Impact of Transportation on Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Locally vs. Non-locally Sourced Food

Bradley Striebig, Eric Smitts, Samuel Morton


The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to rise, and the global food system is a significant contributor that often gets overlooked when it comes to solving the problem. In this study, emissions related to food transportation were studied to determine what impact getting local food instead of non-local food could have on the overall emissions of the food system. The dining service at the university utilizes local food to varying extents when it is in season, and a life cycle assessment (LCA) was done on lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and chicken to compare the emissions associated with the production of these foods. The transport-oriented GREET software was used for the LCA along with information from the sustainability coordinator at the university itself to get results. Given a lack of publicly available data regarding crop cultivation in certain areas of the U.S., some information had to be obtained from databases in Europe, but results suggest that produce coming from the west coast to the Virginia campus can have four to five times the emissions associated with production, and produce from Florida can have roughly twice as many emissions associated with production. There is a relatively low number of LCAs done in America to compare this data to, but it somewhat fits in with many European studies. Some LCAs do not factor in transportation processes, but my results suggest that any American studies should factor in transportation since it can contribute greatly to the overall footprint of products. The current available software for LCAs lacks consistency between programs, all having different strengths and weaknesses, and needs to be improved for quality results in the future.


LCA; GREET; Food; Carbon Dioxide; Green House Gas.


Ivanova, Diana, Konstantin Stadler, Kjartan Steen-Olsen, Richard Wood, Gibran Vita, Arnold Tukker, and Edgar G. Hertwich. “Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 20, no. 3 (December 18, 2015): 526–536. doi:10.1111/jiec.12371.

Food Service Technology Center (2016). Available online: (accessed on 1 March 2019).

Green Restaurant Association. 2016. Available online: (accessed on 21 April 2019).

U.S. Department of Agriculture (2015). Agricultural marketing services’s national organic program. Available online: (accessed on 17 March 2019).

Food Alliance (2016). Available online: (accessed on 19 April 2019).

Fair Trade USA (2016). Available online: (accessed on 17 March 2019).

Rainforest Alliance (2016). Available online: (accessed on 17 March 2019).

Humane Farm Animal Care (2014). Program/policy manual. Available online: (accessed on 17 March 2019).

Animal Welfare Approved (2013). Available online: (accessed on 19 April 2019).

Salmon Safe (2015). Available online: (accessed on 23 July 2019).

Protected Harvest (2009). Available online: (accessed on 25 March 2019).

Coley, David, Mark Howard, and Michael Winter. “Local Food, Food Miles and Carbon Emissions: A Comparison of Farm Shop and Mass Distribution Approaches.” Food Policy 34, no. 2 (April 2009): 150–155. doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2008.11.001.

Argonne National Laboratory (2015). Energy systems. Available online: (accessed on 26 March 2019).

Leach, Allison M., James N. Galloway, Elizabeth A. Castner, Jennifer Andrews, Neil Leary, and John D. Aber. “An Integrated Tool for Calculating and Reducing Institution Carbon and Nitrogen Footprints.” Sustainability: The Journal of Record 10, no. 2 (April 2017): 140–148. doi:10.1089/sus.2017.29092.aml.

Paul, B.K., R. Frelat, C. Birnholz, C. Ebong, A. Gahigi, J.C.J. Groot, M. Herrero, et al. “Agricultural Intensification Scenarios, Household Food Availability and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Rwanda: Ex-Ante Impacts and Trade-Offs.” Agricultural Systems 163 (June 2018): 16–26. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2017.02.007.

Torrellas, Marta, Assumpció Antón, Juan Carlos López, Esteban José Baeza, Jerónimo Pérez Parra, Pere Muñoz, and Juan Ignacio Montero. “LCA of a Tomato Crop in a Multi-Tunnel Greenhouse in Almeria.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 17, no. 7 (June 1, 2012): 863–875. doi:10.1007/s11367-012-0409-8.

Roy, Poritosh, Daisuke Nei, Hiroshi Okadome, Nobutaka Nakamura, Takahiro Orikasa, and Takeo Shiina. “Life Cycle Inventory Analysis of Fresh Tomato Distribution Systems in Japan Considering the Quality Aspect.” Journal of Food Engineering 86, no. 2 (May 2008): 225–233. doi:10.1016/j.jfoodeng.2007.09.033.

Cellura, Maurizio, Sonia Longo, and Marina Mistretta. “Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Protected Crops: An Italian Case Study.” Journal of Cleaner Production 28 (June 2012): 56–62. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.10.021.

Khoshnevisan, Benyamin, Shahin Rafiee, and Hossein Mousazadeh. “Environmental Impact Assessment of Open Field and Greenhouse Strawberry Production.” European Journal of Agronomy 50 (October 2013): 29–37. doi:10.1016/j.eja.2013.05.003.

Gunady, Maria G.A., Wahidul Biswas, Vicky A. Solah, and Anthony P. James. “Evaluating the Global Warming Potential of the Fresh Produce Supply Chain for Strawberries, Romaine/cos Lettuces (Lactuca Sativa), and Button Mushrooms (Agaricus Bisporus) in Western Australia Using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).” Journal of Cleaner Production 28 (June 2012): 81–87. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.12.031.

Hall, Gillian, Alison Rothwell, Tim Grant, Bronwyn Isaacs, Laura Ford, Jane Dixon, Martyn Kirk, and Sharon Friel. “Potential Environmental and Population Health Impacts of Local Urban Food Systems under Climate Change: a Life Cycle Analysis Case Study of Lettuce and Chicken.” Agriculture & Food Security 3, no. 1 (2014): 6. doi:10.1186/2048-7010-3-6.

Katajajuuri, Juha-Matti. "Experiences and improvement possibilities–LCA case study of broiler chicken production." In 3rd International Conference on Life Cycle Management, Zurich, Switzerland, pp. 27-29. 2007.

Pirog, R.S., Van Pelt, T., Enshayan, K., & Cook, E.; Food, fuel, and freeways: An Iowa perspective on how far food travels, fuel usage, and greenhouse gas emissions. Leopold Center Pubs and Papers. Paper 3 (2001). Available online: (accessed on 23 July 2019).

United States Department of Agriculture. Farm Demographics 2018. Available online: /knowledge (Accessed on 30 October 2018).

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (2010). U.S. tomato statistics (92010).

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (2011). U.S. lettuce statistics 2011.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (2013). U.S. strawberry industry (95003).

Geisseler D. and Horwath W.R. (2013). Lettuce production in California. Fertilizer Research and Education Program.

Climate Central (2014). New CO2 milestone: 3 months above 400 ppm. Available online: (accessed on 07 April 2019).

Environmental Protection Agency (2016). Understanding global warming potentials. Available online: (accessed on 07 April 2019).

Papargyropoulou, Effie, Rodrigo Lozano, Julia K. Steinberger, Nigel Wright, and Zaini bin Ujang. “The Food Waste Hierarchy as a Framework for the Management of Food Surplus and Food Waste.” Journal of Cleaner Production 76 (August 2014): 106–115. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.04.020.

Nissinen, Ari, Eva Heiskanen, Adriaan Perrels, Elina Berghäll, Virpi Liesimaa, and Maija K. Mattinen. “Combinations of Policy Instruments to Decrease the Climate Impacts of Housing, Passenger Transport and Food in Finland.” Journal of Cleaner Production 107 (November 2015): 455–466. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.08.095.

Behrens, Paul, Jessica C. Kiefte-de Jong, Thijs Bosker, João F. D. Rodrigues, Arjan de Koning, and Arnold Tukker. “Evaluating the Environmental Impacts of Dietary Recommendations.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 51 (December 4, 2017): 13412–13417. doi:10.1073/pnas.1711889114.

Heller, Martin C., and Gregory A. Keoleian. “Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimates of U.S. Dietary Choices and Food Loss.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 19, no. 3 (September 4, 2014): 391–401. doi:10.1111/jiec.12174.

Full Text: PDF

DOI: 10.28991/esj-2019-01184


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2019 Bradley Striebig