Climate Corner - Food Footprints.
Sustainable Travel International
Wednesday, 4th November 2009
We travel, and so very often, so does our food; in the United States alone, a plate of food completes a journey of 1500 miles on average from farm to table.

Whether it's by plane, train or automobile, the emissions produced by the transport of food can be staggering. Add food production and processing impacts to the equation, and what we eat can potentially have a good-sized carbon footprint.

As responsible travelers, we're concerned about mitigating the carbon associated with our flights, hotel stays, rental cars, etc., to help reduce the environmental impacts caused by our travels. 

Because we want to first reduce our emissions, the first step is to consider the distance of the journey versus the length of the stay. Is the long-haul flight worth it for a short trip? Can we extend the stay or combine trips?

Next, we decide which mode of transport is the greenest and most efficient, choose a direct route when possible, and find the greenest airline, car rental agency or public transportation option.  We then support eco-certified and responsible accommodations and resorts where available, and seek out local goods and services in our destination.

We can use essentially the same reduction process when making choices about what and how to eat, and thanks to a few new resources, we can now calculate the footprint of our food and then offset any unavoidable emissions—at home and abroad.

Just like building a responsible travel itinerary, we start with distance. For example, how far exactly did those  raspberries fly to reach our grocery store? Can we find them locally? Or is there a sufficient alternative? If not, we then have an ethical decision to make: is this piece of fruit necessary? This is a bit like deciding if we should travel or not, and the distance versus length of stay consideration.  If the answer is a resounding "no", maybe we select the locally grown pear instead, grown right down the road, or at least in our home country.

Now, that's the ideal, but not always practical. Let's say the pear was grown in a neighboring state. It still had to travel, but we really want to eat fruit, so how do we deal address its environmental footprint.  First, try to reduce it by choosing local, organic, sustainably harvested, and or a fair trade option. 

If these options don't exist, consider using one of the   food-specific carbon calculators like the Food Footprint Carbon Calculator, where you can enter the origin of the food you've just purchased (usually found on the package or produce sticker), and calculate the emissions produced to reach your shopping cart. 

This website also offers personalized suggestions for reducing the carbon footprint of your diet.

So, the next time you crave raspberries in January, think about asking a few questions about where the food came from and how you can support the most sustainable option given the season.  Chances are there are opportunities to support the local economy or to choose a healthy alternative that's more environmentally friendly.

For more information about the carbon footprint of food, visit the following sites:
To learn more about carbon management for your travels, please visit STI's website.

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