Sustainability: What Does It Mean

by Dennis Machicao

When something becomes trendy, we often get caught in using catchwords or phrases that at times we really do not know the true meaning of them or what they signify. Although not a trend but more a way of life now a days, in living and breathing a “green” lifestyle there are certain words that are used that need a deeper definition to know exactly what they mean. And one of those words is “sustainability”.

We often use the word sustainable to denote a product, whether it be food, clothing, etc, has not traveled long distances to market from it’s origin thus having a small carbon foot print by not generating much fuel in its journey to market. In other words it is a locally homegrown product. This is somewhat true but not 100%, especially when it comes to food.

In an article found in Specialty Food News Feb. 24, 2014, a food industry website, there is a discussion about sustainability and how it does not really mean what you think it means. They mention a Carnegie Mellon University review of US government 2008 data that points out that only 11% of carbon emissions is dedicated to the initial transportation of food. And the “final delivery transport from producer/processor to retailer is even less”, about 3-4%.

The study shows that what really impacts on the carbon footprint is the farmer. The equipment and fuel used to operate that equipment equals to about 14 to 24% CO2 global emission according to the report. Also when it comes to livestock, the digestive gases emitted by them account to 31% of agricultural emissions and 32% from soil in crop production and fertilizer use.

It seems that in the production of foodstuffs, the farm emits the majority of carbon emissions from its animals, machinery, fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide, in essence just the general running of a farm.

So if you live in the U.S. and you buy fruit from Chile, the transportation is not necessarily the culprit in giving the fruit a bad carbon footprint or even if it’s grown closer to home for that matter. Its degree of sustainability depends on the whole picture, transportation and production. Of course it is better to buy local giving your business to hometown merchants. But it is also good to know the meaning of terms and how they are defined.

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