TSC offers insights into impact of life cycle of vitamins and supplements on climate, humans and animal welfare

Published on
September 13, 2016

The production and use of vitamins and supplements often have a negative influence on climate, humans and animal welfare. There are very few publicly available life cycle studies on the sustainability effects of vitamins and supplements. The global organisation The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) offers insights into the vitamin and supplement chain. The majority of sustainability hotspots (56%) are found early on in the production process, while 30% are found during the manufacturing process, 7% in packaging and 7% in the end and use phases.

Because the production chain is so complex, information about where the raw materials originate is often lacking. This makes it more difficult for businesses and other actors in the chain to manage sustainability hotspots within their production chains.


The impact on the environment, humans and animals in the first stage is often the result of the process of obtaining plant-based, animal-based, aquatic and microbial raw materials needed for production. These raw materials include grains, soya, flour, glucose-fructose syrup, vegetable oils (such as palm oil), flowering plants (such as borage, evening primrose and rose hip), animal derivatives (such as gelatin and protein), derivatives for fish oil (such as algae, anchovies, cod, krill, mackerel and sardines) and amino acids (such as glutamine, lysine and tyrosine). In addition, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, animal welfare and the health and rights of employees also play an important role.

Information origins of raw materials lacking

The biggest challenges the manufacturer faces in the manufacturing process are how to deal with energy use and waste water sustainably. Gains can also be achieved in terms of improving traceability throughout the chain. Because the production chain is so complex, information about the origins of raw materials is often lacking. The most significant contributors in the end and use phases are counterfeiting, errors in branding and incorrect labelling, which can have negative consequences for health. In addition, side effects of vitamin and supplement use are often under-reported, making treatment of them difficult to manage. Packaging waste is not always recycled and ends up as street litter, in a dump or at an incineration plant

Compare the sustainability of products

TSC has incorporated this inventory into its globally harmonised tool for measuring the sustainability of consumer products throughout the life cycle. So far 117 consumer products (including 48 agricultural and food products) have been calculated using this system. These tools enable businesses to consistently measure and compare the sustainability of all their products. Businesses can collaborate closely with their partners in the supply chain and use their scores for the various sustainability indicators as a foundation for developing plans for improvement and for taking sustainability (as well as price and quality) into account when procuring products. At present more than 1,700 suppliers utilise these tools to report to retailers regarding the sustainability of these products. This translates to more than €120 billion in consumer sales, nearly four times the total Dutch supermarket turnover. TSC's sustainability tools can be found on the TSC website.

Wageningen University & Research is coordinating the European activities of the consortium, of which Ahold, Unilever, Mars, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Solidaridad and more than 100 other companies and organisations are members.