Whilst the climate impact created by the meat industry is well-known, the amount of greenhouse gas produced from food-based agriculture often flies under the radar. 29% of the greenhouse gas emissions that stem from food production come from plant-based foods for human consumption.
The most significant impact stems from rice production, which is the largest greenhouse gas contributor among plant-based foods, followed by wheat and sugarcane. This helps to explain why South and South-East Asia, areas of the greatest rice production, have the highest food production related emissions by region.
However, fresh plant produce including fruits and vegetables also contribute. These products have a very short lifespan, meaning they must be consumed within days of harvesting. Because of this, almost half of all fruit and vegetables are wasted. This is not only detrimental to ending world hunger, but also produces carbon and impacts our atmosphere.
Eliminating global food waste would save 4.4 million tonnes of C02 a year, the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road. This endgame is a long way off, but it is the Sustainable Innovation Company’s goal to help achieve this faster.
Biologically, the carbon system is a cycle, meaning circular. But with human involvement and unsustainable system designs, this cycle is skewed with more carbon going out than in, flowing off into a chain leading directly into our atmosphere. New food system designs have been engineered to change this impact and help create a circular economy.
Near the Sustainable Innovation Co. headquarters in North Arm, Queensland, Vertical Farm Systems and Terella Brewery are working toward integrating their systems to benefit each other and the environment. Vertical Farm Systems creates water as a by-product from its grow cells, and Terella Brewery uses this water to produce its beer. Completing the cycle, the brewery collects the CO2 by-product from its fermenters to be re-injected back into the Vertical Farms grow cells to be fed back to the plants. This is a prime example of a symbiotic relationship between businesses, creating industrial ecosystems that reduce their collective CO2 output.
The shared warehouse of Terella Brewery and Vertical Farm Systems.
Vertical Farming is a notable example of how technology can be incorporated into food systems to improve sustainability. However, there are limitations to this system such as the huge amount of electricity needed to power the farm. Solar panels can only go so far, leaving room for improvement within vertical farming.
There are many opportunities to analyse data to increase sustainability. Data can be used to investigate the demand for specific fresh plant products, for example, how many people on average buy lettuce per day. This can enable a more specialised supply of each item, with the aim of reducing food waste from unused products, thus decreasing overall carbon emissions.
It is the responsibility of industries and producers to make changes within their system designs for more sustainable outcomes. However, it is also our responsibility as consumers to buy only what we need. Australians waste 20% of food after purchasing. To improve this, consumer action can include buying local, making shopping lists for specific meal items, and not overbuying fresh food items. Buying local fresh produce reduces the carbon emitted by mass produce transportation ('food miles’) and storage.
These are just small changes to our lifestyles, but even the little things can make a difference. The Sustainable Innovation Company aims to help businesses make these changes on a large scale, collaboratively, to make real progress toward a sustainable future.