Environmental life cycle assessment of production of the high intensity sweetener steviol glycosides from Stevia rebaudiana leaf grown in Europe: The SWEET project

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


  • John Suckling
  • S Morse
  • R Murphy
  • S Astley
  • J C G Halford
  • J A Harrold
  • A Le-Bail
  • E Koukouna
  • H Musinovic
  • J Perret
  • Raben, Anne
  • M Roe
  • J Scholten
  • C Scott
  • C Stamatis
  • C Westbroek

Purpose: There is an increasing interest in the use of non-nutritive sweeteners to replace added sugar in food and beverage products for reasons of improving consumer health. Much work has been done to understand safety of sweeteners, but very little on sustainability. To address that gap, this study presents the results of a life cycle assessment (LCA) of production of rebaudioside A 60%, 95% pure (RA60) steviol glycoside mix from Stevia rebaudiana leaf grown in Europe.

Methods: An attributional cradle-to-factory-gate life cycle assessment was conducted on growing of stevia leaves and extraction of steviol glycosides in Europe. Primary data were used from a case study supply chain. Results are reported in impact categories from the ReCiPe 2016 (H) method, with focus given to global warming potential, freshwater eutrophication, water consumption, and land use. Impacts are expressed both in terms of production mass and sweetness equivalence, a common metric for understanding high intensity sweetener potency. Sweetness equivalence of RA60 is typically 200 to 300 times that of sugar. Comparison of environmental impact is made to sugar (sucrose) produced from both cane and beets. The research is part of the EU project SWEET (sweeteners and sweetness enhancers: impact on health, obesity, safety, and sustainability).

Results and discussion: Global warming potential for production of RA60 was found to be 20.25 kgCO2-eq/kgRA60 on a mass basis and 0.081 kgCO2-eq/kgSE on a sweetness equivalence basis. Field production of stevia leaves was found to be the main source of impact for most impact categories, and for all four focus categories. Extraction of the RA60 was the main source of impact for the others. Leaf processing and seedling propagation were minor contributors to life cycle impact. Removal of international transport from the supply chain reduced global warming potential by 18.8%. Compared with sugar on a sweetness equivalence basis, RA60 has approximately 5.7% to 10.2% the impact for global warming potential, 5.6% to 7.2% the impact for land use, and is lower across most other impact categories.

Conclusion: This is the first LCA of steviol glycoside mix RA60 produced from leaf in Europe. The results indicate that RA60 can be used to reduce environmental impact of providing a sweet taste by replacing sugar across all impact categories. However, it is important to note that specific formulations in which RA60 is used will have a bearing on the final environmental impact of any food or beverage products. For solid foods, this requires further research.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s11367-022-02127-9.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)221-233
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2023.

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Science - Life cycle assessment, High intensity sweeteners, Stevia, Steviol glycosides, Stevia rebaudiana

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