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Apr 19, 2011

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Taylor G

What about fair wages for factory workers in China? I'd like to see a goal for that from Wallmart.

Michael W. Kruse

It doesn't directly address the issue you raise but here is their statement on ethical sourcing:

http://walmartstores.com/sites/ResponsibilityReport/2011/social_supply_ethicalSourcing.aspx

Al Shaw

The case for locally-sourced produce (point three in your post) is relatively easy to make on environmental stewardship grounds.

Food that is produced close to where it is bought and consumed uses far fewer transport miles (hence fossil fuels) than food that is shipped, flown or otherwise transported from a distance.

The practice of flying in out-of-season fruit from Africa or Latin America, for instance, is a radically unsustainable practice.

Michael W. Kruse

I know this is the rationale but is it true?

The central question here is what it would take to get one item from the plant to the kitchen table. Let’s take a tomato for example.

There are three ways we could transport a tomato from plant to market:

1. A small vehicle (say pickup) with a few hundred other tomatoes.
2. Semi-trailer with thousands of other tomatoes.
3. A cargo ship with millions of other tomatoes.

Here is the approximate portion of fuel costs per tomato per one mile traveled.

1. Small vehicle = .5 - .05%
2. Semi-trailer = .003%
3. Cargo ship = .0000015%

(I don’t know the exact amount for rail but as I recall it is something closer to a cargo ship than a semi-trailer.)

Now if you are going to move 10 million tomatoes, you can use one cargo ship, 250 semis, or 9,000 small vehicles. Now we have to figure in the carbon expended to manufacture these semis and small vehicles as well as the roads and infrastructure that must be built and maintained to support all these vehicles.

But now let’s add the idea that little farmer markets will now be used to sell the vegetables. That means that thousands of small farmers will now be using more carbon to bring produce to market. Furthermore, instead of going to one market, consumers will now engage in more driving to get to the small markets to buy the locally grown goods, using even more carbon.

The bottom line is that is often more sustainable, from a carbon standpoint, to ship in food from thousands of miles away than to create a network of small local growers. If you really want to change agriculture, then what we need is local community gardens and people growing their own food, not purchasing food from local growers. But the fact is most will not choose this option. The opportunity costs to spend extensive growing your own food are simply too high.

I suspect Wal-Mart may be able to create more efficient, less carbon emitting, local markets, but I think it is highly questionable that they can create significantly less carbon intensive methods than what we currently have.

I’ll also add this, for many locales, the comparative advantage they have in trade is agriculture. Exclusively local food means no trade with the poorest nations of the world. Locking them out of trade is a death sentence to their emergence into reasonable levels of prosperity.

The local food movement is well intentioned but we all know what the road to hell is pave with.

Dave

Another portion of the farmers market mode of selling things is that in our particular case it is a 90 mile round trip to the farmer's market. So how much is saved for the things we buy as opposed to going to the grocery store 5 blocks away?

Of course the whole argument is based on CO2 emissions which actually contribute to better plant growth anyway. So maybe driving further to get produce creates more CO2 which is better for the local plants, which is better for us.

ceemac

Local is a very vague word.

I suspect most consumers have a romantic assumption of what it means:
*Fresh, as in those carrots I buy at noon were in the ground at sunrise this morning. The tomato was on the vine 3 hrs ago.
*Flavor, since you don't have to worry about shipping you can grow tomato varieties exclusively for flavor and not pay attention to durability and uniform size for packing. Not to mention you can leave them on the vine until the last possible moment.
*grown at a very small operation of a few acres. Cultivated and harvested by hand and handled very carefully.

But look at Walmarts definition: "within the state of origin." I live in Dallas so that means Walmart considers produce from the Rio Grande Valley as local. That's hundreds of miles away. I am not sure that would fit most folks definition of local

Dana Ames

"Local" usually means grown within 100 miles or so.

It's not only the carbon concern. Produce grown, if not in your own backyard, then as close as that surely does taste better, being fresher.

Dana

Chuck

The plastic bag issue is a biggie for me. Here in the Houston area discarded plastic bags are a scourge on the landscape. They are everywhere! I understand that this is mainly a personal responsibility issue but c'mon, it appears that way too many folks can't seem to properly dispose of their plastic.

Michael W. Kruse

There are certainly advantages to growing food locally but I'm deeply suspicious that this contributes to "sustainability" ... less carbon. At best, growing some food in my yard or a nearby community garden will supplement what I eat. I have no desire to grow a garden. The great majority don't either. So we are still going to need some to grow not only for themselves but others.

To really feed a major metropolitan area you are going have to use acreage extending many miles beyond the city to grow enough food. We are back to moving food in a small-vehicle carbon-emitting way. And if you deteriorate the capacity to let a broader market distribute the food, what happens when regional events like hail storms, late freezes, or drought occur?

Again, "grow local" can create community and generate more tasty and nutritious food. I just don't think it is going to improve sustainability one bit.

Michael W. Kruse

I should also add that Walmart has done things like initiate the new stackable rectangular milk cartons. The ability to stack them has cut transportation cost by something like 40%, thus saving emissions. Walmart has also bargained to eliminate wasteful packaging where 1/3 of the contents is air in order to make the product look bigger, or reducing the size of the plastic blister packages. The logistics systems ensure that everything moves with a bare minimum of waste, including wasted fuel that creates more carbon.

DevilBiss Pressure Washer

Well it looks like Wal-Mart has officially conquered the United States, I suppose it's good that they're going to start growing responsible. It seems nowadays companies take over then ween every single bit of profit out of their domain by cutting the quality of everything they do. Good step Wal-Mart

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