LCA for cashew-cheese

Cow’s milk cheese is known to account for environmental damage on all scales. The environmental effects of plant-based alternatives have hardly been scientifically investigated. This paper compares a cow's milk and a cashew-based cheese.

Fiche signalétique


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).


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 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 all emissions, including the CO2 emissions, all pollutants in the air and water and the overall environmental impact (e.g. land use and heavy metals into air and water) are by far higher than for the cashew-based soft cheese (cow’s milk based soft cheese 3106 UBP, cashew-based soft cheese alternative 464 UBP). 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”.


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. The present LCA case study indicates, that the cashew-based cheese alternative has major advantages in terms of eco efficiency and that this is indeed an important opportunity for manufacturers of these products. 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.