Carbon Footprint of Supermarkets

Farm ProduceModern supermarket, the “one-stop shop” for food and household items are so integrated in our society and lifestyle these days.  These stores are amazing concepts, but are  a significant source of everyone’s personal carbon footprint. Believe it or not, you have a supermarket carbon footprint depending on what your buy!

Super-sized shopping – it’s a captivating concept, brimming with convenience and practicality, but its development and our regular use of it has far-reaching carbon footprint consequences.

What are these consequences and how can we, as consumers best manage it?  Stepping back and looking across the major sources of your carbon footprint, home temperature, home lighting, transportation choice each contribute a significant portion to your carbon footprint, but just behind in the ranking of importance are your everyday purchase decisions.  All these little individual decisions add up quickly.

Smarter consumer choices at the grocery store can further reduce your carbon footprint.

Let’s first rewind back to the 1960’s when globalization began gaining traction.  At that time, the food miles of every day food options started to expand because of the world’s new found long-distance transportation economics, economies of scale, and the economies of specialization.  Over time, we saw a shift towards a general preference for everyday living efficiency over quality.

Today, in our supermarkets, we find blueberries from Chile, apple juice from concentrates grown in Argentina and Turkey, lamb chops from New Zealand.  Faced with balancing the time demands from our busy lives, it’s a great convenience to have our all of our food needs consolidated and we tend to overlook what it took to get them there.

Mass produced and distributed foods have a substantial carbon footprint, but this can be minimized if we are a little more selective, disciplined, and discerning in how we buy.   Voting with your food dollars not only impacts your carbon footprint, but it sends a message to the suppliers, and eventually will impact other shoppers.

How To Reduce Your Supermarket Carbon Footprint

Take a look at the packaging, the complexity of it and the amount of petroleum that was used to frame it and make it look enticing to you on the shelf.   That packaging itself traveled umpteen miles to meet its food mate, find its way to the shelf, and very soon find its way to your kitchen and the local landfill or incinerator.   A long run for a short slide, as the saying goes.

One option that may help is more frequently go to the local farmer’s market and cut out the middle man of the grocery store, possibly saving food producer’s a transportation step and getting fresher foods in the process.  Consider planting an organic garden of fruits of vegetables in your backyard; it does not take much land to yield great green success.

There is an outstanding book that will further your knowledge on this topic,  The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  In this book, he goes through the many different ways food is grown, transported, and processed by tracing the pathways of the industrial and organic food chain.  He outlines the pros and cons of buying from your local supermarket versus either growing your own food and/or buying it directly from your farm of choice. He focuses s chain but instead is politically critical with regards to American nutrition and the food industry.

To start, growing food in your garden carries the smallest impact, followed by going to a farmer’s market or local grocer/organic store, followed by going to the supermarket.

Here’s a list of sources used for this article. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Mealsand Michigan State Government.

kennyA few other related Green Blizzard insightful articles you should read are: Kitchen Composting Made Easy, Fast Food: Think of the Carbon Impact, Shave Some Meat Off Your Diet and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, and Cold Cooking Challenge, Gift Ideas For A Green Handyman, What is Phantom Electricity?, Green Cleaning Products, Savvy Green.


About the author

Kenny Frankel

As graduate of the University of Maryland, Kenny has a major in Environmental Politics and Policy, so he's undoubtedly a guy well versed in environmental issues. Now, post college he is a practitioner of sustainable living and employed by solar installation company. We all will have a deeper green perspective after reading his articles because he brings a big picture insight to our everyday purchase decisions and even recycling.  As an early staff writer for Green Blizzard, Kenny covers environmental policy, big-agricultures impact on the environment, solar energy, recycling, and products made from recycled materials.