The carbon footprint of imported food is more complicated than you think

The carbon footprint of imported food is a lot more nuanced than you might think, so the idea of buying local to save the planet may be well-meaning, but not necessarily helpful. Find out why.

Olivado is a leader in moving towards being carbon positive.

Being carbon positive means we are taking out more carbon than we release in our growing, processing and transporting our Kenyan avocado oil.

Everything you buy, make, or grow has a carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is an amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which is released into the atmosphere for any given activity, individual, product or event.

For example, if you drive to work every day, over the course of a year you will be responsible for a certain amount of CO2 being created.

With the world now facing the disastrous consequences of climate change, there seems to be a change in the zeitgeist, with people actively making changes in their personal lives to cut down on their own footprint.

One way to achieve this is to cut down on food imported from foreign countries, however, recent research at the University of Edinburgh suggests that it’s not as simple as that.

Man shopping in supermarket

The carbon footprint of food

Food’s carbon footprint – or foodprint as some are now calling it – is the CO2 emissions produced by growing, feeding, farming, raising, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food you eat.

It sounds like a lot – and it is.

The carbon footprint of food is estimated at around 8% of all total emissions globally. If it were a country, it would be third behind the USA and China as the leading emitters on the planet.

Livestock farming on its own produces up to 50% of man-made greenhouse gases while eating a single 8-oz steak produces as much greenhouse gas as driving 22 kilometres!

Why it’s not so straight forward

It’s understandable why people think the carbon footprint of food is higher the further it has to travel.

It’s basic maths; the longer the distance travelled, the more fuel needed to transport, the higher the emissions.

Simple, right?

Well, actually no.

Professor David Reay, a climate scientist from the University of Edinburgh, suggests that milage is a poor indicator of a food’s carbon footprint, and may even be misleading.

His new book explains why buying local isn’t always better for the environment.

“Most oranges consumed in the UK come from Brazil and are shipped across the Atlantic, but still have low carbon footprints,” explains the professor.

“This is because 60% of an orange’s carbon footprint comes from fertilisers, pesticides and the fuel used by machinery during harvesting.

“Only 22% of the footprint comes from transportation.”

Artificially grown tomatoes

Out of season produce

If it’s too cold to grow something, we now have the technology to help mother nature along.

By using incubators, heat lamps and poly tunnels, we can grow traditional summer fruit and veg all year round, instead of having to import it from warmer climes.

The problem with that is, it takes more energy to help grow the food, and the more energy we use, the more emissions we produce.

It is usually more environmentally friendly to buy and ship food from another country, where they are growing naturally in season than it is to grow them artificially.

A difficult balancing act

Importing foods to reduce carbon emissions only works if it’s by rail, road, or sea.

Once the cargo is transported via air, then the carbon emissions increase tenfold.

Having said that, food mileage is a lot more nuanced than people think, so the idea of buying local to save the planet may be well-meaning, but not necessarily good in practice.

Here at Olivado, we are very conscious of our impact on the world, which is why we do everything we can to minimise our carbon footprint.

We’ve talked before about how we use sustainable practices, and how our small farm holdings in Kenya are mapped, biodiversity protected, and regularly inspected to ensure organic compliance.

Our biogas project converts waste to power our factory, fuel for our trucks that collect the fruit, fuel for our cars, and produce high-quality fertiliser.

Our small farmers have no tractors or trucks; their carbon footprint is very small. Next year we will measure exactly how much carbon we are taking out of the environment.

If you would like to know more about our commitment to sustainability and the environment, or if you have any questions about us or our products, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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Olivado are leading the way in the avocado industry with our approach to regeneration, sustainability and utilising all waste to energy. We work hard to leave our communities and environment in a better state than when we started. We are carbon neutral now and we have made a commitment to be carbon positive by 2022. Shop with us and do your part for the planet.