Are Local Food Chains More Sustainable than Global Food Chains? Considerations for Assessment

Brunori, Gianluca and Galli, Francesca and Barjolle, Dominique and van Broekhuizen, Rudolf and Colombo, Luca and Giampietro, Mario and Kirwan, James and Lang, Tim and Mathijs, Erik and Maye, Damian and de Roest, Kees and Rougoor, Carin and Schwarz, Jana and Schmitt, Emilia and Smith, Julie and Stojanovic, Zaklina and Tisenkopfs, Talis and Touzard, Jean-Marc (2016) Are Local Food Chains More Sustainable than Global Food Chains? Considerations for Assessment. Sustainability, 8 (5). pp. 1-27. ISSN 2071-1050

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Abstract

This paper summarizes the main findings of the GLAMUR project, which starts with an apparently simple question: is “local” more sustainable than “global”? Sustainability assessment is framed within a post-normal science perspective, advocating the integration of public deliberation and scientific research. The assessments spans 39 local, intermediate and global supply chain case studies across different commodities and countries. Assessment criteria cover environmental, economic, social, health and ethical sustainability dimensions. A closer view of the food system allows observing a highly dynamic local–global continuum where actors, while adapting to a changing environment, establish multiple relations and animate several chain configurations. Evidence suggests taking strong caution when comparing “local” and “global” chains, especially when using the outcomes of the comparison in decision-making. Supply chains are analytical constructs that necessarily—and arbitrarily—are confined by system boundaries, isolating a set of elements from an interconnected whole. Even consolidated approaches, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), assess only a part of sustainability attributes, and the interpretation may be controversial. Many sustainability attributes are not yet measurable, and “hard” methodologies need to be complemented by “soft” methodologies which are at least able to identify critical issues and trade-offs. Aware of these limitations, our research shows that comparing local and global chains, with the necessary caution, can help overcome a priori positions that so far have characterized the debate between “localists” and “globalists”. At firm level, comparison between “local” and “global” chains could be useful to identify best practices, benchmarks, critical points, and errors to avoid. As sustainability is not a status to achieve, but a never-ending process, comparison and deliberation can be the basis of a “reflexive governance” of food chains.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Food production; Food distribution; Sustainable logistics
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
S Agriculture > SB Plant culture > SB175 Food crops
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > Countryside and Community Research Institute
Research Priority Areas: Environmental Dynamics & Governance
Depositing User: Eleanor Hawketts
Date Deposited: 17 May 2016 13:20
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2016 13:55
URI: http://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/3491

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