On the efficiency of buying locally produced goods.

I’ve probably put more thought than is healthy into the efficiency of transporting food and products from their place of manufacture to my home. It seems like it would generally be more efficient to buy food grown locally, but what about buying products? Is it more efficient for me to drive to town and buy that iPhone, or for UPS to ship it directly to my home? Sarah Murray, the author of “Moveable Feasts: The Incredible Journeys of the Things We Eat,” explored this topic in an article for the Financial Times, finding that it’s the “last mile” that uses the most energy, and argues for the importance of carbon-footprint labeling on products. (Via Kottke)

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

7 replies on “On the efficiency of buying locally produced goods.”

  1. If you wanted to do one thing to ease global warming, the best thing you could do would be to go vegetarian.

    A vegetarian in a hummer is better than a meat eater on a bike.

  2. I’ve been reducing my meat consumption partially for the health of the planet, partially for my own.

    I don’t think I’ll every go all the way veg. maybe. I still just love a good steak.

    We’re all probably doomed.

  3. Timberland Boots has a sticker on their boxes, claiming carbon neutrality, including a breakout on the sticker of each activity. It includes the specific area of the carbon credits purchased to offset their product’s manufacturing process.

    Their factory is in China, so I was surprised at what looks like a very complete program. Their packaging is innovative too, in that the cardboard is thinner, but just as strong as a thicker material. It is also folded in an innovative way.

    Next time you are near a shoe store, check it out.

  4. ajc, I wonder if you know how bad meat is if it is grass fed, no hormones, etc. as opposed to your average feed lot. In other words, it is more in line with its natural state. Are particular animals worse than others? I ask because I am closer to a vampire than a vegetarian. My favorite food is beef and my second favorite food is pork. I won’t say going vegetarian would be impossible for me, merely next to immpossible.

  5. Dan,

    I’d refer you to a fantastic book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen.

    There’s no simple answer to any of these questions, but here’s the kind of investigation that you’d need to start with:

    Except for the salt and a handful of synthetic food additives, every edible item in the supermarket is a link in a food chain that begins with a particular plant growing in a specific patch of soil (or, more seldom, stretch of sea) somewhere on earth. Sometimes, as in the produce section, that chain is fairly short and easy to follow:As the netted bag says, this potato was grown in Idaho, that onion came from a farm in Texas. Move over to Meat, though, and the chain grows longer and less comprehensible: The label doesn’t mention that that rib-eye steak came from a steer born in South Dakota and fattened in a Kansas feedlot on grain grown in Iowa. Once you get into the processed foods you have to be a fairly determined ecological detective to follow the intricate and increasingly obscure lines of connection linking the Twinkie, or the nondairy creamer, to a plant growing in the earth some place, but it can be done.

    I think the short answer is simply that the fewer steps involved, the smaller the carbon footprint of your food. Thus, if you buy some Bison Steaks from a farm that grazes on it’s own lands, then you’re doing much less than if you buy a burger from McDonalds which is made from Beef grazed on Brazilian lands clear-cut from portions of Amazon rainforest on cattle raised on American subsidized corn and injected with Monsanto produced growth hormones.

    Don’t even thing about the giant cattle blenders… you just don’t want to know.

  6. Thanks. That book is in my house and I’ve been planning on reading for months. I really need to get on it. I have been working on reducing carbon footprint for meat. I know where all of my meat comes from. I’ve met the farmers. I know how the animals live, eat, are born, die, etc. That to me isn’t just a carbon issue… it’s also a health issue and a moral issue. And I know all too well where the big companies get their meat. I won’t even get a soda at McDonald’s because I don’t want to add to their profit margin.

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