Green or Not?

Lynne Kiesling

Which is greener using a life-cycle analysis: walking to my nearby standard supermarket and buying standardly-commercial produce and meat, or driving the 5.4 miles (10.8 miles round trip) to Green Grocer and buying organic, locally-sourced produce and meat?

I suspect it’s the former.

BUT (a) such a calculation ignores any quality differential between the goods on offer at the two stores, and (b) there’s a Whole Foods 1.4 miles from my house, so I do have a closer option.


7 thoughts on “Green or Not?

  1. You’re leaving out a lot of factors for a thorough life-cycle analysis!

    1. How far was the food in your standard grocery store shipped? Are the bananas from South America, apples from New Zealand, meat from China? Compare that to the distance food traveled for either green grocer.

    2. What kind of car are you driving those 10.8 miles – Hummer? Hybrid? NEV? Something in between? Could you bicycle? Your emissions will vary hugely from one option to another, but they are seriously minimal compared to the distance your food may have traveled.

    3. How often do you go to either store? Are we talking 3 car trips per week, or one every week or two?

    4. In consuming commercially produced meat, what is the longterm cost of the increased health risk for you? Of course, you can’t put a cost on health, or on the precise impacts of eating commercially produced meat when there are a huge number of other foods you eat; but there are proven health risks in eating grain-fed stall-raised pesticide-filled meat.

    5. Are those really the best options? Whole Foods is obviously a lot closer, within walking distance. Are there farmer’s markets around in summer? Can you rethink your diet to reduce numbers of trips made by car, reduce amount of meat consumed (thus reducing methane emissions, grain and land use, etc), or other creative ways of decreasing cost to you and the environment?

    I’m sure there are factors I’m forgetting… One good point to make is that if you can combine your green grocer trip with a car trip you were planning to make anyway, there’s no additional environmental cost to it. This kind of question is huge, and I think most people wouldn’t think about it long enough to really get to the heart of the issue: it’s not about the costs you incur, but the embedded costs (shipping food from overseas) that you support that make the biggest dent in environmental quality.

  2. Laura,

    I wasn’t leaving them out, I framed my post precisely to invite someone to do what you have done! Thank you.

    My only quibble with your excellent list is that in comparing the two options, my type of car is irrelevant because it’s the same for both trips, and as you say, at the margin it’s swamped by other effects.

    Oh, and even though I am an athlete I’m not going to walk home 1.4 miles from Whole Foods with my usual trip’s worth of groceries! Heck, the last time I did a big shop and WF and biked there and back, I almost got injured because my groceries disrupted my weight distribution so much on the bike!

  3. Laura,

    I wasn’t leaving them out, I framed my post precisely to invite someone to do what you have done! Thank you.

    My only quibble with your excellent list is that in comparing the two options, my type of car is irrelevant because it’s the same for both trips, and as you say, at the margin it’s swamped by other effects.

    Oh, and even though I am an athlete I’m not going to walk home 1.4 miles from Whole Foods with my usual trip’s worth of groceries! Heck, the last time I did a big shop and WF and biked there and back, I almost got injured because my groceries disrupted my weight distribution so much on the bike!

  4. “but there are proven health risks in eating grain-fed stall-raised pesticide-filled meat.”

    Who cares if there are health risks. The health risks could be minuscule. Maybe the health risk will result in one excess death in a trillion people. Then who cares. Saying there are health risks is insufficient. You need to explicitly quantify the magnitude of the health risk!

  5. What you actually choose to do in this situation is irrelevant with respect to the environment. Your choice on what supermarket to go to, even the sum effect of every trip in your lifetime, will not materially impact the environment in any way. This is obvious, but one must sit back and reflect on it every now and then.

    Even if you are willing to selflessly incorporate environmental impact in your decision making, it is unlikely that very many people in the world would be willing to do that. Certainly not until their living standards are high enough that they can afford to care about something that has no impact on their own lives. Carbon taxes could help here. A carbon tax, in addition to forcing everyone to care about this problem, would make figuring out which choice is more environmentally friendly much easier.

    Tim

  6. What you actually choose to do in this situation is irrelevant with respect to the environment. Your choice on what supermarket to go to, even the sum effect of every trip in your lifetime, will not materially impact the environment in any way. This is obvious, but one must sit back and reflect on it every now and then.

    Even if you are willing to selflessly incorporate environmental impact in your decision making, it is unlikely that very many people in the world would be willing to do that. Certainly not until their living standards are high enough that they can afford to care about something that has no impact on their own lives. Carbon taxes could help here. A carbon tax, in addition to forcing everyone to care about this problem, would make figuring out which choice is more environmentally friendly much easier.

    Tim

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