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Decoding Demand for Local Food - Part 3 (Environmental Impact)

April 17 Laura Ward




In our current series, Localize is exploring the underlying drivers behind local food preferences and the characteristics of local food that are grabbing the attention  and dollars of consumers.

So far, we've discussed:

How to give consumers what they want when there is no single definition of local,

How local product labeling differs from fresh to center-store, and

How local food systems affect our health.

In this post, we are discussing Environmental Impact as one of five underlying attributes that drives local product purchasing. 

The Modern Environmental Movement in North America is said to have had it's true beginning somewhere between 1962 when Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring and the first ever Earth Day celebration on April 22nd, 1970. Since has birthed a steady rise in the number of Farmer's Markets[1] and a hightened emphasis on purchasing local food in the interest of environmentalism. 

It seems implicit that buying a food product made 100km away has a lower carbon footprint than one that travels the national average of 1640kms[2]. However, the 'food miles' conversation is layered and locality is not the only indicator of adequate sustainability. For example, how is the food being transported?  "Food that flies can generate more than one hundred times the carbon emissions per kilometre of food that travels by ship."[3] More paramount still — to what extent does transportion even impact the overall carbon footprint of the food we eat?

"Our analysis shows that despite all the attention given to food miles, the distance that food travels is only around 11% of the average American household's food-related greenhouse gas emissions," -Christopher L.Weber, Research professor at Carnegie Mellon [4]

If we controlled every variable besides distanced travelled local products are absolutely more environmentally friendly. However, I do believe there is harm in trusting that just because a product is labelled as local that is automatically better for the environment. When research shows that 83% of food-related emissions occur within the production stage, how a product is made is perhaps where the most attention should be placed. 'Local' implies small but does not gaurentee it. The largest, most disruptive and pesticide covered crops might be harvested just 30 mins from your front door.

It is not accurate to idolize any one facet behind food products — we must learn the whole story. When calculating a Localize score, we consider factors like ownership location, production location, ingredient locations, as well as certifications and sustainability practices. Our intent is to help food makers tell the whole story behind their products, being transparent with consumers about information they are demanding.

Stay tuned to the series as we explore more underlying attributes that drive local product purchasing:

  • • Health
  • • Environmental impact
  • Up next >> Local economy
  • Freshness
  • Quality

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[1] Farmers Markets and Local Food Marketing, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA.Retrieved on April 13, 2017, from 

[2] The tricky truth about food miles. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2017, from 

[3] Weber CL, Matthews HS. Environ Sci Technol. 2008 May 15;42(10):3508-13. Food-miles and the relative climate impacts of food choices in the United States. Retrieved April 13, 2017, from 

[4] Carnegie Mellon University. 2008. Science Daily. "Want To Reduce Your Food-related Carbon Footprint? What You Eat Is More Important Than Where It Came From." Retrieved April 13, 2017, from 



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