CO2, water or land

On this page you will find an explanation of the impact parameters used on this site and how to interpret them.

Explanation parameters

As you can read on the climate and food page, our food system causes many problems to the climate and environment. It is difficult to compare all environmental problems and to find unilateral data. On this website we have chosen to look at the CO2eq that is released, the water consumption and the land use of hundreds of products and meals. These three parameters are not the only ones that cause problems, but they do have clear links with the problems caused by food and provide a clear picture. In addition, good data is available for these parameters. 

Before we explain the parameters, it is important to mention that the data of each product on this site is based on the average supply of this product on the Dutch market. This means that it is a weighted average of each product based on, for example, the countries of origin or points of sale (supermarket vs. market) of each product.

This means that this data only applies to the situation in the Netherlands. In other countries the figures may be slightly different due to, for example, different transport distances, more production in your own country or a different processing of the products. Want to know more about what the three parameters actually mean? Navigate through the tabs on this page to learn more about them.

CO2eq stands for CO2-equivalents measured in kilograms (kg). These are all greenhouse gases that are released during the production, transport or processing of the foods. Besides CO2, there are many other greenhouse gases, such as methane (CH4) or nitrogen dioxides (N2O). The term CO2eq was created to avoid seperately mentioning all the different greenhouse gases. Methane retains 28x more heat than CO2. The emission of 1 g of methane is thus described as 28 g CO2eq. For nitrogen oxide this is many times worse, namely 265 times the impact than CO2. It may therefore be the case that a product emits only little CO2, but still has a high CO2eq. This is due to the emission of other greenhouse gases. Examples are meat and rice products that each release a lot of methane.

For CO2eq it is always the case that the higher the number, the more it contributes to global warming. So try to use dishes and products with low CO2eq emissions.

When looking at the water footprint of a product, there are three forms; blue, green and gray. The green water footprint stands for the natural water absorption by, for example, rain. Grey stands for the water consumption to dilute pollution to acceptable values. The blue water footprint stands for the fresh water added to the product from, for example, lakes, rivers or underground water sources (aquifers). Irrigation is the main cause of water use in the food industry. On this site, water consumption exclusively refers to the blue water food imprint. So it indicates how much extra fresh water has been added to make the product. The water footprint is measured in liters (L).

A high water consumption can be an indication of desertification or desiccation, but this strongly depends on the production location. In the Netherlands, water is generally abundant, so a high water footprint is not immediately a big problem. However, in dry areas where water is scarce, this can lead to a major problem. The best-known example is the avocado, which contributes to increasing desertification in parts of North and South America. So always look at the origin of a product!

Land use indicates how long and how many square meters of land is needed for the production of the food. Land use is measured in m2 * year, or: how long does production take up on how much land. The number can therefore come about in two ways; high land use for a short period or small land use for a long period. In any case, a high land use per year indicates that a product takes up a lot of (valuable) space.

Land use is an increasing problem because agricultural land is becoming increasingly scarce and the world population continues to grow for the time being. Nature areas are often destroyed to make room for agricultural land. This reduces biodiversity, soil erosion and deforestation.

What is behind these numbers?

To determine the impact of a food, all steps required to arrive at the product are considered. It is a cradle-to-consumer approach, in which all steps from production to consumption are included (LCA). For this method, the ISO14040 and 14044 guidelines have been followed and, where applicable, aligned with the Product Environmental Footprint Catergory Rules. When valuable by-products also arise during production, the allocation is made on the basis of economic value. Click on the bars for more information about the different steps in the process.

Source: RIVM

Primary production

Primary production describes the production of agricultural crops, livestock and fish. The origin is modeled for each product, if several countries of origin exist, a weighted average is taken according to the distribution on the Dutch market.

Post-harvest processing

After harvesting, some products are first processed into food in the country of origin. For example dried or peeled foods.

Processing into food

Primary products are processed into food. It is often assumed that the processing takes place in the Netherlands.


Packaging of products as offered in the supermarket. Some products come in different packages and are therefore double on our site. For example in cans or in glass. It is assumed that products are only packed in their final packaging (such as in the supermarket). It is also assumed that no recycled material is used and that the packaging is ultimately incinerated with energy recovery.


Storage, whether refrigerated or frozen in distribution centers. Food losses during distribution are included. Transport is modeled throughout the chain by road, rail, water or air depending on origin and product. Transport from the supermarket to the consumer is not included.

Sale to consumption

Cold or frozen storage during sale and storage at home. Preparation of the products and eventual (cutting) losses are included.