Environment Fact Sheets
Household food consumption and Canadian greenhouse gas emissions, 2015

by Jennie Wang and Abdoul-Razak Mamane

Release date: October 9, 2019

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People generally think about transportation and industrial activities when they think about sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They don’t necessarily think about emissions that were released during the production of the foods we eat. However, the emissions associated with restaurant meals, bread or the milk in the fridge can be attributed to household consumption and are termed indirect emissions.

Canadian households were directly responsible for 142,936 kilotonnes of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions in 2015Note —19% of total emissions in Canada—through use of fuels for transportation (55%) and home heating, lighting and appliance use (45%).Note  However, when including the indirect emissions associated with their purchases of goods and services, households were responsible for 42% of total Canadian GHG emissions in 2015 (Table 1).Note  Indirect emissions associated with household spending on food and beverages accounted for a quarter of indirect emissions and were a top source after indirect emissions associated with household energy consumption.

GHG emissions associated with different types of food can vary depending on the resources needed during production (e.g., fuel and fertilizer use), emissions from animals (e.g., enteric fermentation) and manure management, as well as the amount and type of energy used in manufacturing, storage, distribution and consumption (FAO, 2013).Note 

In a full accounting of food-related emissions, households would also be indirectly responsible for emissions related to food they purchase that is imported into Canada; however, emissions related to foreign production are not included in the GHG account.Note  Overall, 64% of Canada’s food supply was produced domestically in 2015, down from 71% in 2010, although there were large variations by type of food product (Statistics Canada, 2018).Note 

In addition to these emissions associated with spending on food and beverages, Natural Resources Canada estimates that 11% of the emissions associated with residential electricity use in 2015 relate to the use of kitchen appliances including refrigerators, electric ranges, freezers and dishwashersNote  used in food storage, preparation and cleanup (Natural Resources Canada, n.d.).

Focusing on direct emissions from Canadian food-related industries,Note  one sees that crop and animal production industries dominated because of the higher emissions from this stage of the food supply chain. The largest shares of GHG emissions were associated with crop production (45%) and animal production industries (42%), with a further 7% attributed to food and beverage manufacturing, 3% to farm product and food and beverage wholesale and retail trade, 1% to food services and drinking places and 1% to fishing, hunting and trapping (Chart 1).

Exported products account for 50% of emissions associated with these industries in 2015. The crop production industry had the highest share of emissions associated with exported products (70%), while in comparison 35% of emissions from animal production were related to exports.

Table 1
Household direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions related to spending on food and beverages, 2010 and 2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Household direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions 2010 and 2015, calculated using kilotonnes units of measure (appearing as column headers).
2010 2015
Total emissions, industries and households 732,759 767,289
Total household direct and indirect emissions 329,243 321,851
Total household direct emissions 140,001 142,936
Motor fuel and lubricant use 76,313 78,653
In-home fuel use 63,688 64,283
Total household indirect emissions 189,242 178,915
Energy productsTable 1 Note 1 54,952 52,750
Food and beverage productsTable 1 Note 2 34,928 31,368
Food and beverage servicesTable 1 Note 3 11,818 12,577
Other goods and services 87,543 82,221

Chart 1 Selected food-related industries greenhouse gas emissions by final demand category, 2015

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Industry (appearing as row headers), Personal expenditure (households), Non-profit institutions serving households' consumption expenditure, Government net current expenditure, Gross fixed capital formation, International exports and Total, calculated using kilotonnes units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Industry Personal expenditure (households) Non-profit institutions serving households' consumption expenditure Government net current expenditure Gross fixed capital formation International exports Total
Crop production (including greenhouse,
nursery and floriculture production)
9,484 26 325 2,155 27,323 39,313
Animal production (including aquaculture) 22,338 53 656 977 12,730 36,754
Food and beverage manufacturing 3,432 11 102 182 2,222 5,949
Farm product, food, beverage and tobacco
wholesale and retail trade
2,156 5 62 100 564 2,887
Food services and drinking places 851 4 39 34 120 1,049
Fishing, hunting and trapping 248 0 4 14 558 824

Note to readers:

The emissions estimates related to spending on food and beverage products and services presented in this article are based on an input-output model that combines physical flow data on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by industry with economic data on production and consumption of goods and services. A strength of this type of analysis is its ability to provide estimates of the embedded GHG emissions related with downstream economic consumption. However, a limitation includes the assumption of homogeneity—that each sector of the economy produces a single good or service, with the same or similar environmental impact. For example, it assumes that the emissions embedded in tomatoes are similar to those embedded in apples.

GHG emission data are taken from the Canadian System of Environmental-Economic Accounts - Physical Flow Accounts (PFA). The GHG account covers annual emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by industry, governments, institutions and households. Note that GHG emissions from solid waste are not included in the account. Data are also available according to the final demand perspective, where emissions are attributed to the end-user of goods and services rather than the producer, and are referred to as indirect emissions. Final demand categories include personal expenditure (household consumer spending), non-profit institutions serving households’ consumption expenditure, government net current expenditure, gross fixed capital formation and international exports.

These emissions data can also be associated with spending on goods and services by final demand category. Indirect emissions related to food are categorized according to the Supply and Use Product Classification (SUPC). These indirect emissions do not include emissions associated with the production of food by non-Canadian enterprises that was subsequently imported and consumed in Canada. However, they include emissions associated with the production of goods that are manufactured in Canada using imported inputs. While the model can be used to derive emissions estimates for imports, it assumes that foreign food-related emissions are similar to Canadian emissions, which may not always be the case. For many commodities there is also no Canadian equivalent—for example we do not grow avocado or cacao trees. A more rigorous analysis of total household food-related emissions would employ a multi-regional input-output model and would include emissions released during transportation.

GHG emission estimates in the Physical Flow Accounts differ from those reported in the National Inventory Report on Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks (NIR) produced by Environment and Climate Change Canada (Infographic 1). The NIR fulfills Canada’s reporting obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is the official benchmark for GHG emissions in Canada.

The reporting requirements of the UNFCCC differ from the methodological guidelines of the United Nations System of Environmental–Economic Accounting used to create the GHG account described here. These differences result from conceptual differences, as well as different data sources and allocation of emissions. In addition, four gases covered in Canada’s official GHG inventory are not covered in the GHG account: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).

For more information see: Canadian System of Environmental-Economic Accounts - Physical Flow Accounts (PFA)


FAO, 2013, Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources, (accessed June 6, 2019).

Natural Resources Canada, n.d., “ Table 2: Secondary energy use and GHG emissions by end-use” and “Table 18: Appliance secondary energy use and GHG emissions by appliance type,” National Energy Use Database, Comprehensive Energy Use Database, Residential Sector, Canada, (accessed May 30, 2019).

Statistics Canada, 2018, Table 36-10-0478-01 Supply and use tables, detail level, provincial and territorial (x 1,000), (accessed June 7, 2019).

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