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For the past 10 years, the idea of sustainable practices has been governing the corporate business world. Companies have acknowledged the need for change and one-by-one they have started investing into the idea of sustainable practices within their respective sectors. Christopher Mcknett, who is one of the faces behind investment logic for sustainability, has put it very well for corporations. Corporations will have to become self-sustained as much as possible in order to attract the new generation of investments.
What about consumers and individuals? We, as the society, must be educated on the future that awaits us and on ways of improving the outcomes to leave a better world for the new generations to come. As provided under the article, the U.S. will grow by 36% by 2050. The developing countries, the largest contributors to global warming, will also grow at a similar rate, leaving us to expect a world population of 9 Billion people by 2044. That is a 50% increase in population from 6 to 9 Billion in 45 years . This means the demand for food, water and shelter will increase by the same margin. Is the worlds infrastructure ready to accommodate the newcomers? How can we cope with this issue?
In this essay, I will be talking about the distance between food and individuals and how reducing that distance may help us in terms of sustaining a better a future. According to Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), it is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. There are many fundamental problems associated with this long distance. The effort and consumption related to the distance is highly disturbing.
Long distance travel of food equates to consuming extremely high quantities of fossil fuels. As per CUESA, today, we put almost 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food.

Brian Halweil, the author of Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market, has calculated the energy emissions for a lettuce. According to Brian, ‘a head of lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley of California and shipped nearly 3,000 miles to Washington, D.C., requires about 36 times as much fossil fuel energy in transport as it provides in food energy when it arrives’. In my opinion, this is dangerous. The further distance becomes, the more fossil fuels are consumed and the more vulnerable our food system becomes.
Secondly, shipping food over long distances generates greater carbon dioxide emissions due to the mediums used for transportation. As per CUESA’s research, ‘some forms of transport are more polluting than others. Airfreight generates 50 times more CO2 than sea shipping. But sea shipping is slow, and in our increasing demand for fresh food, food is increasingly being shipped by faster - and more polluting – means’. Unfortunately, the existing food supply chain is not sustainable. Across the United States and developed countries, most sectors are trying hard to reduce dependency on fossil fuels because it is costly and not sustainable. Food industry should start adopting smarter measures to gradually decrease dependency on transportation consuming large quantities of fossil fuel.
Whole Foods, as an entity, has started and leading the change in food supply chain nationally. Their practice of sourcing their food locally has helped to cut the distance food travels from farm to plate. It isn’t just Whole Foods today that is trying to reduce the distance, but also Federal, State and local programs devote energy and support to local foods because sourcing food locally is expected to generate “public benefits that currently lack in the food system”. On this basis, Whole Foods was granted permission to start a rooftop hydroponic farm in their signature store in Brooklyn, NY. I believe that hydroponic farming can be the key to creating a city with a natural eco-system that produces food for local consumption while conserving energy and water, recycling waste and reducing carbon footprint.
The chart on the left side displays the difference between a terminal market and a farmers market in terms of how far food travels. And as can be seen, farmers market sources its food locally, while terminal market uses the conventional supply chain. The difference is almost ten folds. Meaning local food requires 10x less energy, less fossil fuel consumption and less human capital.
Source: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Data: U.S. Department of Agriculture

As all the research points out to, the population increase will majorly happen in large cities. On this basis, the leaders of the world must start to act upon this awaited population change. The way we supply our food is damaging the environment and our future on earth; and it needs to change. It is vital that we start shifting medium to large scale cities into sustainable cities. The opportunities are endless. Cities must start incorporating solar PV, thermal solar and passive solar systems for electricity generation, water heating and HVAC heating respectively. Incorporating urban farms into the food supply chain, educating the under privileged demographics of cities to be employed in these farms will help solve demographical problems as well as help improve sustainable practices.

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