What's the carbon footprint of chocolate?
Does white chocolate have a higher or lower carbon footprint than milk chocolate? And is dark chocolate best for the environment? Let's tuck into the carbon footprint of chocolate.
Carbon Footprint of Chocolate
Milk chocolate (100g) produces 580g CO₂e*
7% more than white chocolate producing 540g CO₂e
And, 67% more than dark chocolate producing 190g CO₂e
*CO₂e means carbon dioxide equivalent and measures total greenhouse gases
Get the Floop app & discover the carbon footprint of more ingredients
Where does chocolate come from?
Chocolate is manufactured from cocoa beans which grow on cocoa trees. You may also hear it called cacao.
Cocoa is growing tropical regions like Southeast Asia, South America, and West Africa. In fact, the west African country Ivory Coast supplies 40% of the total global cocoa market.
Cocoa or 100% chocolate has a naturally bitter taste. Sugar is usually added to sweeten the bar to make it more enjoyable for most people.
Milk chocolate and white chocolate also have milk added to the bar to add a creamy taste and texture. Vegan chocolate takes a similar approach but uses plant-based milk or seed butter to create a dairy-free creaminess.
Greenhouse gas emissions from chocolate production
Chocolate harvesting, processing, packaging, and transportation all affect the products overall carbon footprint. We consider the carbon footprint of these stages using life cycle assessments.
Cocoa crop production requires a lot of land, and as a result it has resulted in a lot of deforestation and land clearing in south America and Africa, which contributes to climate change due to trees (carbon stores) being removed.
Processing of the chocolate, as well as packaging also adds to chocolates carbon footprint, as production on a large scale requires a lot of energy.
And, of course, transportation of the product further adds to the carbon footprint. In 2021, the UK imported just over 70% of its cocoa from the Ivory Coast and Ghana, and it is brought over in large cargo ships.
Once in the UK, the cocoa often goes through further processing to turn it into well known products. Milk, sugar, and other preservatives are added to produce white, or milk chocolate and the addition of these products increases the carbon footprint.
Are there other ways chocolate impacts the environment?
Cacao farmers often clear tropical forests to plant new cocoa trees rather than reusing the same land, as the practice is unfortunately more cost effective more them. This has led to massive deforestation in many cacao producing countries around the world. In West Africa, particularly in Ivory Coast, for example, experts estimate that 70% of the country's illegal deforestation is related to cocoa farming.
The production of milk, and sugar - used in milk and white chocolate, adds to chocolates impact. Dairy farming requires a lot of land, and water, and if not conducted responsibility can have a harmful impact on the environment. Sugar production has the same potential to harm the environment, through water pollution during growing and processing.
Tips for choosing sustainable chocolate
If you want to indulge in chocolate, but keep it as low carbon as possible then we suggest dark chocolate! Without all the extra ingredients and processing the carbon footprint is much lower despite still travelling long distances to reach the UK.
You can keep an eye out for fairtrade products, and make an effort to find small chocolate producers which source their products in a sustainable and ethical way.
Have you tried our easy chocolate mousse? Use dark chocolate for a low-carbon and vegan-friendly dessert.