packaging and final shipment to customers, we trusted the data provided by our suppliers, our fulfillment partners, the EcoInvent database, and Puro Earth, whom we’ve chosen to work with on account of their commitment to sustainability.

For biochar, since it is such an important part of our product and mission, we considered multiple academic studies of biochar’s production impacts as well as its carbon sequestration rate.

Now, let’s take a look at the methods we used to measure our impact for all of our products. 

Production

The first step of the LCA was to measure the carbon emitted when producing each ingredient that makes up our potting mixes

When considering our 5 products, our full list of ingredients is:

  • Biochar
  • Compost
  • Pine Bark Fines
  • Mycorrhizae
  • Pumice
  • Sand
  • Worm Castings
  • Kelp Meal
  • Bokashi

Biochar

Biochar is our hero ingredient and helps us fulfill our mission: to offer customers a soil product that not only improves soil health and plant growth, but helps mitigate climate change through a production process that captures and stores high amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Encouraging studies like this one have shed light on how and why this process is so effective.  

Biochar's potential to remove billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year, through the process of carbon sequestration, is well established according to experts. Harnessing this potential is at the heart of our mission. We are committed to doing our part to support the growth of the biochar industry, as its expansion translates directly to an increase in carbon sequestration.

Biochar’s superpower arises from transforming waste materials into a carbon-rich soil enhancer. All organic materials, such as the wood waste we obtain, are composed of carbon. When left to decompose over extended periods, this carbon gradually dissipates into the atmosphere. We can prevent this by creating biochar instead of letting the organic waste go to a landfill and decay, locking the carbon inside and reducing the potential for carbon emissions. So when we think about the net impact of producing biochar for our products, it’s important to consider how much we avoided simply by producing biochar itself.  

Biochar is produced using pyrolysis, a process that involves heating wood scraps to high temperatures in an oxygen-deprived environment. Since there's no oxygen, the wood scraps can't ignite, which would otherwise release carbon into the atmosphere. Instead, the wood scraps remain in a solid form and "fix" much of their carbon. Once the biochar is generated, the organic carbon becomes much more resistant to decay, as it is converted into a porous, carbon-dense material with a high surface area. This makes it an excellent soil nutrient holder, water retainer, and promoter of plant growth. Moreover, when we blend it with the other components in our potting mix, it yields a top-quality product specifically designed to support plant growth.

At Rosy, we believe in collaborating with partners who share our dedication to carbon sequestration. That's why we choose to work with folks who follow sustainable production practices and, most importantly, have their carbon footprint certified by established partners like Puro. Through these partnerships, we can guarantee that our biochar ingredient is verified net carbon neutral by trustworthy third parties. Opting for a certified supplier allows us to achieve our target of zero carbon impact for our main ingredient, resulting in an impact of 0 kg CO2 eq.

Compost

Compost, when combined with our biochar, makes up the base of our blends. We’ve sourced compost from a local operation, where green and wood waste scraps are collected into large piles. As it composts, each pile becomes hot enough to break down those inputs into high-quality organic material. After it’s turned regularly over the course of many months, the result is a nutrient-rich soil ingredient.  

Pine Bark Fines

Pine bark fines are created by sifting the small bits of bark leftover from pine trees. This process results in a substance that is similar to small wood chips. At Rosy, we source our pine bark fines from a supplier who uses diverted pine bark from lumber mill waste. This ensures that we are utilizing a byproduct of the lumber industry and reducing waste.

Mycorrhizal Fungi

Although mycorrhizal fungi make up a small fraction of our potting soil, their presence brings enormous benefits. It’s all due to the mutually beneficial relationship between these fungi and root systems. Plants entice mycorrhizal fungi to attach to their roots by releasing sugars. In return, the thread-like structures of these fungi increase the area, and consequently, the amount of nutrients and water available to the plant. With the help of these fungi, plants can reach far down into the soil for those typically hard-to-reach nutrients like phosphorus, calcium, and zinc. What’s more, mycorrhizal fungi have been shown to play a key role in natural soil sequestration, helping to store carbon in their structures. 

This ingredient is great from the standpoint of sustainable production as well. It’s produced by growing a plant, often some kind of grass, adding a spore of the fungus into the soil, and allowing fungi to grow using the plant as the medium. Therefore, manufacturing this ingredient is little more than the process used to grow plants.

Of course, there are some very minor carbon emissions produced by the process of farming, mainly due to the energy used when operating equipment and disturbing the soil. 

Sand

Sand has large grain size, coarse texture, and high silica content. For us, that all means good drainage in our soil mix. When considering the impact of sand production, it’s all about the energy used to collect and dry it. 

Pumice

Pumice is a naturally occurring volcanic rock that is lightweight and porous. We use it as a low-carbon alternative to perlite, to ensure our soil has good drainage and aeration. It’s made by taking fully formed pumice rocks and grinding them into finer pieces. 

To calculate the carbon impact created by pumice in our mix, we considered the emissions of extracting the rocks, transporting those to the quarry, and grinding those at the quarry. 

Worm Castings

Worm castings, a key ingredient in our soil mixes, embody sustainability and the circular economy at their core. This remarkable material is produced through the natural process of vermicomposting, where earthworms consume organic waste materials, transforming them into a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer. For Rosy Soil, incorporating worm castings into our products represents a commitment to enhancing soil health and plant growth while contributing to waste reduction. The production of worm castings leverages organic waste that might otherwise end up in landfills, thus reducing methane emissions—a potent greenhouse gas. Our process not only diverts waste from landfills but also enriches the soil, making it more fertile and water-retentive.

Kelp Meal

Kelp meal is another integral component of our soil mixes, derived from the dried and ground biomass of seaweed. It stands out for its rich content of micronutrients, vitamins, and amino acids, offering a sustainable, slow-release source of nutrients to support plant health and growth. The inclusion of kelp meal in our products reflects Rosy Soil's dedication to leveraging natural, renewable resources that foster a harmonious balance with the environment. The cultivation and harvesting of seaweed for kelp meal have a low environmental footprint, contributing positively to ocean ecosystems by providing habitats and helping to absorb carbon dioxide. Furthermore, the use of kelp meal as a soil amendment aligns with our commitment to organic and natural gardening practices, avoiding synthetic fertilizers and promoting biodiversity in the soil.

Bokashi

Bokashi is a composting method that converts plant waste into a microbially active, nutrient-dense soil enhancer through active fermentation. To do this, an inoculant is added to scrap wood materials such as sawdust, wood chips, and bark. By carefully controlling the temperature and moisture of the environment, and allowing plenty of time to pass, the mixture breaks down just like compost would, but with an added amount of microbial activity within.

Packaging

We source our packaging from a sustainability-focused packaging company, who conducts its own LCA to measure the impact of the packaging they make. This helps us monitor the impact of the packaging stage of our product life cycles. 

Our packaging supplier has specifically committed to purchase both carbon and plastic offsets to ensure that the full lifecycle of the packaging is completely carbon and plastic neutral. 

Transport

The transport stage includes the carbon emitted by three key transport phases:

  • Ingredients travel from our suppliers to our manufacturing site
  • The completely manufactured product travels to a distribution warehouse
  • The product travels from the distribution warehouse to our retailers and customers

To calculate the impact produced by our transport, we accounted for the weight of the item (ingredient or full product mixture depending on the transport phase), the transportation method used, and the distance traveled.

Use

This was the most straightforward stage for us to measure. For our products, the “use” stage is the first in the product life cycle that involves our customers directly. This encompasses adding the soil mix to a pot or a garden bed.   

As doing so doesn’t produce any carbon emissions, we have concluded an impact of 0 kg CO2 for this stage for each of our products.

End of Life

The final stage of the LCA is called “End of Life.” This accounts for the potential carbon impact produced when packaging and/or the product itself is discarded as waste. 

For our products, we’ll consider two variables:

  • Discarded Packaging
  • Discarded Soil

Discarded Packaging

By providing clear instructions about recycling our packaging both online and on the product label, we make it simple for our customers to recycle. 

Our packaging supplier has accounted for both scenarios in their LCA , so the emissions in this stage are already covered in the previously outlined calculations of packaging production.

Discarded Soil

To better understand what our customers are doing with the potting mix they do not use, we’ve conducted a survey.

Response

Percent 

Throw in trash

5.1%

Compost

16.2%

Use as topsoil/throw in the garden

10.8%

Save for future use

67.5%


Considering the “compost” and “use as topsoil/throw in the garden” options, there are also no carbon emissions associated with those outcomes, as both ultimately end up back in the soil. The only true end of life carbon emissions result from the “throw in trash” response, which we’re thrilled to see is the smallest portion of responses, and have accounted for accordingly.

Results

Houseplant (4 qt)

Inputs

Impacts (kg CO2)

Ingredient

Production

To Manufacturer

To Warehouse

To Consumer

Packaging

End of Life

Pine Bark Fines

0.020

0.040

0.648

0.275

0.000

0.001

Compost

0.040

0.000

Biochar

0.000

0.000

Sand

0.007

0.000

Mycorrhizae

0.001

0.002

Total:

1.034


Houseplant (8 qt)

Inputs

Impacts (kg CO2)

Ingredient

Production

To Manufacturer

To Warehouse

To Consumer

Packaging

End of Life

Pine Bark Fines

0.040

0.080

1.296

0.550

0.000

0.002

Compost

0.080

0.000

Biochar

0.000

0.000

Sand

0.014

0.000

Mycorrhizae

0.002

0.004

Total:

2.068


Cactus & Succulent (4 qt)

Inputs

Impacts (kg CO2)

Ingredient

Production

To Manufacturer

To Warehouse

To Consumer

Packaging

End of Life

Pine Bark Fines

0.020

0.030

0.648

0.275

0.000

0.001

Pumice

0.009

0.010

Compost

0.020

0.000

Biochar

0.000

0.000

Sand

0.007

0.000

Mycorrhizae

0.001

0.002

Total:

1.023


Seedling (4 qt)

Inputs

Impacts (kg CO2)

Ingredient

Production

To Manufacturer

To Warehouse

To Consumer

Packaging

End of Life

Compost

0.055

0.000

0.648

0.275

0.000

0.001

Pine Bark Fines

0.020

0.035

Biochar

0.000

0.000

Sand

0.005

0.000

Worm Castings

0.002

0.010

Mycorrhizae

0.001

0.002

Total:

1.054


Seedling (8 qt)

Inputs

Impacts (kg CO2)

Ingredient

Production

To Manufacturer

To Warehouse

To Consumer

Packaging

End of Life

Compost

0.110

0.000

1.296

0.550

0.000

0.002

Pine Bark Fines

0.040

0.070

Biochar

0.000

0.000

Sand

0.010

0.000

Worm Castings

0.003

0.020

Mycorrhizae

0.002

0.004

Total:

2.107


Plant Food (2 qt)

Inputs

Impacts (kg CO2)

Ingredient

Production

To Manufacturer

To Warehouse

To Consumer

Packaging

End of Life

Compost

0.020

0.000

0.324

0.138

0.000

0.001

Biochar

0.000

0.000

Sand

0.001

0.000

Worm Castings

0.001

0.006

Bokashi

0.003

0.000

Kelp

0.001

0.000

Mycorrhizae

0.001

0.001

Total:

0.497


Achieving Carbon Neutral

At Rosy Soil, we are committed to removing as much CO2 from the atmosphere as we possibly can. To do so, we take a comprehensive approach that involves calculating the carbon impact of every product we sell and tracking how many we sell. We then purchase carbon offsets through carbon marketplaces to account for any carbon emissions that we were not able to eliminate.

Additionally, the use of biochar in our mixes helps to sequester even more carbon, as demonstrated by this study. By combining the carbon offsets we purchase with the carbon sequestered by the biochar, we are able to achieve a net neutral impact, and even go beyond that by helping to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In this way, we pride ourselves as playing a core function within the carbon sequestration ecosystem, helping to sequester considerable carbon with every product we sell. We believe that this approach is essential to mitigating the impact of climate change and protecting our planet for future generations.

The full impact of our products can be found in the table below:

Product

Biochar Mass (kg)

CO2 Sequestered via Biochar (kg CO2)

CO2 Sequestered via Offsets (kg CO2)

Total CO2 Sequestered (kg CO2)

Houseplant (4qt)

0.360

1.080

1.034

2.114

Houseplant (8qt)

0.720

2.160

2.068

4.228

Cactus & Succulent (4qt)

0.180

0.540

1.023

1.563

Seedling (4qt)

0.180

0.540

1.054

1.594

Seedling (8qt)

0.360

1.080

2.107

3.187

Plant Food (2qt)

0.360

1.080

0.497

1.577


Compared to Traditional

To understand how the total carbon impact of our products compares to the impacts of a traditional bag of soil, we conducted a competitor life cycle analysis. 

A traditional bag of potting soil typically includes 70% peat moss, 10% perlite, 10% fertilizer, and 10% compost, all packaged in a polyethylene plastic bag. 

To ensure we were conducting a good faith comparison that highlights the disparities in carbon impact caused by different ingredient choices, we applied those percentages to a standard 8 qt bag of traditional potting soil. We then applied the same calculations we used for our products for the transport, use, and end of life stages. This way, we can compare both products under similar conditions.

The carbon impact throughout the life cycle of a traditional potting soil alternative was as follows:

Inputs

Impacts (kg CO2)

Ingredient

Production

To Manufacturer

To Warehouse

To Consumer

Packaging

End of Life

Peat Moss

2.240

0.002

1.296

0.550

0.000

0.002

Perlite

0.010

0.002

Fertilizer

2.040

0.002

Compost

0.020

0.002

Total:

6.166


We can immediately observe that a traditional potting soil alternative produces over 3x the carbon impact of our most impactful product. 

These numbers are a calculation of one bag of potting mix. But it's useful to consider the process on a larger scale.  

Many potting mixes are made with a large majority of peat moss. Although peat moss is a common growth medium, its harvest releases high quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the destruction of peatlands are responsible for the release of 1.9 gigatonnes of CO2eq annually.

By opting for biochar instead, we support an industry that has the potential to sequester ​​2.2-4.4 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2050. 

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that this evaluation is a process of improvement that never ends. As we grow and learn more about carbon impacts and how to better measure them, we’ll improve the precision of our understanding within our supply chain. And with greater certainty we’ll be able to make the right changes to reduce our footprint even more. 

And for that, we need your help. We want to hear from our customers who may have questions or concerns. We hope to continue to meet with experts who are well-versed in sustainability. What are we doing right? Where are we missing? Let us know how we’re doing so we can collaborate and continue to improve on our mission. We couldn’t do it without you!

Happy gardening,

Team Rosy