Eating local and in-season fruits and vegetables: Carbon-water-employment trade-offs and synergies
What would the effect on the employment and environmental footprint be if Spanish households substituted imported fresh fruits and vegetables with local production? Are the impacts similar over the entire year? Is it possible to find a general pattern that allows for straightforward household consumption decisions promoting sustainability? In this paper, we answer these questions using an innovative concept, the seasonal avoided footprint by imports (SAFM), to understand the interactions among carbon emissions, scarce water use, and employment linked to imports and domestic production.
Our study shows that decisions regarding local and seasonal consumption of fruits and vegetables by citizens in rich regions of the global economy, such as Spain, can lead to a conflict of objectives between the environment and social development in poor regions. The inter-country trade of fruits and vegetables generates relevant negative environmental hotspots, as the imports from developing countries are often more carbon- and water-intensive. However, the substitution of imports by local production implies vast job losses in these developing countries.
Therefore, we suggest the implementation of certification systems that jointly consider the appropriate levels of social, economic, and environmental development and provide a useful guide for consumer decisions that reinforce social and environmental synergies.