What Is the Carbon Footprint of Broccoli? A Life-Cycle Analysis

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Broccoli? A Life-Cycle Analysis

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Dennis Kamprad

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Broccoli is one of the most consumed vegetables in the US, and it is considered a superfood that is high in nutrients, vitamin C, vitamin K, and dietary fiber. Yet, much less is shared about the environmental impact, and especially the carbon emissions of broccoli. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of broccoli?

Broccoli has a low carbon footprint of 0.27 kg (0.60 lb) of CO2e per pound of produce. These carbon emissions are relatively low in comparison to other vegetables. The main factors for these emissions are agriculture and packaging; the transporting footprint could be kept low when buying locally.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the overall carbon emissions over the life-cycle of broccoli. From growing, to packaging, to transporting, you will learn how this vegetable affects the planet and discover some ways to reduce and offset the footprint. 

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Broccoli

The carbon footprint is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. It primarily focuses on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with consumption, but also includes other emissions such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, and is generally expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).

Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”

Merriam Webster

Basically, it is the amount of carbon emitted by you as an individual or an organization providing you with goods and services – including broccoli:

To understand the carbon footprint of broccoli, we must assess its life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials.

Here’s the Overall Carbon Footprint of Broccoli

The overall carbon footprint of broccoli is 0.27 kg (0.60 lb) of CO2e per pound of produce, which is very low. The main factors that cause these emissions are agriculture and packaging, with processing and end-of-life waste having a smaller impact. All in all, broccoli is one of the most sustainable vegetable choices!

Broccoli is a sustainable crop to grow and produce. It is a great choice of food if you are trying to reduce your carbon emissions.

The carbon footprint of broccoli0.27 kg (0.60 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli

So, let’s have a look at each stage of the LCA of broccoli!

The life-cycle stages of broccoliEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of broccoliGrowing broccoli produces 0.11 kg (0.25 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli. This amounts to 42.11% of its overall carbon emissions, which makes the growing process a significant part of the overall low carbon emissions. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of broccoliProcessing and harvesting contributes about 0.0091 kg (0.02 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli, which is low as most broccoli is sold whole and unprocessed. The packaging of broccoli produces 0.10 kg (0.22 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli because of the use of waxed-fiberboard cartons and plastic wrap. This makes up 37% of the plant’s overall carbon emissions. 
Transporting of broccoliThe carbon footprint of transporting broccoli is 0.045 kg (0.10 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli, which is low, because the majority of the broccoli consumed in the US is grown in California. As the product does not have to be shipped from overseas, the overall transportation emissions are minimal. 
End-of-life of broccoliOf the 993,385 tons of broccoli sold per year in the US, it is estimated that 119,000 tons are lost or wasted. A huge amount of carbon emissions are created by food ending up in landfill. For every pound of food waste, 1.13 kg (2.5 lb) of CO2e is emitted. More research needs to be undertaken on the overall impact of the final life cycle stage of broccoli, but buying loose broccoli, as opposed to plastic-wrapped produce, and composting waste are steps that we, as individuals, can take to reduce the carbon footprint. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Broccoli

Growing broccoli produces 0.11 kg (0.25 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli. This amounts to 42.11% of its overall carbon emissions, which makes the growing process a significant part of the overall low carbon emissions. 

Broccoli is an incredibly sustainable choice, as it is grown and harvested quickly, yields a lot of produce per hectare of land, and does not require a great deal of water. However, though broccoli is a crop that has a good carbon footprint, these growing processes still produce carbon emissions.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing broccoli?

In short, the carbon footprint of growing broccoli is very low, in comparison to most foods. It grows quickly, uses relatively little land, water, and pesticides. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Harvesting, Processing, and Packaging Broccoli

Processing and harvesting contributes about 0.0091 kg (0.02 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli, which is low as most broccoli is sold whole and unprocessed. The packaging of broccoli produces 0.10 kg (0.22 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli because of the use of waxed-fiberboard cartons and plastic wrap. This makes up 37% of the plant’s overall emissions. 

Once grown, heads of broccoli are harvested by hand and usually sold whole to retailers. Only 5% is processed, either sold frozen, in spears, chopped, or canned for soup. The heads are shipped in waxed-fiberboard cartons, and are sold either wrapped in plastic, or loose. Choosing to buy loose broccoli is a more sustainable choice, and studies have shown that packaging actually increases food waste. For example, France and Spain have committed to banning plastic packaging on certain produce items, such as broccoli. A greater consumer demand for loose produce would help lower the carbon footprint. 

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging broccoli?

  • How is broccoli harvested: Since there are no mechanical harvesters for broccoli, the crops are harvested by hand. Only the broccoli heads, around 30% of the whole plant, are harvested, despite the entire plant being edible. However, the leaves and stems are commonly used as fertilizer or animal feed to prevent food waste. Likewise, an uptake in selling broccoli leaves, or ‘Broccoleaf’, touted as the “newest supergreen”, aims to also reduce waste, and lower the carbon footprint.
  • How is broccoli processed: Broccoli is usually produced for the fresh market, meaning that the plant is sold unprocessed. 95% of broccoli in the US is sold whole, with little processing, so very few carbon emissions are produced this way. 
  • How is broccoli packaged: Broccoli is usually packed in bundles of two or four heads, and secured with an elastic band. Fourteen to eighteen bunches are packed in a waxed-fiberboard carton, covered with ice, and transported. Unfortunately, these cartons are not recyclable, which creates waste.

In short, broccoli is often an unprocessed plant, harvested by hand, which means this process causes relatively few carbon emissions. Moving away from a reliance on waxed cartons, would reduce the carbon footprint further.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting Broccoli

The carbon footprint of transporting broccoli is 0.045 kg (0.10 lb) of CO2e per pound of broccoli. This is low, since the crop is native to America, and the majority of broccoli consumed in the US is grown in California. As the product does not have to be shipped from overseas, the overall transportation emissions are minimal.

The transporting process requires refrigerated containers, which ship broccoli from the West Coast to the entirety of the US. There are plans to grow more broccoli on the East Coast, which would lower carbon emissions from transport even further.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting broccoli?

  • Where is broccoli grown: The USA is the third largest producer of broccoli worldwide. California provides the US with 90% of the nation’s broccoli. Other leading states include Arizona, Texas, and Oregon. Due to it being a native plant, the food miles of broccoli grown in the US are relatively low.
  • How broccoli is transported: Broccoli has the highest respiration rate of any vegetable, and degrades quickly. So, it has to be iced and transported in refrigerated conditions. Since the majority of broccoli is grown on the West Coast, transporting to the East Coast can be less than ideal, but there has been a push by the USDA-funded Eastern Broccoli Project, which will make purchasing broccoli more accessible and even less harmful to the environment.

In short, although the carbon footprint of transporting broccoli is already low, a shift to growing the crop at local farms across the entirety of the US would reduce carbon emissions even further. Buying from nearby farmer’s markets, as opposed to from nationwide stores, is a way to reduce food miles.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of the End-of-Life of Broccoli

Of the 993,385 tons of broccoli sold per year in the US, it is estimated that 119,000 tons are lost or wasted. A huge amount of carbon emissions are created by food ending up in landfill. For every pound of food waste, 1.13 kg (2.5 lbs) of CO2e is emitted. More research needs to be undertaken on the overall impact of the End-of-Life stage of broccoli, but buying loose broccoli, as opposed to plastic-wrapped produce, and composting waste are steps that we, as individuals, can take to reduce the carbon footprint. 

Broccoli is a compostable product, which can create sustainable fertilizer. However, it sadly often ends up rotting in landfill. The packaging used is largely impossible to recycle. Waste can be reduced through choosing to buy unwrapped produce, and trying to throw less food away. An easy way to reduce broccoli waste is to cook the stem, which is also edible.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of the end-of-life of broccoli?

  • How is broccoli disposed of: Unfortunately, 72% of Americans do not compost their food waste, and so broccoli often ends up in landfill. However, it is entirely compostable, cooked or raw, and is a nitrogen-rich ingredient for the soil.
  • How is the packaging of broccoli disposed of: Broccoli packaging is usually non-recyclable. So, it ends up in landfill, is incinerated, or becomes plastic pollution. A report by the food waste charity WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) calls on retailers to sell loose produce, remove date labels, and provide storage advice when selling broccoli and other fresh produce, to reduce the carbon footprint. 

In short, food waste is an enormous climate issue for all fresh consumables, which can be combated by making an effort to throw away less food, and to purchase loose vegetables instead of broccoli packaged in plastic. Being conscious in regards to food waste can make a huge difference: composting waste, not buying too much, and freezing leftovers are simple steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint.

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Broccoli Compare to Other Types of Food

While broccoli produces a low amount of CO2e per pound of food, it might be helpful to compare it to other types of food. So you can make more informed decisions when choosing what to buy. Most vegetables have a relatively low carbon footprint, especially in comparison to animal agriculture. 

When it comes to other vegetables, root vegetables such as onions and carrots produce the least greenhouse gasses, but broccoli is still a very sustainable option to choose. 

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Broccoli Compare to Other Types of Vegetables

In comparison to other vegetables, the carbon emissions of broccoli are relatively low. In relation to the carbon emissions of the ten most popular vegetables, broccoli ranks 5th.

Broccoli is similar in emissions to lettuce and carrots. Celery, onions, and potatoes have the lowest carbon footprint, but cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, and salad mix all have substantially higher carbon footprints – more than double that of broccoli. This means that while root vegetables tend to be better for the environment, broccoli is still a highly sustainable option. 

VegetablesCarbon Footprint
Cucumbers0.10 kg (2.2 lbs) of CO2e per pound of cucumbers
Tomatoes 0.82 kg (1.8 lbs) CO2e per pound of tomatoes
Bell Peppers0.73 kg (1.6 lbs) of CO2e per pound of bell peppers
Salad Mix0.73 kg (1.6 lbs) of CO2e per pound of salad mix
Broccoli0.27 kg (0.6 lb) CO2e per pound of broccoli
Lettuce 0.26 kg (0.57 lb) of CO2e per pound of lettuce
Carrots0.18 kg (0.4 lb) of CO2e per pound of carrots
Potatoes0.12 kg (0.26 lb) of CO2e per pound of potatoes
Onions 0.11 kg (0.25 lb) of CO2e per pound of onions
Celery0.05 kg (0.12 lb) of CO2e per pound of celery

Choose celery or root vegetables to really reduce your carbon footprint. However, broccoli is a very low-impact choice. 

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Broccoli Compare to Other Types of Food in General

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), foods are often compared in terms of emissions per 1,000 kilocalories (as opposed to their weight in lbs or kg). And in comparison to other types of food, broccoli has a relatively low carbon footprint. While brassicas have the 12th highest greenhouse gas emissions out of the 27 listed foods, it is significantly better for the environment than any non-plant-based food. 

While nuts, pulses, grains, some fruits, and root vegetables produce less emissions than broccoli, it remains a low-impact food. Beef produces over twelve times the amount of emissions, for the same amount of kilocalories. Plant-based diets generally are significantly less harmful for the planet, and can reduce your carbon footprint from food by up to 73%

Illustration of greenhouse gas emissions per 1000 kilocalories
Our World in Data: Greenhouse Gas Emissions per 1000 kilocalories

When trying to reduce your carbon footprint, this table can help you make informed decisions on which foods to choose. Avoiding meat, and replacing it with protein from plants, pulses, and grains, is an easy switch to reduce your impact on the environment. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

All of the food you eat will have some form of carbon footprint. The first step is to choose products that produce few CO2e, like broccoli. However, you can reduce and offset your carbon footprint further still. 

There are a few easy techniques to buy more eco-friendly broccoli, and you can also find ways to offset the carbon footprint after your purchase. 

How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Broccoli

When shopping for and consuming broccoli, there are some very simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

  1. Avoid broccoli that is packaged in plastic: Choosing loose produce is a very easy way to reduce (plastic) waste from unnecessary packaging. 
  2. Buy your broccoli from local farms: If you’re on the West Coast, make sure to buy broccoli from your area. If on the East Coast, try to find suppliers and farmers markets, who may sell broccoli that is grown more locally to you than the broccoli sold in big stores. This will help reduce food miles.
  3. Consume all parts of each broccoli: Try and use as much of the broccoli as you can, incorporating stalks and leaves into recipes to cut down on food waste. Any waste that is left behind should be composted to make the life cycle of broccoli as sustainable as possible.

If you are able to incorporate these ideas into your routine, you will make a much more positive impact on the planet. Though they are only small changes, they have the power to make a big difference the more that people embrace them. 

How Can You Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere – for example for the carbon emissions that are associated with broccoli. They are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees

Oxford Dictionary

In terms of broccoli – and indeed all food types – there will always be a carbon footprint, because of the resources it takes to get food from farms to dinner tables. Though broccoli produces few greenhouse gas emissions, and is a sustainable vegetable choice, you could find a way to offset the CO2e to make your impact net zero.

When you purchase carbon offsets, it’s important that they actually make a difference in offsetting (aka reducing) total carbon emissions. To achieve that, the following are key criteria:

  • Carbon offset projects have to be effective (different projects have different effectiveness rates)
  • Carbon offset projects have to be additional
  • Carbon offset projects have to be permanent
  • The claims from carbon offset projects have to be verifiable

To find the best carbon offsets for you personally, check out our full guide on the best carbon offsets for individuals, where you’ll also learn more about how these carbon offset projects work, what their respective offsetting costs are, and what your best way would be to offset your own carbon emissions.

Related: Check out our full guide on “What Are the Best Carbon Offsets for Individuals: Complete 2023 List” to find the best carbon offset providers for your personal carbon emissions and those associated to, e.g., eating broccoli.

Final Thoughts

If you are searching for eco-friendly meals, choosing a dish that features broccoli is a way to reduce your carbon emissions. Broccoli only releases 0.27 kg (0.6lb) CO2e per pound of produce. To lessen your impact, avoid plastic packaging, buy locally, and compost your waste. To take a step further, you could look into ways of offsetting your carbon footprint. Whether you enjoy it roasted, boiled, or raw, broccoli is a fantastic low-impact option when trying to eat more sustainably!

Stay impactful,



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Dennis Kamprad

Dennis is the founder of Impactful Ninja and passionate about enabling you to make a positive impact on the world & society. He started his professional career as a Sustainability Consultant and has worked on several social projects around the world. Outside of work, he is a passionate salsa dancer, fast runner, and multiple Ironman finisher.

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