Is Seasonal Households’ Consumption Good for the Nexus Carbon/Water Footprint? The Spanish Fruits and Vegetables Case

Tobarra, M.A., López, L. A., Cadarso, M. A., Gómez, N., Cazcarro, I. (2018). Is seasonal final demand good for the nexus carbon/water footprint? The Spanish fruits and vegetables case. Environmental Science & Technology. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b00221.

Proximity and in-season consumption criteria have been suggested as solutions for fruits and vegetables consumers to drive the economy to a more sustainable development. Using a new concept, seasonal avoided footprint by imports, we disentangle the role of period and country of origin. Although, as a general rule, consumers could reduce the footprint by choosing domestic produce, this is not always the case. Due to the high efficiency of Spanish domestic production in terms of both CO2e and water use (except for scarce water), imports from some regions, like Africa (green beans, peppers, tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, oranges), contribute to significantly increasing both water and carbon impacts. However, a monthly basis analysis shows unsustainable hotspots for domestic production. Importing from France (apples, potatoes) or Portugal (tomatoes, strawberries) reduces both footprints, so Spanish local consumption would be bad for the environment. Hotspots are mainly concentrated in scarce water and, especially, for out-of-season vegetables during 11 months a year (savings up to 389%), nine months for out-of-season fruits, and five months for in-season fruits. The results suggest the difficulty to generalize an easy environmental recommendation based on buying local fruits and vegetables: consumption must be analyzed on monthly/seasonal, product, and country bases.

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