In May 2006 the European Commission released the results of research in to the Environmental Impact of Products (EIPRO). Using life cycle analysis and some input/output methods they concluded that products in three sectors had the greatest environmental impact: food and drink, private transport, and housing. The report did not rank these three but says that " together they are responsible for 70 to 80% of the environmental impact of consumption, and account for some 60% of consumption expenditure." Also from the report:
Food and drink cause 20 to 30% of the various environmental impacts of private consumption, and this increases to more than 50% for eutrophication. This includes the full food production and distribution chain ‘from farm to fork’. Within this consumption area, meat and meat products are the most important, followed by dairy products. Food and drink were covered by only some of the studies so the results for that area should be treated with more caution. However, the general conclusions can be taken with a reasonably high level of confidence.
The report continues to say that passenger transport has a total impact range of 15-35%, and housing (including furnishings and appliances) has a range of 20-35%.
The next step in this work is to study the environmental improvements of products (IMPRO). how to lessen the impact of meat and dairy is to be researched with initial results due late in 2007.
Source: "Environmental Impact of Products - Analysis of the life cycle environmental impact related to the final consumption of the EU-25", European Commission Joint Research Centre, May 2006, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ipp/pdf/eipro_report.pdf