Setting concrete goals, acknowledging future areas of growth, and writing detailed descriptions are great ways to prove your company wants to walk the sustainable walk and isn’t just another greenwasher. Lightlife is killing the game in all of these ways. The largest manufacturer of tempeh in the US, Lightlife’s plant-based meat brand is thriving right now, having seen a 44% growth in sales over 2020. Their Smart Ground Plant-Based Crumbles (Mexican) shine as a sustainable product even amongst other plant-based meat products.
The Crumbles are made of a fairly long list of ingredients, with the first ingredient listed being water. The core ingredient of the product is Soy Protein Concentrate. The sustainability of soy is a contested issue. The growth in demand for soy has caused deforestation in favor of agricultural land. But soy is objectively more sustainable than our animal agriculture systems as they stand. It’s also worth noting that a majority of soy produced is used as feed for livestock. Soy is also a complete protein, unlike some other meat substitutes. This means that consumers can fully substitute animal products for this. Therefore they can fully divest from animal products with this product alone. So soy is a very sustainable ingredient.
Other ingredients (such as garlic, onion, salt, and cane sugar amongst others) are also included. The third ingredient listed is “spices” and it is not specified which. This is understandably probably done to keep the specific recipe a secret, but hinders transparency somewhat as well. This recipe overall looks pretty sustainable! As long as it’s sourced in a sustainable way, this product looks like a great option.
Lightlife’s brand is centered around prioritizing natural processes and low-tech systems. They list some examples on their website, such as use of low tech processes like fermentation to achieve flavor, rather than chemical flavor additives. Centering low tech, simple solutions as a value is a great way to encourage sustainability. Maple Leaf Foods owns their entire supply chain, so all labor/ethics/sustainability standards should apply across every step of the food production, if these standards are being properly upheld. There isn’t a ton of transparency as to where exactly Lightlife is sourcing their ingredients from, but unfortunately under capitalism this is really commonplace. While it’s hard to fault the individual company for this, a lack of transparency still prevents this category from being higher.
Their products are all certified organic and non-GMO. The non-GMO certification seems thorough and transparent, so if GMOs are an important consideration to you then rest assured that this product is GMO free. Insofar as any modern agriculturally produced food can be. Lastly, the packaging on the product says “100% recyclable carton.” I couldn’t find more information about this on their website, and I would love to know more about their packaging processes.
Lightlife produces plant-based meats out of predominantly tempeh, pea protein, and soy protein. Lightlife’s parent company is Greenleaf Foods, which is a subsidiary of Maple Leaf Foods. In 2020, Greenleaf announced that they were a carbon neutral company, including subsidiaries like Lightlife. Their strategy is twofold: to reduce/avoid any GHG emissions, and invest in outside environmental projects to offset any other emissions. They set “science based goals” in accordance with the Paris Agreement that require them to reduce their emissions even as they grow. They invest in efforts like
“wind energy, gas recovery for energy, and recycling programs with third-party auditors,” specific examples of which are listed on their website. They also state that using AI they’ve reduced their shipping miles by 50%.
In terms of sustainability, Lightlife’s website is really comprehensive. They use terms that demonstrate actual research into sustainability (like 'bioavailability') rather than typical greenwashing phrases. They set concrete goals like: “By 2025, we aim to reduce our environmental footprint by 50% and our absolute carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.” They talk about how technology should be used for reducing environmental impact and making good food as simple as possible.
Much of the information about their sustainability is through their parent company Maple Leaf Foods, so there’s always the chance that Lightlife isn’t being as stringently held to the standards. For example, Maple Leaf’s site discusses in depth about landfill diversion performance tracking and life cycle assessments that they’re performing, but it never strictly mentions Lightlife. Maple Leaf’s site also goes into the social side of sustainability, discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion. It would be beneficial if Lightlife’s website could also explicitly address topics like these. But with the amount of transparency and thoroughness Maple Leaf provides on their website, I’m optimistic that Lightlife’s sustainability is as positive as they describe.
Smart Ground® Mexican | Lightlife
Lightlife - Wikipedia
Innovating for the Future of Plant-Based Protein – Food Tank
Carbon and Energy | Better Planet | Sustainability – Maple Leaf Foods
Maple Leaf Foods 2020 Carbon Strategy FAQs
Is Soya Sustainable? | Ethical Consumer
Soy | WWF (panda.org)
What You Need To Know About Bioengineered (BE) Food Labeling – The Non-GMO Project (nongmoproject.org)
Supply Chain | Better Planet | Sustainability – Maple Leaf Foods