The Impact/Footprint Of Producing & Eating Chocolate

Each type of food we eat has it’s own sustainability footprint. 

In this guide, we’ve outlined some of the potential impact/footprint of producing chocolate.


Summary – Impact/Footprint Of Chocolate

Different types of chocolate have different footprints – milk chocolate and dark chocolate specifically

When adding deforestation and land clearing assumptions to the production and packaging/distribution of milk chocolate, it’s carbon footprint nearly doubles.

For dark chocolate, it triples when you also add in the sourcing of beans

Some estimates indicate that milk chocolate has nearly triple the carbon footprint of dark chocolate, but estimates from some chocolate brands indicate dark chocolate has a higher carbon footprint for a regular chocoalte bar

Chocolate in general is amongst one of the most water intensive foods to produce according to some metrics

Older cacao tree plantations and trees lose production/yield as they age – this can contribute to an increased land footprint for chocolate

The Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the two largest producers of cocoa

Roughly 70% of world cocoa is produced in almost an organic farming process – low input, low intensity agricultural systems. And, they are also grown by smallholders

The actual growing process of small farmer cocoa crops is amongst the best environmentally of all the tropical crops, but, land clearing and deforestation is a problem (in parts of West Africa, illegal deforestation is a problem)

Intensive large scale cocoa production can have some negative environmental effects

A changing climate in the future might impact the ability of some farmers to grow Cocoa trees

The use of child labor for producing and transporting cocoa in West Africa (and surrounding locations) might be a problem

Cocoa is the main source of income and livelihood for many low income small scale farmers

Boosting the productivity and yield of Cocoa trees and farms could lessen negative environmental effects, as well as planting new trees on existing plantations.

This might be possible with trees in the future, as well as making them more climate resistant (or creating conditions where trees can be more productive and climate resistant)

Using sustainable ingredients in chocolate, as well as achieving zero child labor might be some other goals for the future


Carbon Footprint Of Chocolate

When taking into account land use change, deforestation and sourcing beans  the carbon footprint of chocolate can increase significantly:


Cadbury estimates that 169g (6 ounces) of carbon dioxide equivalent are emitted into the atmosphere for each 49g (1.7 ounce) Dairy Milk chocolate bar.

This calculation includes emissions from the production … and from packaging and distribution, but not from land-use change … [and] the carbon footprint of chocolate is much larger when emissions from deforestation are taken into account.

If emissions from the rest of chocolate’s lifecycle are, as Cadbury estimated, 3.45g of carbon dioxide per gram of chocolate (3.45oz per ounce), then sourcing beans from United Cacao would nearly double the carbon footprint of milk chocolate to 6.8g of carbon dioxide per gram (6.8oz per ounce) and triple that of dark chocolate to 10.1g of carbon dioxide per gram (10.1oz per ounce).



Land use change increases the carbon footprint of chocolate:

Global warming potential (GWP) of chocolate ranges from 2.9–4.2 kg CO2 eq./kg.

Land-use change associated with cocoa production increases total GWP by 3–4 times.



How Much Water It Takes To Produce Chocolate

It takes around 1000 liters of water to produce just one chocolate bar



It takes 17,196 litres of water to produce a 1kg of chocolate



Around 10, 000 L of water is needed to produce a kilogram of chocolate.



How Much Land It Takes To Produce Chocolate

The productivity of each cocoa tree can influence land use.


Plantations in cocoa-producing countries typically have 1,000 to 1,200 cocoa trees growing per hectare; that works out to an average of somewhere between 400 and 485 cocoa trees that grow per acre of land.

Each Cacao tree can produce approximately 2 pounds of chocolate a year



It can take an entire year for a cocoa tree to produce the cocoa in just half a pound of chocolate.

Older trees also yield less cocoa, and most of the world’s cocoa plantations are well past their peak production years.



Where Are Cocoa Beans Grown Geographically?

70% of the world’s cocoa beans come from four West African countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.

The Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the two largest producers of cocoa: together they cultivate more than half of the world´s cocoa.

These two are followed by other cocoa producing countries like Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil and Ecuador.



Other Environmental Issues Related To Chocolate Production

Small farmers generally are relatively low impact environmentally, whilst large scale farming can be more damaging.

Deforestation and soil erosion might be some of the main issues related to large scale farming.

A changing climate in the future might impact the ability of some farmers to grow Cocoa trees.


An estimated 70% of world cocoa production is grown by smallholders, largely in low input, low intensity agricultural systems.

With low world prices farmers often cannot afford chemical inputs and a great deal of cocoa is produced in a more or less organic fashion.

Although cocoa leaves the smallest mark of all the tropical cash crops, as it requires some shade and forest cover and has few inputs, widespread clearing of the forests for intensive cocoa production on large plantations can result in destruction of ecosystems which are slow to regenerate.

Intensive large scale cocoa production can also result in reductions in biodiversity and soil fertility, soil erosion, stream sedimentation and health and environmental problems associated with agrochemical application and run-off.

But, as mentioned above, most of the world’s cocoa production is on small holders plots which are more environmentally friendly.

So, it’s mainly large scale commercial cocoa production that harms the environment



Climate change is expected to boost temperatures and prolong dry spells in coming decades in places like West Africa where most cocoa is produced

That’s not good news for local cocoa farmers: cocoa trees are sensitive to heat and drought.




Cocoa farmers usually clear tropical forests to plant new cocoa trees rather than reusing the same land.

That practice has spurred massive deforestation in West Africa, particularly in Ivory Coast.

Experts estimate that 70% of the country’s illegal deforestation is related to cocoa farming.



Human Impact Of Chocolate Production

Child labour can be an issue:

West Africa’s cocoa farmers frequently use child labor to help with growing, harvesting, and transporting cocoa beans.

During the 2013-14 growing season, an estimated 2 million children were used for hazardous labor throughout Ghana and Ivory Coast.



The Value Of Chocolate & Cocoa To The Economy

The overall chocolate market rose 13 percent between 2010 and 2015 to hit $101 billion

Cocoa is the main source of income for 5.5 million small-scale farmers, many of whom live on less than $1.25 per day.



The Cocoa Market is forecast to be worth $2.1 Billion & the Chocolate Market worth $131.7 Billion by 2019



Potential To Lessen The Impact Of Chocolate & Cocoa Production In The Future

Experts have identified a number of farming techniques that could boost the productivity of existing cocoa farms …

Additionally, candy company Mars has mapped the cocoa genome, leading to trees that are three to four times more productive than varieties often used in West Africa; they can also be more climate resistant.

Sustainability goals of some chocolate companies by 2025 are:

  • achieving zero child labor and deforestation in its supply chains;
  • replanting 2.5 million acres of cocoa on existing cocoa plantations;
  • using 100% sustainable ingredients in all products;
  • lifting 500,000 producers out of poverty.



A Note About The Variability Of Agriculture In Different Parts Of The World

Agricultural production (livestock, dairy, crops etc.) differs between countries and states/provinces, and between agricultural producers – there’s many factors to consider with each set of agricultural data and between data. 

Some producers may put profit as their first and only priority, whilst other producers may consider the environment, sustainability, efficient resource usage, the health and well being of animals, and other factors.

These figures and this information is of a general nature and not reflective of all agricultural producers.


So, all chocolate products need to be assessed individually.















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